Capitol Recap: Biden fares well in AJC poll, but baseball takes a hit

President Joe Biden got a positive review in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of registered voters in Georgia. But Major League Baseball got a thumbs down for moving this year's All-Star game out of metro Atlanta to protest the state's new voting law.  (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images/TNS)
President Joe Biden got a positive review in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of registered voters in Georgia. But Major League Baseball got a thumbs down for moving this year's All-Star game out of metro Atlanta to protest the state's new voting law. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images/TNS)

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Credit: TNS

A roundup of news about government and politics in Georgia

Survey shows polarization remains strong in state

A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll offered some — some — good news for President Joe Biden and not so much for Major League Baseball.

Six months after the 2020 elections, when the state’s outcome in the presidential contest was settled by about 12,000 votes out of more than 5 million cast, the poll also illustrated the crevasse that divides Georgia’s political landscape: Polarization abounds.

Biden scored an approval rating of about 51%.

That’s a pretty good number, but it came from what politically would be an unbalanced equation: About 9% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats, with about 46% from independents.

The poll was conducted from April 20 to May 3 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, which questioned 844 of the state’s registered voters. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

A divide was also clear on Georgia’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202. Overall, about 46% approved and 44% disapproved, so within that margin of error. It had the support of about 81% of Republicans, but only about 16% of Democrats and about 39% of independents.

The poll’s respondents slapped Major League Baseball with an error for relocating its All-Star game from metro Atlanta to Denver to express its opposition to the new voting law. About 85% of Republicans disapproved of the move, along with 26% of Democrats and 52% of independents.

Efforts by U.S. corporations “to influence political, cultural or social change” also proved unpopular, with about 60% registering disapproval. Again, it was a polarized breakdown: about 89% of Republicans, about 35% of Democrats and 55% of independents.

But two Georgia-based companies that weighed in against SB 202 still finished with favorable ratings: Delta Air Lines at about 55% and Coca-Cola at about 51%.

Voter cancellations set to begin

Georgia election officials are in the process of canceling thousands of voter registrations, but it won’t be at the same scale as previous years.

The state canceled a record 534,000 registrations in 2017 and then two years later removed an additional 287,000.

This year, though, they expect to expel roughly 113,000 from the voter rolls.

Cancellations, which critics call “purges,” occur every two years, removing registrations of those who changed their address, had election mail returned as undeliverable or didn’t participate in elections for several years.

Under Georgia’s “use it or lose it” law — it’s one of nine states with such a statute — otherwise eligible voters see their registrations canceled if they don’t participate in elections for several years. Voters are declared “inactive” after five years, and then, if they fail to vote in the next two general elections, their registrations are voided. “Inactive” voters are still eligible to cast ballots until their registrations are canceled.

The hundreds of thousands of voided registrations since 2017 are one factor in the lower estimates for this year’s cancellations, but November’s presidential election — when more than 5 million of the state’s 7.6 million registered voters cast ballots — also played a role in sending previously reluctant voters to the polls and removing them from the inactive list.

Voting rights groups say Georgia’s cancellations disenfranchise eligible voters who haven’t moved after they decided not to vote in a few elections.

State Elections Director Chris Harvey, however, said: “Accurate information on the voter lists is another defense against people doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It’s going to make it harder for somebody to try to sneak in and vote.”

This year’s cancellations will begin small, with 12,000 voters who have died, according to Social Security records. In prior years, Georgia relied on its own death records, but it’s now participating in a multistate database called the Electronic Registration Information Center.

From this collection of data from 30 states, known as ERIC, Georgia election officials will be able to learn when someone registers to vote in another state, obtains a new driver’s license, or changes his or her address. The state will then mail letters to those voters to confirm they’ve moved. Failure to respond to the letters starts the multiyear period before voter registrations can be removed from Georgia’s voter lists.

Later this summer, an additional 101,000 voters who haven’t participated in elections for nine years will be canceled unless they respond to notification letters.

