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The Jolt: A vanished race for district attorney suddenly reappears

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istockphoto
justice concept, selective focus on nearest part ,lens blur f/x istockphoto

A federal judge has resurrected a district attorney's race that had disappeared via a 2018 state law that had pushed the contest to 2022.

The law had kicked in when Gov. Brian Kemp chose not to appoint a replacement for Ken Mauldin, the retiring Western Circuit district attorney, by May 3 -- six months before the 2020 general election.

The delay ensured that whoever the governor did eventually appoint as prosecutor for Clarke and Oconee counties wouldn't have to face voters for more than two years. From the Athens Banner-Herald:

U.S. Northern Circuit District Court Judge Mark Cohen on Wednesday held that a 2018 Georgia law allowing Kemp to derail the election process violates the state constitution.

Athens lawyer and former state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez announced nearly a year ago that she planned to run for the seat after Mauldin announced that he did not intend to run for another term. His current term expires at the end of this year.

Then in February, Mauldin announced he would retire on Feb. 29, 10 months before his term expires. When attempted to qualify to run for the post in March, the secretary of state denied her attempt.

The preliminary injunction calls for a special election. No date has been set yet, but the contest could very well be returned to the Nov. 3 ballot.

Gonzalez, a Democrat, will be one of the candidates. Brian Patterson, currently the acting district attorney, this morning declared that he would be another. “I am excited to learn that there will likely be a special election in November for district attorney,” he said via a press release.

You can read the judge's order here. One notable passage:

[W]ith respect to Governor Kemp, nothing in this Court's preliminary injunction order will prevent the Governor from exercising his right to appoint a person to fill the vacancy created by Mauldin's resignation, and the Court finds no harm to the Governor if his appointee must run for office in 2020 to maintain his or her seat.

This case was being watched closely because it parallels a state Supreme Court race that disappeared under similar circumstances. That vanishing, too, is being challenged in federal court. The connection was underlined by Judge Cohen in a footnote to his order that focused on a bit of sloppiness by state attorneys:

Defendants appear to have "copied and pasted" their argument as to the balance of equities from their brief in another case pending in this district involving the appointment of a state supreme court justice, as their argument discusses "the value of allowing an appointed justice to demonstrate their qualifications and performance" rather than an appointed district attorney.

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A New York Times piece looking at President Donald Trump's terrible month of June begins with this Atlanta angle:

WASHINGTON — Last Saturday night, over dinner at the White House, Bernard Marcus, a top Republican donor, told President Trump he was alarmed at Mr. Trump's plummeting poll numbers and Jared Kushner's stewardship of his father-in-law's re-election effort.

Mr. Trump sought to assuage Mr. Marcus's concerns, assuring the billionaire Home Depot founder that his political fortunes would soon change in part because he was bringing in "good people" to steady his campaign, according to a person briefed on their conversation.

The next morning, before setting off for a round of golf, the president tweeted a video from a Florida retirement community that featured a Trump supporter yelling, "white power," setting Mr. Trump's aides on a scramble to reach him on the course and have him delete the message.

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We have failed to mention the sad fate of one of the more original bills to be brought before the Legislature this year -- or any other year.

In the final days of the 2019 session, on a 165-5 vote, the House made state Rep. Todd Jones, a Republican from south Forsyth County, the chairman of a study committee to explore whether the treatment of indigent patients in Georgia hospitals might be addressed in the same way that cap-and-trade policies target pollution.

On the final day of last month's session, Jones' brainchild failed on an 83-79 vote. Fourteen Republicans and all but three Democrats voted against it. Another 14 House members -- a rather large number -- chose not to vote at all.

Cap-and-trade is a market-based approach to pollution control through economic incentives. A government allocates a limited number of permits allowing the discharge of specific quantities of a certain pollutant.

Polluters – think electrical plants and heavy industry – that need to increase their emissions must buy permits from companies willing to sell. And those companies sell because they’ve been able to reduce or eliminate their own emissions. An incentive to reduce pollution has been created.

Jones’ legislation would have created a one-year thought experiment involving state’s nonprofit hospitals. The state would set a mandated (but imaginary) level of indigent care for all hospitals, measured out in credits. Those hospitals that exceed the level could sell their credits to hospitals that fail to meet the state goal.

On the Democratic side, the measure ran afoul of a continued push for Medicaid expansion. As for the bill’s Republican opponents, it is worth remembering that cap-and-trade is one of those many ideas with GOP roots that are now disavowed by most Republicans.

