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The Jolt: This former state official is now a school bus driver

GPB's Mark Harmon talks with Harris Blackwood (left)  from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety about the dangers of distracted driving./Georgia Public Broadcasting
GPB's Mark Harmon talks with Harris Blackwood (left) from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety about the dangers of distracted driving./Georgia Public Broadcasting

We called Harris Blackwood just after 5:30 a.m. today, certain that he was already up and moving.

For eight years, throughout the Nathan Deal administration, Blackwood was the director of the state’s Office of Highway Safety. He was the guy in public service announcements who reminded you to check your windshield wipers, and to use a penny to check the tread on your tires.

He's a school bus driver today, cranking his engine at 6 a.m. to make the first of his two morning rounds in Hall County. He explained his situation in a Facebook post over the weekend. A taste:

A little over a year ago, I was not invited by the new governor for a second dance. I looked at several options and decided to try my hand at being the kind of bus driver I advocated for.

…. My current route is on some of the poorest places in this county. I've driven the nicer parts of the county, too, but there are folks who are earnest about getting their kids to school every day. I have mamas who wait with their little ones and they never fail to say "thank you" before I close the door.

Some of you folks are knuckleheads and try to get around my yellow lights before they switch to red at the bus stop. There is nothing in your already rushed day that should go before the safety of a child.

One of the drawbacks of a political life is that your exit is often tied to that of your patron. That’s fine if you’re in your late twenties, but when you’re 59, starting over is easier said than done. Blackwood says his daily schedule – two routes in the morning, two routes in the evening – allow him to do a little consulting work in between.

A former journalist, Blackwood also writes a Sunday column for the Gainesville Times. He’s having a good time. “I’m drinking from my saucer, because my cup runneth over,” he said this morning.

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Since Michael Bloomberg's disastrous debate performance in Las Vegas last week, there's plenty of behind-the-scenes hand-wringing over the former New York mayor.

But publicly, most of his Georgia supporters have been quiet. An exception was state Rep. Derrick Jackson, D-Tryone, who formally endorsed Bloomberg shortly after the Tuesday debate.

He talked to our AJC colleague Sarah Kallis about his decision.

“Some individuals are great debaters, some are not,” Jackson told our AJC colleague Sarah Kallis . “I told a few of my colleagues that if you look at a lot of the candidates in debates, they have not done well, like Joe Biden. This being Bloomberg’s first debate, I’m not overly concerned.”

We’re also told that DeKalb chief executive Michael Thurmond still plans to endorse Bloomberg, though the timing is uncertain.

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It turns out that another Bloomberg fan is Andrew Young. This bit of intelligence comes as the former U.N. ambassador pours cold water on a story Joe Biden has been recounting on the campaign trail, one in which he says he was arrested in South Africa 30 years ago during an attempted meeting with Nelson Mandela.

The New York Times looked into Biden's story, which its reporters say is a new addition to the former vice president's stump speech and one he shares particularly when he is courting voters of color.

The Times reports that in speeches in South Carolina and Nevada, Biden has said that when he was U.S. senator, he and the U.N. ambassador at the time were stopped by police when they tried to meet Mandela on Robben Island. The paper found no records of the 1977 arrest nor mentions in Biden’s memoir.

Young, the former Atlanta mayor who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations around the time Biden mentioned, says he doesn’t remember it happening. Here is what he told the Times:

"No, I was never arrested and I don't think he was, either," Mr. Young, now 87, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Young added: "Now, people were being arrested in Washington. I don't think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa." He emphasized his great respect for Mr. Biden, though he said he was currently supporting former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York for the presidency.

Here’s a little additional info: The oldest of your Insiders accompanied Young to Botswana in 1987, 10 years after the above incident with Biden was supposed to have occurred. The anti-apartheid gathering was held in the capital city of Gaborone, 12 miles from the South African border.

During a break, we drove to the border just so Young could lay eyes on the country of South Africa. At that time, Young was persona non grata. The South African government wouldn't allow him in.

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Already posted: Sometime today, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is expected to set the qualifying period for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's seat, a move that would limit the already crowded field of candidates. Look for a March 2-6 window, the same period that other candidates seeking state office must officially declare their intention to run.

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House Speaker David Ralston has effectively sidelined legislation that would further limit the ability of attorney-lawmakers to postpone criminal cases for their clients.

Shortly after several of his leading GOP critics filed House Bill 982, the measure was assigned to the all-important Rules Committee -- which means it will remain in purgatory in the House as long as Ralston desires.

The bill’s supporters may have other avenues.

They’re pushing for a version to be introduced in the state Senate, where it could be used as a bargaining chip or simply to get under Ralston’s skin. And they’re hoping for a nudge by Gov. Brian Kemp.

