Capitol Recap: GOP proposals could mean more Democrats in Georgia Legislature

Georgia lawmakers returned to the Capitol this past week to open a special legislative session on redistricting. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
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Georgia lawmakers returned to the Capitol this past week to open a special legislative session on redistricting. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Population shifts to metro areas give boost to minority party

Republicans hold majorities in both the state House and Senate, meaning they’ll control the crayons used in drawing new legislative and congressional boundaries during redistricting.

But it looks like Democrats could see their numbers grow in the General Assembly.

Republicans released proposed maps for the state House and Senate just before the Legislature opened its special session this past week.

The GOP faces a problem of location, location, location. The state has added 1 million residents since 2010, according to the U.S. census, bringing Georgia’s population up to 10.7 million. But that growth has been in areas that have recently tended to side with Democrats while the population has been shrinking in the Republicans’ rural strongholds.

Sixty-seven of Georgia’s 159 counties saw population losses over the past decade while the state’s metro areas added residents.

“It’s no secret that Republicans are stronger in rural Georgia than perhaps they are in the metro areas, and that’s where much of the population loss has occurred, so we have to account for that,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “That means that some of our Republican colleagues may end up being left behind, and that’s the tough part of this.”

The GOP’s proposed maps for the state’s 236 legislative would close the gap between Republicans and Democrats.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that the proposed map for the House creates 97 districts that would lean Republican and 83 that would favor Democratic candidates. That would shift six seats from the current numbers: 103 Republicans and 77 Democrats.

The proposed map for the Senate calls for 33 districts that lean Republican and 23 that would tend to be Democratic. The current breakdown is 34 Republican seats and 22 held by Democrats.

Some Republicans aren’t happy with their party’s recommendations. Put Rep. Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg at the top of the list. Singleton, one of Ralston’s stronger critics, accused the party’s cartographers of “vindictive gerrymandering.”

The House map puts Singleton and South Fulton Democratic Rep. Mandisha Thomas in the same district, one that would give her the edge with more voters from her party.

“The speaker of the House couldn’t buy me off or beat me at the ballot box, so I am unsurprised he would gerrymander to remove the most conservative Republican in the state from office,” Singleton said. “What is surprising, however, is that if these proposed maps stand, approximately 30,000 Coweta (County) voters who are mostly represented by me will be represented by Fulton County Democrats.”

A Democrat who didn’t fare well under the GOP proposal is Sen. Michelle Au of Johns Creek. It would change her District 48 by removing parts of Democratic-friendly Gwinnett County and adding sections of conservative Forsyth County.

Au, a physician who has become one of her party’s strongest voices in criticizing the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, declined to comment.

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Gov. Brian Kemp's reelection campaign offered The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a look at his contributions this past week, showing he's raised more than $4 million since July 1 first and has nearly $13 million in cash on hand. Those are good numbers at this stage of the 2022 campaign, but Kemp may be facing two hard-fought, and thus expensive, battles to hold onto his job. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Gov. Brian Kemp's reelection campaign offered The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a look at his contributions this past week, showing he's raised more than $4 million since July 1 first and has nearly $13 million in cash on hand. Those are good numbers at this stage of the 2022 campaign, but Kemp may be facing two hard-fought, and thus expensive, battles to hold onto his job. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Gov. Brian Kemp's reelection campaign offered The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a look at his contributions this past week, showing he's raised more than $4 million since July 1 first and has nearly $13 million in cash on hand. Those are good numbers at this stage of the 2022 campaign, but Kemp may be facing two hard-fought, and thus expensive, battles to hold onto his job. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Kemp piles up the cash for maybe two reelection fights

Gov. Brian Kemp doesn’t have to file another report on campaign contributions until early next year, but he gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a peek at his finances this past week, probably so former U.S. Sen. David Perdue could see them.

Kemp has collected more than $4 million since July 1 and has nearly $13 million in cash on hand between his campaign and an affiliated PAC.

That’s a substantial amount at this point in the 2022 campaign, and Kemp could need all of it because he’s now looking at the possibility of two hard-fought contests for reelection instead of one.

A rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams has long been expected ever since Kemp narrowly defeated her in the 2018 governor’s race.

But now Kemp faces a potential battle against Perdue in the GOP primary.

Perdue hasn’t publicly said anything about making a bid for the Governor’s Mansion (actually, neither has Abrams), but eight people — speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters — told the AJC last month that the former senator has been calling donors and other allies, floating the idea of challenging Kemp.

