A. Wayne Johnson/AJC file

The Jolt: Trump official would end student loan debt ‘insanity’ -- and run for U.S. Senate in Georgia

The sweepstakes for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats just got very, very interesting.

Last night, A. Wayne Johnson told us he was resigning his post in the U.S. Department of Education. Under Secretary Betsy DeVoss, his stint included time as chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student aid, in charge of the nation’s college loan program.

Johnson intends to submit his name for an appointment by Gov. Brian Kemp to the seat being vacated by Republican Johnny Isakson on Dec. 31.

He’s definitely a long-shot candidate, but Johnson’s proposed platform is quickly causing national waves:

 Johnson told the AJC he would campaign on a plan that would wipe clean the more than $53 billion in student loans that Georgians owe to the federal government and compensate those who have already repaid their loans.

It would provide students a $50,000 grant for their college education and other work training and licensing costs. People who have already paid their student loan debts would receive tax credits up to $50,000. 

It would be financed by a 1% tax on revenue generated by all employers – including non-profit organizations. He called it “fair, fiscally responsible and future-oriented so that the citizens of Georgia and across America can afford a college education.” 

The take from the Wall Street Journal:

A senior student-loan official in the Trump administration said he would resign Thursday and endorse canceling most of the nation’s outstanding student debt, calling the student-loan system “fundamentally broken...

Mr. Johnson said repayment trends suggest much of the debt will likely never be repaid, and he is calling for moving toward a system that gets the government out of student lending...

“We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody…but it rides on their credit files—it rides on their back—for decades,” he said, adding, “The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity.”

***

The number of Democratic presidential candidates who will take the stage somewhere in metro Atlanta on Nov. 20 just grew by one.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has become the ninth candidate to qualify – an addition that’s likely to boost a centrist tone that emerged last week at the fourth debate in Westerville, Ohio.

Already meeting standards set by the Democratic National Committee are: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.

Klobuchar qualified after getting 3% support in a national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University that was released this morning. The same poll has Warren, the Massachusetts senator, opening up a statistical lead over former Vice President Biden, 28 to 21%.

Three of the 12 candidates who qualified for the Ohio debate have yet to do so for the Atlanta stage: Beto O’Rourke, Tulsi Gabbard and Julian Castro.

***

State Sen. Zahra Karinshak has picked up the endorsement of one of her former rivals in the race for Georgia’s 7th District. The Democrat said Thursday that civil rights attorney Marqus Cole, who dropped out of the contest a few weeks ago, is backing her bid. 

“This race is about more than just flipping a seat from red to blue,” said Cole. “It’s about electing someone who will represent our community and its values, and my wife, daughters, and I know that Zahra is that person.” 

Karinshak is one of several Democrats seeking to flip the Republican-controlled district, which was home to the tightest U.S. House contest in the nation last year. 

Other candidates include Carolyn Bourdeaux, the runner-up in last year’s contest; state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero; activist Nabilah Islam and John Eaves, the former Fulton County commission chair.

***

As we reported last night, the Atlanta debate – co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post -- will feature an all-female cast of four moderators: Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker and Ashley Parker.

The New York Times reminds us that it won’t be a first:

In January 2016, Trish Regan and Sandra Smith moderated one of two Republican presidential debates on Fox Business Network. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff of PBS teamed up for a Democratic debate in February 2016.

But it will be the first all-female moderating team since the viral birth of the #MeToo movement two years ago. Things could get awkward, given that MSNBC’s parent network, NBC, has been fending off recent accusations that its news department buried reporting by Ronan Farrow on the sexual conduct of Hollywood giant Harvey Weinstein.

***

We’ll have more on this later, but Susan Rice, the former U.N. ambassador and national security adviser to President Barack Obama, was on the Georgia Tech campus Wednesday to hawk her new memoir, "Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For."

We caught up with her for a few minutes prior to the event, and couldn’t resist noting that the staged Q&A with Rice would be conducted by Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Which means the event featured two women of color who had decided they had better things to do than run for the U.S. Senate. 

“Yeah,” Rice said. “But neither of us are done. Don’t worry.”

Abrams, of course, was pressured this spring to run against Republican incumbent David Perdue in Georgia. Rice had been pressed enter the race against Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

*** 

Catching you up:

-- Democrat Jon Ossoff on Wednesday blasted an online attack by a Republican super PAC that claimed he was “shamed” into marrying his longtime girlfriend, a physician who has played a key role in his U.S. Senate bid for the David Perdue seat.

-- Michelle Nunn, who was defeated by David Perdue in the 2014 U.S. Senate contest, told her associates at CARE on Wednesday that she would stay out of both U.S. Senate races in Georgia next year. “Deferring any run for office at this time” was the phrase she used, which could mean she hasn’t ruled out a 2024 run for the seat now occupied by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

-- Add this to your Senate Race No. 2 calculations as well: Donald Trump Jr. on Thursday will host a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, one of his father’s top defenders in Congress and a potential appointee to the U.S. Senate. 

***

The most talked about bill in the state Capitol next year, and the one least likely to move, would allow college athletes to be paid for their labor – mimicking similar legislation signed into law by California’s governor.

State Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, will be pitching the measure, which would no doubt upend SEC football, one of the most sacred icons of Southern culture.

Yet Gov. Brian Kemp had a mild reaction to a Democratic proposal. A diehard University of Georgia fan and Athens native, the Republican reserved his right to neutrality.

“I hadn't looked at that legislation. There's gonna be a lot of issues that we have to deal with during the session,” he told the AJC, “and I look forward to seeing what they're proposing.”

It is also possible that Kemp doesn’t want to spend the next six months being chewed into compost on sports talk radio.

Meanwhile, Mitchell told the Athens Banner-Herald that his bill will have the support of “two pro hall of fame players—one football and basketball—that played for Georgia.”

The lawmaker wouldn’t name them, but the newspaper noted that Dominique Wilkins is the lone UGA hall-of-famer on the basketball side of the equation.

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