Democratic candidate for governor Stacy Abrams, the former House minority leader. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: State GOP lawmakers claim Stacey Abrams as their 2015 redistricting partner

In their defenses against redistricting lawsuits brought by the NAACP and former Attorney General Eric Holder, two Republican state lawmakers in Georgia have invoked the name of Stacey Abrams, then the House minority leader, as their willing partner.

The two suits, now merged into one, allege that the 2015 maps were drawn to protect GOP lawmakers with altered lines in 17 state legislative districts. Abrams is now one of two Democratic candidates for governor. 

The Intercept, a news website backed by EBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, points to depositions taken under oath:

State Rep. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, one of the members who requested the new maps, testified that he was told that Abrams “was in consent with the changes that were being proposed by the Republicans, which is part of the reason it was bipartisan.” Abrams, Strickland said, “had signed off” on the new maps.

Another member, state Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, who chaired the House reapportionment committee overseeing the process, testified that he was in communication with Abrams about the proposed changes. Nix said he welcomed Democratic input and consent for moving forward with HB 566. “We had people on both sides of the aisles who wanted to make changes,” Nix testified.

The measure, House Bill 566, was adopted unanimously in the House and was also supported by Abrams’ opponent, ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans. The piece quotes three Evans supporters who are critical of Abrams’ role in the debate.

Abrams’ campaign provided a statement from state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, who was the candidate’s top deputy in the Georgia House. 

She called the story a “sad and inaccurate recollection” of the debate and said there were no negotiations with Democrats about changes to two districts specified in the lawsuit.

Said Hugley:

Leader Abrams did not endorse or approve of those changes. She did not ask the Caucus to take a position in favor of the matter. She did not instruct members to vote in favor of the measure. Democrats unanimously voted yes on this legislation, and Leader Abrams took immediate action when she learned the exact extent of the harmful changes to those particular districts. Prior to the vote, no Democrats or any allies expressed anything objectionable regarding the maps. Once the effect of the changes were known, to combat Republican gerrymandering effects, she enlisted allies in the legislature and redistricting and legal communities to fight the changes. 

She added that Abrams helped stave off further changes to the districts last year. 

Early voting begins Monday for Georgia's primary elections.

***

In that same contest, Fivethirtyeight.com posits that the Georgia Democratic primary for governor has become a metaphor for a wider debate within the party. These lines stand out:

[I]f I were Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I might be rooting for Abrams to win this primary — for the sake of party unity.

No black woman has ever been elected governor in any state. So the candidacy of Abrams and the potential for making history in this race have excited Democrats both in and out of Georgia. And Abrams’s candidacy comes as the Democratic Party is facing some criticism from activists for taking black women’s votes for granted.

***

CNN has found some striking similarities between the websites of Republican gubernatorial candidate Hunter Hill and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

The cable network reported that the two sites have near-identical language on topics such as religious liberty, veterans and public safety. 

Hill spokesman Cody Hall said he’s not surprised the two military veterans have similar statements. He said “you’ll find dozens of conservatives talking about the issues” cited on the websites. 

***

Both Democratic candidates for governor rolled out new policy initiatives over the weekend. 

Former state Rep. Stacey Evans said she wants make Georgia the second-greatest producer of new solar capacity by 2020, and would back legislation that requires utility companies to pay more to homeowners with solar panels who generate excess energy.

Her opponent, Stacey Abrams, unveiled a K-12 policy plank that repeated a campaign vow to fully fund the state’s public education formula, oppose tax credits that would support private schools and pour more resources into programs for low-income students, minorities and those in rural areas. 

***

This is a strange one: The Augusta Chronicle reports that websites for the city of Augusta website and Calvary Baptist Church of Augusta appear to have been hacked – in a protest against Senate Bill 315, which would criminalize unauthorized access of computer sites.

The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal. Read the background here.

***

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has primary opposition again, as well as a Democratic opponent in November. Nonetheless, he’s got time to throw a few barbs the way of his Republican friends in the Senate who complicated House efforts to rewrite the state’s adoption laws this year. From his campaign’s Facebook page:

This year, David Ralston championed the passage of the first comprehensive update to Georgia’s adoption laws in decades. Far too many children find themselves in desperate situations in our great state, while some supposedly “pro-life” politicians played games.

***

With early voting underway, endorsements are coming out of the woodwork. Among them:

-- In a new TV ad, former House speaker Newt Gingrich has endorsed Ken Shigley in the nonpartisan race for state Court of Appeals. Shigley’s opponent is Ken Hodges.

-- State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, has endorsed John Hitchins in the GOP race for a seat on the state Public Service Commission. Hitchins faces Tricia Pridemore, who was appointed to the seat in February upon the resignation of PSC chairman Stan Wise. Hufstetler, in the press release: “My understanding is that he is only one in the race who has refused contributions from those he regulates and that demonstrates that he will be making independent decisions for the consumer. “

-- Ed Meese, former U.S. attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, has endorsed David Shafer in the GOP race for lieutenant governor. Meese, in the note the Shafer campaign sent out: “Your record clearly shows that you are a Reagan Republican."

***

While many of his Democratic colleagues grilled Scott Pruitt over his ethics scandals during a committee hearing late last week, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, used his five minutes to extract commitments on the Port of Savannah from the Environmental Protection Administration chief.

Carter criticized Pruitt and his staff for being “completely unprepared” during a meeting with the harbor’s maritime pilots. He also urged Pruitt to reexamine a specific set of emissions standards for the small boats those pilots use to pull larger cargo ships through the harbor.

“The manufacturer is telling us they cannot meet the (emissions standards) and build these vessels that they need,” Carter said. Pruitt promised to look into the matter.

***

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is standing by his committee’s vetting of Ronny Jackson, the White House physician who withdrew his nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary last week amid a deluge of damning rumors.

President Trump and other White House allies have gone after Isakson’s ranking Democratic colleague on the Senate VA Committee, Jon Tester of Montana, for publicly sharing some of Jackson’s alleged misdeeds. Isakson said late last week that “we handled everything appropriately in the committee.” 

Isakson wouldn’t divulge any specific candidates he’d like to see nominated to succeedhis ally David Shulkin, whom Trump fired last month, as VA secretary. I want “the best possible person we can get,” he said. “We have a good interim acting director right now and we’re going to let everything settle down because of the turmoil this week and we’ll get to work and do that.”

***

U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, who heads the House GOP’s campaign arm, said late last week that he has delivered a blunt message to 41 partisan colleagues -- including Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville -- who raised less cash than their Democratic challengers last quarter: “I don’t have money to come in and save people who can’t save themselves.”

Stivers’ comments came during an interview with regional newspaper reporters. “If somebody’s in a seat that has a pretty good [Republican advantage], it’s their job to do their work,” he said. Woodall pulled in roughly $155,000 in the first quarter, compared to Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux’s $219,000 haul. 

***

So you know that Erick Erickson and Redstate.com parted ways in 2015, following an Atlanta gathering in which GOP candidate Donald Trump was shunned for remarks he made about Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

Erickson is now back with the gathering thing, this time under the auspices of his replacement website, the Resurgent:

We will explore all these questions and more. We are inviting a host of elected officials to join us from Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio in the Senate to Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Mark Walker, and Mark Meadows in the House to Governors Abbott, Bevin, Ricketts, and Scott to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, and more. We'll also have senior executives from Facebook and Google on stage with us to talk about the internet and privacy.

Join us the evening of August 2nd to August 5th in Austin, TX at the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol.

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