The Kemp campaign’s decision to disclose the figures shows how seriously it is taking the threat of a Perdue challenge. The governor’s allies have warned that if the ex-senator runs, Kemp would mount a “scorched earth” campaign that could irrevocably split the GOP this cycle and cripple the chances of defeating Abrams.

Perdue’s allies continue to say he hasn’t made a final decision and that he remains conflicted about launching a campaign, although they also say he’s been in steady contact with former President Donald Trump. Trump, who would presumably endorse Perdue if he entered the race, has constantly targeted Kemp since he refused the then-president’s calls to illegally overturn the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia.

Kemp has proved to be a fundraising force during his three years in office. As of June 30, the last time he was required by law to disclose his finances, he reported raising nearly $12 million overall for his reelection bid, with about $9.2 million in cash on hand. That was a record amount at that stage in a gubernatorial contest.

But money wouldn’t be much of a problem for Perdue or Abrams, either.

Perdue raised more than $100 million during his 2020 reelection bid, part of a tandem of U.S. Senate contests that established new national spending records and decided control of the chamber. Democrats swept both seats during the January runoffs, ousting Perdue and Republican Kelly Loeffler.

Abrams set fundraising records during her run against Kemp in 2018. After that loss, she started the Fair Fight political organization that has raised more than $100 million since its beginning.

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Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue's Senate campaign is asking the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would allow campaigns to leave voicemails on voters’ phones using ringless technology, saying that they should not constitute a “call” under federal laws that restrict robocalls only to those voters who opt in. (Photo: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue's Senate campaign is asking the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would allow campaigns to leave voicemails on voters’ phones using ringless technology, saying that they should not constitute a “call” under federal laws that restrict robocalls only to those voters who opt in. (Photo: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)
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Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue's Senate campaign is asking the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would allow campaigns to leave voicemails on voters’ phones using ringless technology, saying that they should not constitute a “call” under federal laws that restrict robocalls only to those voters who opt in. (Photo: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

Ringless robocalls? They might be coming from Perdue

Someday, we could see — maybe the phrase we’re looking for is “not hear” — ringless voicemail robocalls. And who would we thank for this campaign innovation? Possibly former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

Don’t worry, the Perdue for Senate campaign — he’s not running for the Senate gain, but that doesn’t mean he’s not running — says the calls are non-intrusive.

That’s the reasoning it gives in asking the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would allow campaigns to leave voicemails on voters’ phones using ringless technology, saying that they should not constitute a “call” under federal laws that restrict robocalls only to those voters who opt in.

Perdue’s team also notes that it used the technology during January’s Senate runoff campaign, when he lost to Democrat Jon Ossoff.

The FCC recently solicited public comment on the Perdue campaign’s proposal, but it remains uncertain when a ruling could come.

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Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron, following a tumultuous 2020 campaign season and this past week's elections, is stepping down. (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron, following a tumultuous 2020 campaign season and this past week's elections, is stepping down. (Photo/Jenn Finch)
Caption
Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron, following a tumultuous 2020 campaign season and this past week's elections, is stepping down. (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

Credit: Jenn Finch

Fulton election director is stepping down

Fulton County election head Richard Barron survived an attempt to fire him following a disastrous primary in June 2020.

Now, after running a mostly uneventful election this past week, Barron is quitting.

His departure follows a difficult year-and-a-half of pressure brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theories, death threats and media scrutiny.

Then-President Donald Trump accused Barron of committing a “crime” while citing a debunked conspiracy.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for Barron’s dismissal after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that about 200 ballots had initially been scanned twice before a recount of the 2020 presidential election.

Barron admitted that he had made mistakes during the June primary, when some voters waited in line for hours to cast their votes, many because they never received mail-in ballots after Fulton’s system was overwhelmed.

But he also blamed the Republican-run state apparatus for switching to new voting machines and providing little help.

The county is now facing a performance review under rules of the state’s new election law, Senate Bill 202, that could lead to a takeover of Fulton’s election board.

That investigation is ongoing.

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08/30/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told Georgia lawmakers this past week that more gang prosecutors are needed across the state to combat the rise in violent crime. She also said the GBI needs more scientists to reduce a backlog of cases in the tens of thousands. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

08/30/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told Georgia lawmakers this past week that more gang prosecutors are needed across the state to combat the rise in violent crime. She also said the GBI needs more scientists to reduce a backlog of cases in the tens of thousands. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Caption
08/30/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told Georgia lawmakers this past week that more gang prosecutors are needed across the state to combat the rise in violent crime. She also said the GBI needs more scientists to reduce a backlog of cases in the tens of thousands. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Fulton DA says prosecutors, GBI need more resources

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, during testimony before a state Senate committee, identified a lack of personnel as a driver behind increases in crime.

