Capitol Recap: The path to the Georgia governor’s office gets muddier

Georgia’s state Capitol.
Georgia’s state Capitol.

Words like “brutal,” “bitter” and “nasty” are often used to describe political campaigns.

They really don’t cut it, though, in trying to characterize the GOP contest for governor after the spokesman for one camp questioned the mental stability of a party officeholder backing another candidate. Especially when that officeholder has dealt very publicly with depression, her’s and that of her son, who took his own life.

The hyperbole in the race between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp dropped to a lower depth this past week when Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney called state Sen. Renee Unterman "mentally unstable."

It followed Unterman's call for a federal investigation into donations to Kemp's campaign from the owner of a business regulated by Kemp's office that had apparently escaped sanctioning over allegations that some of its clients had been groped by employees.

"It is our hope that, for her own sake, she will retract these baseless, politically motivated statements before facing serious legal action," Mahoney said, referring to Unterman's request for a probe. "We also hope that Senator Unterman will seek immediate medical attention before she hurts herself or someone else."

Cagle responded by calling it a "sexist attack" and demanded an apology from Kemp "to all women."

Unterman, the chairwoman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, waited a day before going to Facebook.

She wrote about her history of mental illness.

“Yes, I suffered from depression during my divorce and sought treatment. Who doesn’t when you have such a major life transition like a divorce, especially when kids are involved?” she wrote. “The circumstances of my divorce were tragic just as many people can relate to.”

From there, she went on to write about her son Zak, who “didn’t express his own inner demons of depression” and committed suicide. She noted that he would have turned 35 this past week.

And then she addressed Mahoney’s boss.

“So Brian Kemp, who wants to become our state leader, you can make fun of me and belittle those who have had or will have mental illness, but you won’t shut me up for speaking out. I won’t be intimidated, blackmailed, belittled, or sexually harassed into being quiet. I will always speak out for the little person, the underdog, and the disadvantaged.”

It will all be over — maybe — with the July 24 runoff.

A July 4th 7th: In the 7th Congressional District, for the week around Independence Day, Democrats David Kim and Carolyn Bourdeaux supplied their own fireworks.

They weren’t rockets or firecrackers or cherry bombs, however, but the glowing embers of pyrotechnic rhetoric.

There was “the vile philosophy of voter suppression.”

That’s how Kim’s team lit the fuse after a Bourdeaux operative leveled accusations of illegal campaigning at Korean translators volunteering for Kim at a Lawrenceville polling site.

There was “the increase of harassment and intimidation incidents” at the polls, which is how Kim characterized the incident in a tweet.

Then he added a little more verbal gunpowder.

“We should be the shining example of the New South,” Kim said, “not perpetuating the tactics out of the Old South’s Jim Crow playbook.”

Bourdeaux, naturally, denied that her team had participated in voter suppression and then tossed out a few charged words of her own. Kim had tried to “score cheap political points,” she said, by “appropriat(ing)” the struggles of African-Americans.

And then the Georgia State University professor offered a history lesson, along with another barb directed at Kim.

“Jim Crow-era voter suppression was marked by extreme violence — fire hoses, dogs, buses that were firebombed — and other repressive tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests,” Bourdeaux said. “David Kim comparing a request from election officials for volunteers to move a few feet to those violent actions is offensive and reflects a complete lack of understanding of history.”

Bourdeaux and Kim are competing in a July 24 runoff. The winner will face U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican from Lawrenceville.

Check that water bill: Georgia taxpayers have already paid plenty for the state's decades of fighting with Florida, and sometimes Alabama, over the use of water.

The state’s legal bill climbed to more than $47 million — and that’s just since Nathan Deal moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 2011 — after the U.S. Supreme Court considered Florida’s latest lawsuit seeking limits on Georgia water consumption and last month decided not to decide.

The high court sent the suit back for another go-round before an expert judge, who will probably hear the following testimony drip, drip, drip once again:

  • Florida's argument that metro Atlantans and South Georgia farmers took so much water from the basin that it damaged the ecology of the Apalachicola River and left the state's oyster industry in ruins.
  • Georgia's counterargument that Florida did plenty on its own to lay waste to the bivalves of Apalachicola Bay.

Now, Georgians could also see the water fight ripple into their utility bills.

Fitch Ratings said the battle could have credit implications for water utilities “as it would raise the need for borrowing to create additional supply.”

In the event the high court issues a ruling limiting water supply, Fitch said, utilities could be forced to “strike a careful balance between charging higher water rates and/or assuming lower financial margins.” Translation: They could charge more, or they could make less money.

That “careful balance” could also mean the utilities will divert funding from infrastructure improvements, meaning higher costs in the future when that work becomes more necessary.

Tariffs divide senators: Georgia's two Republican U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, went their separate ways in a vote on a resolution targeting President Donald Trump's tariffs.

The measure, itself, means little. It’s nonbinding. It simply directs House-Senate negotiators on a spending bill to include language about tariffs in the final piece of legislation.

But the vote was viewed as a test on the viability of a bill that would require Congress to sign off on any tariffs levied by a president for purposes of national security.

Isakson joined 87 other senators in voting for it.

Perdue was one of 11 to oppose it.

It marked another stage in the balancing act Perdue faces as one of Trump’s strongest supporters in the Senate. He has criticized the president’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, but ever so carefully. Usually, that means he also puts up a strong defense of Trump’s negotiating tactics and scolds Congress about staying out of the president’s way.

Last month, in a floor speech, Perdue declared: “I’m tired of members of this body trying to undercut (Trump) at every turn and especially in the middle of a negotiating process.”

Listing to the left: Lucy McBath and Bourdeaux made the list, and that means they're in for some help in their bids for Congress.

Stephanie Schriock, the president of the political action committee Emily’s List, was set to be in Atlanta this weekend to raise money and launch canvassing operations for Bourdeaux and McBath.

The PAC’s goal is to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.

It already endorsed the two candidates.

McBath, a gun control advocate, hopes to face U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional District in November. First, she’ll have to get past a runoff opponent, Kevin Abel.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— McBath's positions on gun control and health care have won her the support of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC in her run in the 6th Congressional District.

— Bourdeaux announced that former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, Peachtree Corners Councilman Eric Christ and statehouse candidate Shelly Hutchinson have endorsed her run in the 7th Congressional District.

Capitol Recap

Here's a look at some of the political and government stories that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's staff broke online during the past week. To see more of them, go to http://www.myajc.com/georgia-politics/.