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Capitol Recap: Leaving office, but Georgia’s Golden Dome remains home

Just because somebody has left office, there’s no need to say goodbye. Especially in Georgia politics.

Take the case of state Sen. Josh McKoon, who on Monday will become former state Sen. Josh McKoon.

The Columbus Republican, whose campaign to become the next secretary of state met its end during the May GOP primary, will remain in the proximity of the Gold Dome because he is joining the state’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner.

The incoming commissioner, Jim Beck, made McKoon his first hire.

McKoon may be best known as an advocate for “religious liberty” legislation, but Beck — a longtime president of Georgia Christian Coalition — announced the hiring by citing another prominent part of his new hand’s record.

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“I am excited to have a dynamic leader who has been at the forefront of ethics and transparency in state government as part of my team,” Beck said.

As it happens, Beck has had some problems in the areas of ethics and transparency. In May, a federal grand jury subpoenaed Beck's state work records following reports that he was holding state and private-sector jobs at the same time.

The new job is the second one that McKoon has taken since losing his last election. He had been set to become the director of the state chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and he may still do that someday.

Of course, he won’t be the only former legislator working the hallways of the state Capitol. For example, state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, has taken a job as external affairs director for incoming Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — another former legislator — and state Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, will soon be carrying business cards identifying him as a vice president of the Georgia Center for Opportunity, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

On the Republican side, it looks like a stone cold lock that U.S. Sen. David Perdue will seek re-election.

The variable is on the Democratic side, where everybody seems to be waiting on Stacey Abrams to make a decision.

State and national Democrats have been calling on Abrams to enter the race ever since she ended her run for governor against Brian Kemp in a defiant speech she refused to call a concession. Since then, she has launched Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group that seeks to change the state’s electoral policies.

In an interview with WABE’s Rose Scott, Abrams said she’s given herself a deadline of the end of March. She also has established a framework for making the decision.

“One, I need to run for office because I’m the best person for the job, not simply because there’s a job that’s open,” Abrams told Scott. “No. 2, I need to run because I have ideas and the capacity to win the election and do the job well.

“And No. 3, I need to make decisions not based on animus or bitterness or sadness, but really based in a pragmatism that says, ‘This is the right thing to do.’ ”

Her choice could depend a lot on the first step she listed. A Senate race may not appeal to her as much as the possibility of running once again against Kemp in 2022.

A decision could break up a logjam. A half-dozen prominent Democrats are apparently considering a run against Perdue while waiting to see what Abrams will do.

  • Which Kemp? What’s “Jake’s” take on this?

There’s been great speculation about which Kemp will show up for his inauguration on Monday, Primary Kemp or General Election Kemp.

Signs appeared this past week that could clear that up when talk turned to a proposal to allow Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

You may recall that Primary Kemp was a hard-core guy courting a hard-core electorate of conservative Republicans, and he made guns a big part of that push. The lasting image of that phase of the campaign was a television commercial showing Kemp cleaning his shotgun with the barrel pointing in the general direction of “Jake,” a fictitious suitor of one of Kemp’s daughters.

The ad really took aim at Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, whose biggest asset in the campaign just may have been his endorsement by the National Rifle Association.

For emphasis, Kemp also gave full-throated support for allowing the carrying of firearms without a permit, which is now the heart of a legislation proposed in House Bill 2.

But once the Republican primary and runoff were over, a new image of Kemp appeared for the general election, one in soft focus.

Gone were the gun ads, and in came calls for proposals such as a $5,000 pay raise for each of Georgia’s teachers.

This past week, General Election Kemp seemed to be prepping to move into the Governor’s Mansion, especially after state House Speaker David Ralston said he would take a “very, very cautious view” of HB 2.

The governor-elect’s response lacked the vigorous support that “Jake” witnessed.

“Protecting the Second Amendment is always a priority of mine,” Kemp said. “But what that means and when it happens — I wouldn’t be able to say that’s any kind of priority right now.”

Of course, he may just be trying to keep his powder dry.

  • Sensing a ‘Super’ opportunity: Stages don’t come much bigger than the Super Bowl, so many will likely try to use the game to advance their causes.

That includes a group of civil rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers seeking to end Georgia's protection of Confederate monuments.

To promote legislation that would overturn a state law that blocks local communities from removing the monuments, a rally has been scheduled for Feb. 2 — the day before the game in Atlanta — although a location has not been identified.

Backing the new legislation are the Southern Poverty Law Center, the state and Atlanta chapters of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the Moore’s Ford Movement and Concerned Black Clergy.

Leading the way in the Legislature this year will be state Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, and state Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur.

Protecting the monuments was part of a compromise reached in 2001 under the oversight of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. In return, the state replaced its ‘56 flag that was dominated by the Confederate battle emblem.

But one way to measure it — federal dollars going to and coming from states — shows Georgia has had a hard time of it when the feds close some of their doors, as they did Dec. 22.

The Rockefeller Institute of Government released an interactive, state-by-state breakdown of money going in and out of the federal government.

While Georgia puts a lot of money into the pot, it takes out even more.

Comparing payments received from the feds versus payments made, Georgia — with its military bases probably leading the way — ranked 14th, bringing in $23.5 trillion more than it sends to Washington. That averages out to $2,253 in each Georgian’s pocket.

On the flip side, New York is the highest contributor of payments to Washington, although Connecticut is the per-capita leader, with its residents, on average, paying about $4,000 more than he or she receives in services.

Philip Stark, a University of California-Berkeley professor, said in an affidavit, according to The Daily Report, that the results declaring Republican Geoff Duncan the winner “are in substantial doubt.”

Stark focused on the difference between undervote rates of paper ballots for Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico and those cast on the voting machines. He suggested it could have been a malfunction, bugs in the system, hacking or “other error or malfeasance” that allowed some votes to go uncounted.

The General Assembly is expected to vote during its upcoming session to replace Georgia’s 27,000 voting machines after a federal judge wrote in a ruling in the fall that state election officials “had buried their heads in the sand” about the risk that the voting system could be hacked. The new system, which would include some type of paper element for double-checking counts, would likely cost somewhere between $30 million and something north of $100 million.

The affidavit was part of a case file in a lawsuit challenging the results of lieutenant governor’s race. The state is pressing to dismiss the suit, and a Fulton County Superior Court judge will hear its motion. Amico is not a party to the suit.

Duncan is set to be sworn into office Monday.

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