Gov. Brian Kemp signs a half dozen education bills during a ceremony at Kennesaw State University. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Gov. Brian Kemp signs a half dozen education bills during a ceremony at Kennesaw State University. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Kemp signs bills and bills and bills

Ink flowed from Gov. Brian Kemp’s pen this past week like it was a startled octopus.

The governor put his name to a bevy of bills ahead of Monday’s deadline, when he can either sign bills into law, veto them or allow legislation to take effect without his signature.

Here are the highlights:

  • House Bill 146 — The law provides paid parental leave to a quarter-million state workers and teachers, following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. It’s available to employees who have worked for the state or local school districts for at least six months. HB 146 has no affect on private industries in the state.
  • House Bill 154, House Bill 548, House Bill 562, Senate Bill 20, Senate Bill 28 and Senate Bill 107 — The package of measures is designed to promote foster care and adoption through provisions that increase legal protections, lower parent age limits and offer free college tuition.
  • House Bill 534 — The measure takes aim at street racing, allowing authorities to suspend the licenses of some violators for up to a year and impose penalties as high as $5,000. The law creates a new offense called “reckless stunt driving” and gives police new powers to seize cars that are involved.
  • Senate Bill 6 — The measure is a bit of a hybrid, both scrutinizing special-interest tax breaks and creating special-interest tax breaks. As originally proposed, it would allow for a review of some tax breaks to ensure they meet their intended goal — most likely to create or save jobs. But to attain the compromise necessary to get it through both chambers of the Legislature, lawmakers added tax breaks that, among other things, benefit health care manufacturing businesses and help state businesses attract military contracts.
  • Senate Bill 88 — One of a number of pieces of legislation dealing with education, it seeks to increase the size of the teacher workforce in a variety of ways, including establishing an alternative certification path for military veterans, creating mentoring for teachers, setting new training requirements in college and working to encourage more minority college students to enter the teaching profession.
  • Senate Bill 236 — The measure allows restaurants to sell two take-away cocktails per entree in sealed containers.

$97 million in earmarks sought for Georgia

Earmarks are back after 10 years on the shelf, and eight U.S. representatives from Georgia have opted to seek federal funding through the process for projects in their districts.

Collectively, they asked for nearly $97 million.

Back in 2011, then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner led Republicans in banning earmarks, citing waste and abuse. Democratic leaders restored the process this year, adding new limitations and transparency requirements they say should assure the public that the money is being used correctly.

All six Georgia Democrats in the House submitted requests, but only two of eight Republicans — U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter of Pooler and Barry Loudermilk of Cassville — sought funding for projects back home.

The six other House Republicans — U.S. Reps. Rick Allen of Evans, Andrew Clyde of Athens, Drew Ferguson of West Point, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome, Jody Hice of Greensboro and Austin Scott of Tifton — joined about half the members in the U.S. GOP caucus in sitting out the earmark process, sticking to the positions Boehner laid out in banning the expenditures.

Under the process, each lawmaker can request funding for up to 10 projects, and the total amount is limited to 1% of discretionary spending, or about $15 million.

Loudermilk made the delegation’s largest single request, $14.2 million for Bartow County for Phase II of its Cass-White Road project.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was the keynote speaker at the Georgia GOP's annual fundraiser, had harsh words for big businesses that did not sponsor the event as they have done in the past. Georgia Republicans and some of the state's largest corporations have had a falling out over the state's new voting law, Senate Bill 202.
(Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa USA/TNS)
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was the keynote speaker at the Georgia GOP's annual fundraiser, had harsh words for big businesses that did not sponsor the event as they have done in the past. Georgia Republicans and some of the state's largest corporations have had a falling out over the state's new voting law, Senate Bill 202. (Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa USA/TNS)

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Credit: TNS

Republicans, big business moving apart

It was once a widely held belief that the Republican Party and corporate America danced cheek to cheek.

