Kemp urged to close statehouse until coronavirus fears subside

Five left-leaning Georgia groups urged Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday to “do the right thing” and postpone a key legislative deadline.

Kemp responds: ‘Ignore their divisive tactics. We’re in this fight together.’

Five left-leaning Georgia groups urged Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday to “do the right thing” and shutter the Georgia Capitol until public health concerns over coronavirus subside.

The governor fired back in a statement that public health officials do not recommend the closure of the state Capitol, and that “fear-mongering by partisan activists does nothing to help families make rational decisions” about the illness.

The organizations called for the delay of Thursday's Crossover Day - the last day for most legislation to pass one chamber to advance - hours after House Speaker David Ralston suspended the teenage page program and advised the public to watch proceedings at home rather than join the jumble at the Gold Dome.

More: ‘It’s surreal.’ Coronavirus casts a pall on Georgia politics

“On one of the most significant days of the legislative calendar, with votes scheduled on dozens of bills that will impact Georgians’ lives, the people’s presence must be seen and their voices must be heard,” read the statement from Black Voters Matter Fund, Fair Fight Action, Georgia NAACP, Georgia Shift and New Georgia Project Action Fund.

The organizations, several of which have strong ties to 2018 gubernatorial contender Stacey Abrams, highlighted “mixed messages” over the disease, which tests indicate has sickened at least 22 in Georgia.

Shortly after Ralston announced steps to limit crowds at the Statehouse, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, the president of the state Senate, said the chamber would “be open for the people’s business.” And Kemp, who has repeatedly called for vigilance, has also said broadly that it’s too early to restrict public gatherings.

“Georgia legislators should not hide behind an internet stream and dissuade citizens from participating in the legislative process, as Speaker Ralston has done, send mixed messages to the public, as Lt. Governor Duncan has done, or say nothing at all, as the governor has done,” read the statement.

The spread of the illness has cast a pall on Georgia politics and triggered changes in behavior under the Gold Dome and on the campaign trail.

Concern about a possible exposure has also led U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a Senate candidate, to "self-quarantine" himself after he interacted with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

“Statehouse leaders should wait until public health concerns over COVID-19 subside before holding these quintessential votes,” the groups said. “Governor Kemp, along with House and Senate leadership, should do the right thing and close the Capitol until such time that citizens are able and encouraged to participate.”

Kemp, for his part, recommended that Georgians remain calm and follow federal health guidelines.

“Ignore their divisive tactics,” he said of the groups. “We’re in this fight together.”

In Other News