She asked legislators to hire more state gang prosecutors and investigators, plus more scientists to cut into the backlog of cases in the GBI’s labs.

“If you don’t acknowledge a problem, you can’t fix it,” the Democrat told the Senate Public Safety Committee. “I don’t like naysayers who say we’re in so much trouble we can’t do anything.”

An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that towns and cities across Georgia are grappling with homicide spikes, although Republican lawmakers have focused their attention mostly on Atlanta and criticized the city’s Democratic leadership.

Willis said gangs are behind a significant amount of the violent crime, which is why she and other DAs across the state need more help in prosecuting gang cases.

She also pointed to the GBI lab’s backlog as a big part of the problem.

Police and prosecutors across Georgia rely on the GBI’s labs for analysis of drugs, firearms, DNA, fingerprints, toxicology and trace evidence. The backlog, which is always fluctuating, became a bigger problem largely because of the opioid epidemic and the GBI’s decision to investigate more officer-involved shootings in recent years. The labs are also testing thousands of rape kits after more than 1,300 were found untested and in storage in 2015 at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.

This past week, the GBI had 33,000 cases awaiting testing. In 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it was 36,000.

Willis said she has nearly 4,000 drug cases that need testing, and she recently used a private lab to accelerate the processing of evidence in in some homicide cases.

“The GBI has wonderful scientists,” Willis said. “It is a wonderful organization. But they need resources.”

Willis said extreme delays in testing have contributed to crime. She told the panel she was aware of cases of homicide and sexual assault that were committed by suspects in other cases who were free while law enforcement was awaiting testing.

The GBI declined to comment on Willis’ statements.

The DA also said Fulton County needs more judges. Ideally, each of the county’s 15 Superior Court judges would preside over about 20 homicide cases. In reality, she said, each judge is looking at about 46 cases.

Raffensperger book details call from Trump to ‘find’ votes

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has no doubt that Donald Trump tried to manipulate him in January, when the president called, asking him to “find” enough votes to overturn the state’s election results.

The state had already recounted ballots from the 2020 election three times by the time Trump called, twice by machine and once by hand, all confirming Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory. Numerous investigations before and since have found no evidence of tampering to alter election results, and Georgia court cases over the election have been thrown out.

But Trump pressed for a way to gain an edge, seeking nearly 11,780 votes to overturn the results.

“For the office of the secretary of state to ‘recalculate’ would mean we would somehow have to fudge the numbers,” Raffensperger writes in his book, “Integrity Counts,” which was published this past week. “The president was asking me to do something that I knew was wrong, and I was not going to do that.”

During the call, Trump told both Raffensperger and his general counsel, Ryan Germany, that they were taking a “big risk” if they didn’t report purported fraud.

“President Trump is using what he believes is the power of his position to threaten Ryan and me with prosecution if we don’t do what he tells us to do. It was nothing but an attempt at manipulation,” Raffensperger writes.

A Fulton County grand jury is now reviewing the phone call to consider whether to bring charges against Trump that could include criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, intentional interference with performance of election duties, conspiracy and racketeering.

Raffensperger’s account of the call could also be used as part of congressional hearings.

Since that call — and Raffensperger’s resistance to Trump’s efforts — the secretary of state has been the target of scorn from many of his fellow Republicans. He now faces a tough reelection fight, with U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and former Apharetta Mayor David Belle Isle among those challenging him in the GOP primary. Hice even possesses and endorsement from Trump.

Belle Isle plans to use the book against Raffensperger as counterprogramming during an upcoming campaign tour.

It’s uncertain whether that means he bought it.

Former Savannah mayor elected to Georgia House

Former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson became the newest member of the Georgia House after winning a special election to fill the seat of late state Rep. Mickey Stephens.

Jackson is only there for the short term. She said earlier this fall that she would not seek reelection if she won.

She fills the office immediately, meaning she will participate in one of the Legislature’s biggest jobs during the special session that began this week to redraw Georgia’s congressional and legislative maps.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Former state Rep. Meagan Hanson gained endorsements from 35 current and former GOP state legislators in her bid in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. They include House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, House Education Chairman Matt Dubnik and Rep. Penny Houston.

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