OPINION: When a Regular Republican goes all StoptheSteal

A man holds a sign during a "Stop the Steal" rally outside the Georgia Capitol building in downtown Atlanta on January 6, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
A man holds a sign during a "Stop the Steal" rally outside the Georgia Capitol building in downtown Atlanta on January 6, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

An elected Democratic official recently told me that state Sen. Brandon Beach “has been every Democrat’s favorite Republican.”

Beach, who lives in north Fulton County, is seen as the Transportation Guy around the state Capitol, having been a leading force in passing groundbreaking legislation in 2018 to help expand transit into the suburbs. Being a Chamber of Commerce Republican gave him credence among fellow GOP lawmakers who usually aren’t big public transit fans.

But now many people under the Gold Dome think Beach jumped on the Trump Train to Conspiracy City.

Following President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden, Beach joined a handful of fellow GOP legislators seeking a special session to “address structural issues with our voting system before the January runoff.” Not only that, the session could also, according to a petition they circulated, “take back the power to appoint electors.”

After Georgia’s Governor Shotgun blasted down that potential kangaroo court session, Beach joined a pack of other Georgia Republicans siding with a Texas lawsuit to toss out Joe Biden’s victory in the Peach State. The U.S. Supreme Court batted that one away pronto.

The state Senate did stage a couple of committee hearings, bringing in the maskless COVID-19 incubator also known as Rudy Giuliani.

Rudi Giuliani listens to testimony during a subcommittee of the Georgia Senate judiciary committee meeting at the state Capitol on Dec. 3, 2020. Giuliani and others alleged serious voting problems in Georgia and asked that the State Legislature choose Georgia's electors. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Rudi Giuliani listens to testimony during a subcommittee of the Georgia Senate judiciary committee meeting at the state Capitol on Dec. 3, 2020. Giuliani and others alleged serious voting problems in Georgia and asked that the State Legislature choose Georgia's electors. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

When all this failed to move the Trump-o-meter, Beach and 15 other GOP legislators signed a letter urging Vice President Mike Pence to delay the congressional certification of electoral college votes for 12 days to investigate “irregularities and misconduct” in Georgia’s election.

That letter went undelivered and, of course, Pence did no such thing. But many GOP state legislators and members of Congress continued to push these debunked theories and conspiracies — until an angry and misguided mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

After that, Kemp said, “For those of you that have been calling for a special session, you can now see what that would look like.”

I’m not picking on Beach for any reason other than it just seems way out of line from his past. In 2012, when he was in a Republican primary challenging (unsuccessfully) Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a local newspaper endorsed Beach, saying he was a ”doer, not a talker.”

State Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat who received death threats last month after pushing back against the #StoptheSteal narrative, said she’s “very surprised” by Beach’s efforts.

Georgia Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, reacts as the Senate's session is suspended because of concerns about the coronavirus on March 12, 2020, the Georgia Legislature's "Crossover Day," (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, reacts as the Senate's session is suspended because of concerns about the coronavirus on March 12, 2020, the Georgia Legislature's "Crossover Day," (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

“He’s never been known as a hard right-winger or buying into conspiracy theories,” she said. “It’s a vast change in his political approach. It’s an about-face from his work in the Senate, being pro-business and pro-public transit.”

So why did Beach sign on to these other efforts? “It’s either a political calculation or opportunism,” Parent said. “Or he has lost his mind.”

The conjecture that he’s making political calculations makes sense. Beach lives in north Fulton, which is more old-timey Republican, but 80% of his district sits in deeply red Cherokee County and he has gotten primary challenges more often than not during his five terms in office. So why make himself a sitting target for some young, hungry hotshot?

Also, he’s ambitious. In 2019, he started a campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath. But it became clear he didn’t have the juice to beat Republican warhorse Karen Handel — McBath’s eventual opponent — so he dropped out.

The prevailing thought is that Beach is setting up for a statewide race.

But in the meantime, he has other concerns. Three senators were demoted Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan as punishment for their post-election antics, and Beach was one of them. He lost his chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee.

And Beach is taking shots in his day job as executive director of the North Fulton CID. (A Community Improvement District is an area that pays extra property taxes to make improvements within its boundaries.)

A property owner in that CID, Steve Berman, last month wrote to Beach’s bosses saying, “We are deeply concerned that the actions taken by Senator Beach in a brazen attempt to overturn safe and democratic elections do not serve the interest of property owners or the CID.”

The CID board responded to Berman that they read his letter and engaged in “robust discussion” and will let the matter lie without action. That meeting occurred on Jan. 5, the day before some very robust discussions and actions occurred in Washington, D.C.

Berman, who supports Democratic candidates and chairs the CID near the Atlanta airport, has doubled down since writing his letter after hearing about the note that was to be sent to Pence.

“If the board (of the CID) wants to continue employing this leader, I’ll explore options with other property owners to make a change in leadership,” Berman said in an interview. “If he can be removed as leader of the Transportation Committee, he can be removed as director of the CID. I can’t see how he can be successful when he’s engaged in such fringe political activities.”

Beach insists he’s still the same old Chamber of Commerce, economic development, transit-loving, casino-gaming fellow.

Senator Brandon Beach (right) speaks during a panel discussion on Georgia’s transportation future at the 2018 State of Transportation Breakfast at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
Senator Brandon Beach (right) speaks during a panel discussion on Georgia’s transportation future at the 2018 State of Transportation Breakfast at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)

“I haven’t changed, OK?” he said in an interview. “This had nothing to do with Trump or the electors.”

Beach insists there were no grand political motives involved. They simply wanted a special session, he said, to overturn the agreement Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger made with Democrats last year to settle a lawsuit. The agreement required the secretary of state’s office to contact voters if there were issues with their absentee ballots and give them a chance to correct any problems. Republicans say this opened the floodgates to potential fraud. But a GBI audit of over 15,000 voter signatures on absentee ballots in Cobb County found no fraud.

“They should have audited Fulton, not Cobb,” Beach said. “Fulton County is the problem. Fulton and DeKalb don’t know how to run elections. They’re the ones who always get their ballots in by 2 a.m.”

Perhaps there are some endemic inefficiencies or even incompetence. But again? Widespread fraud?

He mentioned the oft-stated video of State Farm Arena, where ballot counting stopped and then started again late into the night. Raffensperger’s office investigated it and has repeatedly insisted there was no monkey business — and remember, he’s on the same team as those who are complaining.

Beach, however, wouldn’t let it go. “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that they were real votes,” he said. “But they broke the law by counting without supervision.”

A secretary of state monitor was sent there and the scene was all on security camera. But I’m going down a rabbit hole on this. It’s all past us, right?

“Here’s the good news,” Beach said. “We’ll have a new president and a peaceful transition of power.”

True. But it’s not for a lot of people trying otherwise.

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