“I see two paths,” Jones said post-session. “One is we're only six months away from January, and I'd like to have that conversation again.” And the lawmaker said he is going to start shopping his idea around to legislators in other states -- to see if he can find one to help him carry the idea through.

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The diplomatic appointment of Mark Burkhalter, a former Georgia lawmaker who served briefly as House speaker, has run into trouble. From the Washington Post:

President Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Norway is facing demands that he abandon his pursuit of the diplomatic post following the unearthing of a 1994 court filing indicating his involvement in the production of a racist campaign flier against an African American politician in Georgia.

According to the filing, Mark Burkhalter helped create a flier that distorted and exaggerated the features of Gordon Joyner, a candidate for county commissioner in north-central Georgia. Joyner was pictured with some features darkened, a large Afro, enlarged eyebrows and a warped eye.

Burkhalter did not disclose his involvement in the controversy to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to a letter written by Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the panel's ranking Democrat, that was obtained by The Washington Post. The committee's discovery of his role has not previously been reported.

Joyner has sent a statement to CNN, saying it was "unbelievable and inconceivable" that Burkhalter would be nominated as envoy. From the CNN website:

"When I learned that Mark Burkhalter -- who was a leader in a notoriously despicable, mean, hateful, nasty, RACIST political campaign targeted, directed, and financed against me as a black elected official serving in office -- right now could become distinguished by a Senate vote to be an Ambassador representing America on foreign shores, I immediately was stunned, shocked, dismayed, saddened, and very, very hurt," said Joyner, an Atlanta-based civil rights lawyer.

"We can do much better," he said.

Here’s a 1995 Journal-Constitution summary of the incident under examination:

Fulton County Commissioner Gordon Joyner has settled his libel suit against Commission Chairman Mitch Skandalakis and three members of Skandalakis' 1994 election team.

The settlement calls for an undisclosed payment to Joyner, a public letter of apology and an admission of guilt, according to a statement released Friday from the mediator who helped arrange the settlement.

The suit was prompted by a campaign brochure mailed to 100,000 Fulton households that depicted Joyner, who is black, with an exaggerated hairstyle, thick eyebrows and lower lip, crooked eyes and the message "Vote for Me and I'll Raise Your Taxes."

Joyner filed the libel suit last November against Skandalakis; his campaign chairman, state Sen. Mark Burkhalter; his campaign financial treasurer, John Ramsey; and his campaign consultant, Jonathan Beecher.

At first, Skandalakis denied knowledge of the brochure. Later, he acknowledged that his campaign paid for the brochure but insisted he did not know the photo had been altered.

"During the fall of 1994, the Mitch Skandalakis campaign paid for and was involved in the preparation and dissemination of the flier which contained a distorted photograph of you and inaccurate statements regarding you and attributed to you," states an Oct. 3 letter addressed to Joyner. "I and my campaign officers and consultant who have signed below take full responsibility for the flier."

The letter was released along with the statement announcing the settlement.

Joyner said he was bound by the terms of the agreement not to comment.

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The mayor of Waycross is reversing his public stance on whether the state's "stand your ground" law should be repealed.

Michael-Angelo James was initially one of 10 mayors who signed onto a letter last week asking the General Assembly to roll back the law that says a person acting in self-defense has no duty to back down from a confrontation. The letter also included the names of the mayors of Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta, Athens-Clarke, Decatur, Norcross, Milledgeville, Fairburn and Stockbridge.

After news of the letter circulated in the conservative, southeast Georgia town, James received negative feedback from constituents. He asked for his name to be removed as gun control advocates continue to circulate the mayors’ request.

“I believe that each citizen has the right to defend themselves against harm,” James wrote to a constituent on Facebook. “In short, I think that we have the right to stand our ground.”

***

In endorsement news:

-- Planned Parenthood Action Fund has endorsed Democrat Jon Ossoff in his race against U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

-- State Rep. Philip Singleton, R-Newnan, has joined a growing list of state GOP lawmakers who are supporting U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s election.

***

Three weeks after primary day, the state has finalized election results.

There was a record-high 2.2 million primary turnout, up from 2 million votes cast during the 2008 primary. A little more than half of voters this year used mail-in ballots. The large number of absentee ballots and diminished staffing because of the coronavirus delayed certification.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said he expects 5 million people to vote in the November general election. See the final returns here.

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