U.S. Sen. David Perdue delivers the keynote speech during the Brookhaven and DeKalb Chamber of Commerce business luncheon at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center on April 11, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Jolt: While Stacey Abrams ponders Senate race, David Perdue extols MLK from Ebenezer

On Monday, Stacey Abrams was in Albany. The Democrat has embarked on a “thank you” tour of the state as she ponders whether to try again for governor in 2022, or run for U.S. Senate in 2020 – as Democrats in Washington would like to see.

That same morning, one of Abrams’ potential targets, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., was at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta for the annual MLK Day ceremony. From the church pulpit, Perdue extolled the martyred civil rights leader, who would be 90 this year, as a man with “the soul of a patriot.”

Perdue also indulged in a bit of family history. His father was superintendent of the Houston County school system when desegregation arrived. You can watch it here. Said Perdue:

“Put simply, my dad revered Dr. King. Growing up, I remember my father using Dr. King as an example of a leader that was not afraid to do the right thing. He was not afraid to challenge the status quo and injustice…

“In 1961, my dad became superintendent of schools in Houston County in Georgia. He integrated the schools and was one of the first in the state of Georgia to do so. He said it was simply the right thing to do. He did it in the face of great adversity. He used Dr. King as an example all the way through. And so, Dr. King was an inspiration for my father.”

If you do not keep an eye on the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist on MLK Day, then you aren’t a serious student of Georgia politics.

From that pulpit, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. called out Vice President Mike Pence for, on Sunday, allegedly misappropriating the civil rights leader’s phrasing. Said Bernice King, as noted by our AJC colleague Kelly Yamanouchi:

“If we really want to make real the promises of democracy, now is the time on this King holiday to stop quoting King out of context and misquoting him to suit our own purposes.”

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer, who also is considered a potential Democratic candidate in that Senate race against Perdue, laid into President Donald Trump, though not by name:

“There is a tragic irony in all of this foolish talk about a wall. In a broken world, you need borders, but walls blur our vision. The truth is that American workers live above the border, and below the poverty line. And their wages are not pulled down by brown-skin people on the other side of the border. Racism and white supremacy and code speech are still with us.”

Nor did Warnock spare Gov. Brian Kemp, though again, no names were mentioned: “Right here in Georgia, we witnessed politicians presiding over their own elections...We’ve got politicians who refuse to resign so that they might referee their own race… Our democracy is better than that,” Warnock said.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Roswell, said a few words, with Emma González, one of the student activists rising out of the Parkland, Fla., massacre looking over McBath’s shoulder. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms welcomed the crowd – and noted that her administration had eliminated cash bail requirements for those charged with non-violent crimes.

The MLK Day service is considered friendly territory for Democrats, so the chief question becomes which Georgia Republicans will venture into the church sanctuary for the three-hour-plus ceremony.

Governor Kemp, inaugurated just last week, was not there. Attorney General Chris Carr represented the state Capitol crowd. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., was in a front row pew. He hasn’t missed an MLK service in more than a decade. But the chief GOP speaking role was given to his Senate colleague, David Perdue.

“I grew up in America in the 1960s. Racism was real. Segregation was real. Discrimination was real,” Perdue said. Both of his parents were educators, but his father became superintendent during a crucial period.

According to a history on the website of the Houston County school system, a first stab at voluntary integration in 1965. When that didn’t work, busing began in 1970. The senator’s father left his job as superintendent about a decade later.

If there is a subliminal message to Perdue’s appearance at Ebenezer, it might be this: Last year, Kemp won the Governor’s Mansion with a campaign that focused almost exclusively on rural Georgia, which cost the GOP ground in metro Atlanta.

Perdue’s address at Ebenezer can be read as a sign that he hasn’t given up on Atlanta or its suburbs.

***

Jaime Dupree of WSB Radio fame reports that, last night, Republicans in the Senate dropped their 1,301-page, Donald Trump-endorsed bill to end the 31-day federal shutdown and give the president his $5.7 billion border wall. But Dupree also notes that the same legislation would deny Central American minors the right to step foot on U.S. soil to claim amnesty.

***

Heavy people traffic is expected at the state Capitol this morning, due to the annual March for Life in downtown Atlanta. The rally at Liberty Plaza begins at 11 a.m.

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Different times call for different leadership. With the midterms behind us, the state Democratic and Republican parties are both restocking their leadership. 

Carmen Foskey, the 20-something wunderkid who was the Georgia GOP’s executive director throughout the cycle, is moving to a private sector job in Savannah. She said Monday she will be replaced in February by Stewart Bragg, who has extensive experience in battleground states and was previously a top operative for the Virginia state party. 

Georgia GOP chair John Watson, who has not said whether he will seek another term later this year, said he and Foskey helped stabilize the party’s finances while Bragg’s job will be to “build, build, build.”

Across the aisle, state Democrats are in a period of flux, too. The party’s activists appear set to elect state Sen. Nikema Williams and a slate of other younger activists to leadership roles. And longtime executive director Rebecca DeHart announced she was leaving, giving the party’s next chair a vacancy to fill. 

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As we noted Monday, most high-profile Georgia Democrats are staying on the sidelines as the presidential field takes shape. But we wouldn’t be surprised if DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston emerges as a top surrogate for Sen. Kamala Harris in Georgia. The two share prosecutorial backgrounds and a deep personal history: Boston credits Harris with helping her 2016 victory.

*** 

Opponents of a launching pad in Camden County are pointing to an article in Florida Today with this news from Cape Canaveral:

Los Angeles-based Relativity Space has won approval from the Air Force's 45th Space Wing to fly its 100-foot-tall Terran 1 rocket from Launch Complex 16, the company announced Thursday…

The company plans to spend more than $10 million to renovate the pad, build payload processing and integration hangars and install fuel and lightning protection systems.

Critics say the development undercuts all efforts to bring space travel to the Georgia Coast.

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The Marietta Daily Journal today reports that the Cobb County Commission will vote today on a formal request to ask the Legislature for more time to consider transit expansion. Current legislation requires a vote by the end of this year. The resolution asks for a delay until the end of 2021.

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On his Facebook page, Harris Blackwood has announced that he, like others brought in by the Nathan Deal administration, has left his post as director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

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According to the Saporta Report, the city of Atlanta has named Fatimot Ladipo as its new top lobbyist at the state Capitol. Ladipo had most recently headed up regional lobbying for AT&T.

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