Capitol Recap: Herschel Walker’s campaign hopes take a jarring hit from his son

Credit: Jenni Girtman / AJC

Credit: Jenni Girtman / AJC

Damaging tweets follow report alleging Senate hopeful paid for abortion

When Gary Black was running against Herschel Walker — a contest Walker won by a wide margin in May’s GOP U.S. Senate primary — he warned state Republicans that they needed to have an “honest conversation” about the former football star.

Black said Democrats would make sure Georgia voters were aware of Walker’s vulnerabilities, most notably allegations of violent behavior toward women that included his ex-wife and a former girlfriend.

But Democrats weren’t responsible for the biggest hit Walker has taken since retiring from the NFL in 1997.

It was an inside job.

His son Christian dealt that blow in a series of tweets this past week that followed a report by The Daily Beast alleging that Walker in 2009 paid for his then-girlfriend’s abortion.

That was a tough shot on its own, given Walker’s campaign stance on abortion. He has called for a “total ban” on the procedure even in cases of incest or rape. He also endorsed South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal seeking a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Walker went on Fox News to call the story a “flat-out lie” and declared he would file a defamation suit against The Daily Beast, although that has yet to happen.

Then his son struck.

Christian Walker, a 23-year-old conservative who counts more than 280,000 followers on Twitter and in excess of 500,000 on Instagram, tweeted that his father “threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence.”

More tweets followed, all packing similar force.

National Republicans came to the candidate’s aid.

“I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate,” GOP strategist Dana Loesch said.

Some top Georgia Republicans, however, tried to talk about something else. Gov. Brian Kemp stressed that he had his own campaign to run and that he was trying to raise money for the entire GOP ticket.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson saw little chance for Walker to recover, saying the tweet attack is “probably a KO.”

In another appearance on Fox News, Walker declined to dispute his son’s claims.

“I love my son unconditionally,” Walker said. “And that’s where I’ve always been.”

Some Christian evangelists rallied around Walker at a luncheon at First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

A video of the event showed about 75 “prayer warriors” circling the candidate with their hands outstretched.

“Lord, we know this is a battle he’s facing. It’s more vicious than any sports field he’s ever played on. This is the fight of his life, holy God,” the Rev. Anthony George, the church’s senior pastor, says on the video. “We ask you to rebuke the devil. … Satan will not get the victory. We know, whatever the results of this election, Herschel wins.”

The media was barred from the event, but according to audio obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Walker joked about the conflict within his immediate family.

“I told my son ... I have to get back to him and spank him,” Walker said to laughter from the audience.

Fair Fight lost court battle but points to gains reached through other methods

Fair Fight Action found no relief in court when a federal judge ruled against it on all counts in its lawsuit alleging that several Georgia elections laws were illegal and discriminatory.

The group, however, is now saying the Legislature addressed many of its concerns during the case’s lengthy journey through the judicial system.

“In the four years that this suit has been pending, meaningful strides have been made to improve ballot access and eliminate obstacles voters face to becoming and staying registered to vote and casting their ballot,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, the CEO of Fair Fight, the group Democrat Stacey Abrams founded after losing the 2018 race for governor. “By fighting on behalf of voters, we have forced accountability among our elected officials, even without judicial relief.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the defendant in the lawsuit, said Abrams and Fair Fight can’t take credit for parts of new state laws they opposed after both the 2018 and 2020 elections.

“Her unfounded claims have not improved nor secured our election systems at all,” Raffensperger said, referring to Abrams.

The lawsuit started as an effort to overturn alleged obstacles to voting, including voter registration purges, absentee ballot rejections and long lines at polling places.

That narrowed as several rulings reduced the claims, and at its end, the plaintiffs lost on issues dealing with “exact match” voter registration rules, absentee ballot cancellation practices, and voter registration verification of suspected felons and new U.S. citizens.

But changes occurred elsewhere in the years after the suit was filed. They included:

  • A 2019 revision of the state’s “exact match” law, which flagged new voters for inconsistencies in name spellings, often because of hyphens or apostrophes.

The policy had disproportionately affected African Americans, with about 69% of voters affected by “exact match” being Black. Under the updated law, those voters aren’t prevented from registering but must provide additional ID before they can vote.

  • An extension of the time that legislators approved before the registrations of infrequent voters can be canceled.
  • Creation of a process by lawmakers to help voters correct rejected absentee ballots in time to be counted.
  • Purchase of a statewide voting system before the 2020 election that prints out a paper ballot to help verify the accuracy of electronically counted ballots.
  • The reinstatement of about 22,000 voter registrations in late 2019 after Fair Fight challenged how much time had to pass before they were removed from the rolls.

That doesn’t shut the door on court challenges to Georgia election law. Several lawsuits are fighting the measure the General Assembly passed last year, Senate Bill 202, which limited ballot drop box availability, imposed new rules for absentee voting and banned handing out water and food to voters waiting in line.

So far, a federal judge has upheld almost all of the law for this year’s election, with the exception of a ruling that invalidated some restrictions on photography of ballots outside of polling places. Those cases will continue to be considered in court after the election.