But there were noticeable gaps on dance cards this past week at the Georgia GOP’s annual fundraiser — a sign of the falling out between Republicans and some the state’s biggest businesses over changes to the voting system the party pushed through in the state’s new election law, Senate Bill 202.

Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer —speaking to a crowd of politicians, donors and activists at a Buckhead hotel — noted the absence of the usual corporate sponsors at the event.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the night’s keynote speaker, also made mention of the big void left by big business.

“I don’t know how much money you lost from these corporate sponsors not giving you money,” Graham said, “but I’m going to get on Sean Hannity’s show, we’re going to raise every penny of it back.”

He then offered a suggestion to those corporate types — one we’ll try to sum up in family terms — involving a kiss on his cheek (not that one).

The same vitriol was on display earlier in the day, when a pair of Georgia GOP stalwarts, U.S. Reps. Drew Ferguson and Barry Loudermilk, played host to U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy in Marietta. They were there to talk about harm done to small businesses by Major League Baseball’s decision to demonstrate its opposition to SB 202 by moving this year’s All-Star game from Truist Park to Denver.

Ferguson used the opportunity to go after Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

“It’s wrong to punish the men and women of Delta because their CEO lost his moral compass on this issue,” Ferguson said.

“We stand with Delta employees,” the Republican from West Point said, adding that many live in his district.

It was a follow-up to a previous clash with Bastian, who has said SB 202 is “based on a lie.”

In a letter to Bastian, Ferguson described a memo by the Delta boss as a “shockingly inaccurate and irresponsible assessment of the law.”

Loudermilk went big picture.

“The people feel like they’re at war, not only with their own government, but big corporations are trying to kill them as well,” he said. “And this is what we have to address. We have to realize that it’s the small business that makes America work. The big businesses would not be there if it wasn’t for the small businesses.”

Loudermilk did not explain how “big corporations” are trying to “kill” people by opposing the voting bill.

It’s hard to say how far this will go, whether it marks a permanent divide between former friends or just a bump in a close relationship.

But for now, Republicans and corporate America appear to be out of step.

Fulton GOP election ‘inconsistencies’ lead to accusations of fraud

Election fraud has been a familiar charge for months among some elements of Georgia’s GOP, but now in Fulton County, they’re being aimed directly at the party itself.

It took two elections and then an appeal before incumbent Trey Kelly was confirmed as the winner of the party’s county chairmanship.

It all had something to do with complications involving a sophisticated tabulation system of red plastic beer cups and bingo chips, setting up a fight between forces supporting Donald Trump and others who say they’re even more supportive of the former president.

Kelly won the first election at the county convention on April 17 by three votes.

In a second vote, newcomer Susan Opraseuth was named the winner, but Kelly and his allies labeled the contest as improper.

Kelly then appealed to district GOP officials, who confirmed his win.

That didn’t really settle things, though.

Jason Shepherd, a former party chairman in Cobb County who is running to lead the state party, said there were “numerous inconsistencies” during the first vote and that Opraseuth “clearly” won.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Fulton resident until she spotted a vacant congressional seat in northwest Georgia, recounted a version of the saga in a lengthy thread on Twitter and leveled that allegation of election fraud, including an accusation that the first tally had “more votes than voters.”

“What matters to these Republicans?” she asked. “The people’s vote? Election integrity? ...Or that they keep the same old good ‘ole boys in charge that just organize a monthly breakfast?”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen launched her bid to become Georgia’s secretary of state. She’s the only Democrat to declare her candidacy for the job, the top election post in Georgia. But Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger faces three challengers on the Republican side: former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Greensboro and ex-Treutlen County Probate Judge T.J. Hudson.

— Republican Eric Welsh, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former Coca-Cola executive, announced he is running for the seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta in the 6th Congressional District. Welsh, so far, becomes the second Republican and second military veteran to launch a challenge for the seat. The other is Harold Earls.

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