One sign that Kemp could become involved arrived in the form of an email late Friday. It was a press release about the legislation from state Rep. Jeff Jones, a Kemp ally who tacked a picture on to the bottom of the note:

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It was of a meeting between Kemp and Hailie Massey, the namesake of the legislation. She was was sexually abused by a traveling evangelist when she was 14 years old.

The criminal case against the abuser was delayed for years by Ralston, who was working as his defense attorney and cited conflicting state duties to push the timing back.

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Senate candidate Matt Lieberman aims to show that two new Democratic rivals -- former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver of Augusta and the Rev. Raphael Warnock -- won't scare him out of the contest against Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Lieberman's throwing a March 15 fundraiser at the Capitol City Club that will feature his father, former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman. It'll cost $250 to attend and $2,800 to host.

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Attorney General Chris Carr of Georgia is making the short hop to Charleston this week to join other Republican law enforcement officials in a panel discussion ahead of the Democratic debate. Specifically, according to the press release, the "attorneys general will discuss how the Democrats' lawless agenda is harmful to Americans in contrast to the successful rule of law agenda of the Trump Administration."

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Megan Whittemore is one of a small number of young women who serve as a top aide to a U.S. senator. And she recently shared tips on how she became David Perdue's chief of staff. From the GW Hatchet:

Whittemore said one piece of advice she heard early on in her career that has always stuck with her is the notion that one should "always take a seat at the table" in meetings.

"Especially as a young woman and trying to find your place as a junior staffer in politics, I think you often walk into a meeting, walk into a large conference room, and it can be somewhat intimidating," she said. "But I think it's really important that you sit at the table and be part of the conversation."

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Elizabeth Warren's campaign is running ads on radio stations with primarily black audiences in Georgia and six other states that will hold primaries in March.

The ads, which started last week and according to the campaign reflect a six-figure investment, focus on the Massachusetts senator’s humble upbringing and proposals benefitting working-class families. The script:

She's a janitor's daughter who has become one of the country's fiercest advocates for the middle class. She came up with an idea for a new independent agency standing up for consumers and middle-class families. She's done it while facing some very tough opposition. Fortunately, she's very tough. Elizabeth understands what I strongly believe -- that a strong growing economy begins with a strong and thriving middle class.

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Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group largely financed by Michael Bloomberg's billions but unrelated to his campaign for president, took out a full page ad in Sunday's edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution criticizing U.S. Sen. David Perdue for not embracing a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales.

In addition to the print advertisement, there will also be digital ads on Facebook. The group says it is spending $45,000 in Georgia.

“Dear Senator Perdue: 1,543 Georgians have died in the year since the U.S. House passed H.R. 8, a bill to require background checks on all gun sales,” the ad said. “But you've refused to act”

Similar ads were also purchased to call out GOP senators in Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas. In total, the group is spending about $300,000.

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Democrats have homed in on comments Marjorie Greene, a Republican, has made about her decision to run for Georgia's 14th Congressional District after initially launching a campaign in the Sixth District.

Speaking to Tea Party members in Dalton County, Greene said it will be difficult to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, according to a write-up in the Daily Citizen-News:

Greene was asked about the fact that she originally began campaigning for Congress in the Sixth Congressional District, which includes many of the northern suburbs of Atlanta and is represented by Democrat Lucy McBath. Greene said she had many supporters in the 14th District ask her to run here and she became convinced that a Republican probably could not win in the 6th District, so she and her family moved to the 14th District.

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Bipartisanship is so rare these days that even the most mundane projects are worth mentioning. According to the Marietta Daily Journal, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, is working with Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul to get his city recognized by the U.S. Postal Service. From the newspaper:

Though Sandy Springs has been incorporated since 2005, the Postal Service has not recognized it as a city, meaning when residents order items online through websites such as Amazon.com, they often give Atlanta addresses, resulting in potentially over $1 million in lost sales tax revenue, possibly more. City spokeswoman Sharon Kraun added Sandy Springs residents are overpaying for the sales tax since Atlanta's is 8.9% and Sandy Springs' is 7%.

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Meanwhile, a powerful union is urging the Democratic Party's congressional campaign arm to cut ties with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath after she voted against an organized labor bill.

McBath’s office didn’t respond to questions about why she was among seven Democrats who voted against the Protecting the Right to Organize Act earlier this month. It passed largely along party lines, and Republicans and business groups who opposed it said its provisions hurt employers for the sake of boosting unions.

The Communications Workers of America sent a letter to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's chairwoman asking her to stop providing campaign support to McBath and the six other Democrats who voted against the PRO Act.

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