Georgia’s state Capitol

Capitol Recap: Georgia Democrats want to make business their business

“Rebrand” is the verb of the era.

It’s a big trend in business, and Georgia’s Democratic Party — which despite some successes in November still doesn’t hold any statewide office — needs to make its business being trendy. So it now wants to remake itself into the state's party of business.

Georgia Republicans would probably say that title is already taken, but some could make a case that they have yielded territory in the argument in recent years — especially on the battlegrounds of the culture war.

During recent legislative sessions, when great amounts of time were devoted to debating “religious liberty” legislation, business boosters joined with LGBTQ groups in opposing such bills, saying the measures could allow discrimination and hurt the state’s business-friendly reputation.

That often set the Metro Atlanta Chamber and major employers such as Apple and Time Warner against the social conservative branch of the state GOP, which maintained that religious liberty legislation was needed to add an additional layer of protection for people of faith.

Last year saw a faceoff between one the state’s largest employers, Delta Air Lines, and top Georgia Republicans, with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle out front. It began when Delta severed marketing ties with the National Rifle Association following a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school. Cagle — then considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination for governor — responded by putting the kibosh on a tax break on jet fuel that would have saved Delta tens of millions of dollars a year. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal later took steps to restore the tax break, but he could only do it on a temporary basis. His successor, Brian Kemp, backed an effort to make that more permanent this year, but the tax break languished Tuesday night as the General Assembly adjourned.

This year brought a new point of conflict in House Bill 481, the “heartbeat bill” that would outlaw most abortions in Georgia at about six weeks into a pregnancy and before most women even know they are pregnant.

It brought out figures you would most likely see on the pages of Entertainment Weekly, but they were backed up by numbers that could easily be found in The Wall Street Journal.

Actress and producer Alyssa Milano led a group of about 30 Georgia film workers who visited the state Capitol on the last day of the legislative session to urge Kemp to veto HB 481.

Milano, whose Netflix show “Insatiable” is filmed in Atlanta, warned that “we are going to do everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women if HB 481 becomes law.”

Kemp, who campaigned on a promise to sign the nation’s toughest anti-abortion laws, was unmoved.

“I can’t govern because I’m worried about what someone in Hollywood thinks about me,” he said.

If he’s not worried about what the star of “Whose the Boss?” thinks, he might at least stop to wonder how it could be viewed in an industry that, through 455 film and television productions in the past fiscal year, had an economic impact on his state of $9.5 billion. (Officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania are wondering. With all the effort one can put in a tweet, they invited Georgia’s film industry to take a look at what they have to offer.)

Democrats sense an opening.

State Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, made a pro-business case just minutes after the Legislature adjourned.

“You can’t just say you’re the No. 1 state to do business. You have to live those values,” Williams said. “And that includes making sure we are open for business for everyone. That includes women.”

Kemp held his ground.

“Our business environment is good. We cannot change our values of who we are for money. And we’re not going to do that. That’s what makes our state great,” Kemp said. “For people to want to boycott the state because we are protecting life at the heartbeat — I don’t understand that. It just doesn’t make very much sense to me, and I think I’ve shown early on I’m a business-friendly governor.”

Also looking to change: Speaking of rebranding, Joe Biden promised this past week that he will work harder to respect the personal space of the women he encounters while campaigning.

Biden, who shows many of the signs that he’s running for the White House, began the past week facing a story that former Nevada legislator Lucy Flores told about how Biden, while campaigning for her in 2014, had made her feel uncomfortable by holding her shoulders and kissing her head. Similar stories from other women quickly followed.

In a video he released this past week, Biden said he can change.

“I’ll be much more mindful. That is my responsibility, my responsibility, and I’ll meet it,” Biden said. “But I’ll always believe governing, quite frankly, and life, for that matter, is about connecting — about connecting with people. That won’t change.”

A couple of Georgia’s most prominent Democratic women threw a lifeline out to Biden.

Stacey Abrams, appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said Biden’s admission of error should not hurt him if he chooses to run.

“I am friends with Lucy Flores and I appreciate her bringing her story forward,” Abrams said. “I also have deep respect for Vice President Joe Biden. We cannot have perfection as a litmus test.”

The former candidate for governor, who met recently with Biden, generating talk of a Biden-Abrams ticket, said “the responsibility of leaders is not to be perfect, but to be accountable.”

“I think we’ve seen Joe Biden doing that,” Abrams said. “The vice president has acknowledged the discomfort that he has caused. He has created context for why that is his behavior, and he has affirmed that he will do something different going forward.

“And I think that’s what we should be looking for, because we’re going to find out things about everybody running for office, whether it’s for the presidency or the school board.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joined the national conversation in a tweet that should cheer the former vice president.

Posting a photo of her and Biden smiling, their foreheads touching, she wrote: “Everyone’s experience is their own. As for mine, I found my introduction and interaction with @JoeBiden to be genuine and endearing.”

Shifting into gear: Former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel waited a while before announcing that she would make a run at regaining the 6th Congressional District seat she lost in November.

But once she entered the race, she made valuable use of her time — about $325,000 worth.

That’s how much she raised in less than a week, a significant effort for a congressional candidate, especially one who can’t lean on the advantages of incumbency.

The money will come in handy because before she can ever square off against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, the Democrat who beat her in last year’s midterm election, she’ll have to fight off a fellow Republican.

State Sen. Brandon Beach didn’t wait to see whether Handel would run. He entered the race in January.

Handel’s fundraising appears to be aimed at McBath, focusing on liberal icons such as Michael Bloomberg and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and slamming them for their “radical socialist agenda.”

But the endorsements she rung up could have a bigger impact on Beach. They include the U.S. House’s top GOP leaders, most of the Republicans in Georgia’s congressional delegation and two former representatives from the 6th District: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Health comes first: McBath offered a look into her strategy to win re-election this week, launching a web ad that makes it clear health care will be a focus of her 2020 campaign.

The ad, underwritten by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, condemns the Trump administration’s anti-Obamacare strategy.

Protecting Obamacare, specifically coverage for pre-existing conditions, was an issue in 2018 for McBath, a breast cancer survivor.

Handel also brought up health care in her introductory ad, criticizing a push for “Medicare for all” that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has advanced.

Another big take: Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux announced that she took in more than $350,000 in seven weeks to fund her second run at the 7th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville.

Bourdeaux, who lost to Woodall by 433 votes in the tightest race of the November midterms, received donations from more than 1,000 individual contributors and no corporate PACS, her team said.

Nabilah Islam, who is running against Bourdeaux in the Democratic primary, said she collected more than $100,000 in contributions during the first fundraising quarter.

It could be close: Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz unveiled his prediction model for the 2020 presidential contest on Larry Sabato's "Crystal Ball."Magic 8 Ball would advise to “Ask again later.”

Abramowitz’s early assessment sounds a bit like a long-term weather forecast — there could be blue skies, or it could rain.

“Given a net approval rating of -10, approximately where Trump’s approval rating has been stuck for most of the past year, and real GDP growth of between 1% to 2%, in line with most recent economic forecasts, the model predicts that he would receive between 263 and 283 electoral votes.” So he might win, or he might fall just short. As Abramowitz notes: It takes 270 electoral votes to win.”

Abramowitz offers “a few caveats.”

“First, this model is based on a very limited number of elections. Despite its apparent accuracy, therefore, any predictions should be taken with a grain of salt,” he wrote. “Second, it is not certain that President Trump will receive the same first-term boost as his predecessors.”

So ask again later.

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