Credit: Trulieve

Credit: Trulieve

Cultivation of medical marijuana begins years after it was approved for use

The cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes has officially begun in Georgia seven years after the state Legislature first approved the use of a cannabis oil as a treatment for numerous severe illnesses.

Trulieve opened a greenhouse in the South Georgia town of Adel, and it began growing the marijuana the night it received one of two Class 1 production licenses awarded by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission.

By the end of the year, Trulieve hopes to begin selling low THC oil to Georgians suffering from illnesses including severe seizures, Parkinson’s disease and terminal cancers.

The General Assembly voted in 2015 to allow patients to be treated with the oil — which can be no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high. But until Trulieve and Botanical Sciences, the other company to receive a Class 1 license, begin opening up to five dispensaries each, the 24,400 patients and 17,700 caregivers on a state registry will have no way to legally obtain it.

Botanical Sciences’ facility in Glennville, in southeast Georgia, is nearly complete.

The Class 1 licenses allow the two companies to each operate an indoor growing space of 100,000 square feet.

Lawsuits have kept the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission from licensing four more companies that could each devote 50,000 square feet to cultivating marijuana.

At least nine companies that wanted to sell medical marijuana in Georgia — but weren’t chosen for licenses — filed lawsuits in the past few weeks.

These complaints, such as one by a company called Symphony Medical, argue the process was “unrealistic and unfair” because it operated under selection rules approved by the General Assembly that kept most documents confidential, denying the company opportunities to make a case that it should have won a license.

Judges in some of those cases have ordered the medical marijuana commission to stop its licensing process so the courts can review the matter, but attorneys for the state have filed motions seeking to vacate those orders.

Georgia is one of 37 states that allow the medical use of cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer / AJC

Lt. gov candidates hurl charges at each other

A 2011 arrest on charges of driving under the influence against Charlie Bailey, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, has his Republican opponent, state Sen. Burt Jones, calling him unfit for office.

Bailey has said similar things about Jones for joining a fake slate of GOP presidential electors that was designed to help then-President Donald Trump’s failed effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.

Bailey, a former prosecutor who lives in Atlanta, has called the DUI charges questionable. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving in connection with the arrest. Court documents revealed no evidence that Bailey took or failed a sobriety test after he was pulled over for a broken brake light, although the arresting officer said alcohol could be smelled on Bailey’s breath.

He was sentenced to a year of probation, 100 hours of community service and attendance at a panel hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Jones accused Bailey of hiding his arrest from voters.

“Charlie Bailey was arrested for driving drunk, breaking the law, and endangering the lives of Georgia citizens,” Jones said. “But what’s worse — he lied about it and hid it from the people of Georgia for years. Georgians deserve an ethical, honest and trustworthy leader who will protect our families and uphold the rule of law — not break it.”

Bailey’s campaign tried to keep the focus on the fake electors, now being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department.

“Only one candidate for lieutenant governor has preemptively agreed to an FBI interview for his attempt to overthrow the United States government,” Bailey campaign spokesman Jake Orvis said. “Burt Jones is desperate to distract voters from the numerous investigations into his failed attempted coup.”

Political expedience

  • Kemp fundraising for quarter tops entire haul for 2018: Gov. Brian Kemp collected nearly $29 million in donations over the past three months — more than what he raised during his entire 2018 campaign. The Republican’s team said it will report having roughly $15.4 million in the bank for the homestretch in his rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Abrams’ disclosure was not available at the time of printing, but in her last filing in July she reported collecting more than $22 million over two months. Kemp and Abrams are well ahead of the fundraising pace they set four years ago, when they shattered state records.
  • Warnock raises $26.3 million: Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock collected $26.3 million from more than 340,000 donors in the latest three-month reporting period. His campaign said it will finish the quarter with about $13.7 million in the bank. Warnock has raised roughly $90 million since he defeated Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in last year’s U.S. Senate runoff. His Republican opponent in November, Herschel Walker, reported raising more than $12 million over the same period and has about $7 million cash on hand. His campaign said that he had outpaced all other GOP Senate candidates in the country this cycle.
  • Gas tax break extended: Gov. Brian Kemp again extended the suspension of the state’s motor fuel tax — this time through Nov. 11, or three days after Election Day. Kemp is in a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has called for suspending the tax through the end of the year. The suspension saves consumers 29 cents per gallon of gas while costing the state roughly $150 million to $170 million a month in tax revenue. Kemp’s office has used the state’s surplus to replace the revenue, which is used to finance transportation projects, such as road construction and bridge maintenance.
  • Car dealers spread some cash: Georgia’s new car dealers are putting plenty of money on the table in their efforts to short-circuit efforts by electric-vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to consumers. Tesla has a small exception, but other manufacturers still have to work through dealers. To keep that arrangement going, the dealers’ powerful lobby used to put its money behind state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a fellow car dealer from Gainesville. But Miller is now headed out of office after losing his bid for lieutenant governor in the May GOP primary. The dealers have switched over to Miller’s rival in that race, state Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson, giving his campaign committee the maximum $7,600 while also providing an additional $50,000 to his leadership committee. The dealers also gave $7,400 to Gov. Brian Kemp’s reelection campaign recently while kicking in an additional $40,000 for his leadership committee.

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