Capitol Recap: Abrams promises big pay raise for Georgia teachers

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is proposing an increase in the minimum salary for Georgia's public school teachers to $50,000 as part of a plan to up the state's average teacher pay by $11,000. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is proposing an increase in the minimum salary for Georgia's public school teachers to $50,000 as part of a plan to up the state's average teacher pay by $11,000. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Proposal would raise minimum salary for educators to $50,000

After watching Republican Gov. Brian Kemp deliver on a 2018 campaign promise to boost schoolteachers’ pay by $5,000, Democrat Stacey Abrams is ready to more than double it.

She would raise the minimum salary of the state’s public school teachers to $50,000 as part of a bigger plan to increase the pay for all K-12 educators by $11,000 over four years.

And Abrams plans to cover the cost — she says it would be $412 million a year — without raising taxes or imposing new fees.

Abrams, who rolled out the proposal while accepting the endorsement of the 23,000-teacher-strong Georgia Association of Educators, said the raise is necessary to retain educators and improve the state’s schools.

“When our pipeline is thinning and our exodus is increasing, we are losing the fight for our children’s future,” Abrams said.

Georgia teachers rank 35th in the nation for base pay at about $39,000 a year, according to a National Education Association study published in April. Abrams’ plan would land Georgia in the top 10.

The average salary for Georgia’s public school teachers is $60,553. An $11,000 bump in pay would allow the state to leapfrog the average salary of $65,293 for U.S. teachers.

Overall, Abrams’ proposal would cost $1.65 billion over four years.

Kemp’s team thinks she needs to go back to the classroom for some math lessons.

“Following the lead of her pals in the Biden administration, Stacey Abrams’ latest Hail Mary proposal for over $2 billion in new state spending annually joins an ever-growing pile of pie-in-the-sky plans that would make inflation worse and require higher taxes on Georgia families to pay for it all,” Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell said.

Abrams spokeswoman Jaylen Black offered a peek at how the campaign thinks the numbers would work:

Based on projections, the state’s tax collections would grow about 3.5% a year, or at least $1.1 billion. That’s enough to cover both the annual cost of the raise plus the estimated price tag of $264 million required for another Abrams goal: expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

GAE President Lisa Morgan said the raises are needed, but she also slammed policies advanced this year by Kemp and the Republican-controlled Legislature that put teachers on the front lines in the culture wars concerning the teaching of race and other issues.

“Adjusted for inflation, our educators are making less now than they did in 1999,” Morgan said outside the group’s headquarters, adding: “It’s not just about salaries. It’s about educators being treated as the professionals they are.”

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U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker's opponents said during the Republican primary that he was untested. He's facing tests now.

Credit: Patricia Murphy

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker's opponents said during the Republican primary that he was untested. He's facing tests now.

Credit: Patricia Murphy

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U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker's opponents said during the Republican primary that he was untested. He's facing tests now.

Credit: Patricia Murphy

Credit: Patricia Murphy

Tests get tougher for Herschel Walker with revelation of children

During the GOP primary, Herschel Walker’s rivals assailed his strategy to limit public appearances and avoid debating them.

They said he was untested.

That wasn’t completely true.

There had already been reports about Walker’s history of mental illness and threats of violence against women. He also had claimed he graduated from college when he had not, and he exaggerated his business record and made bizarre statements promoting a purported coronavirus cure.

The tests grew harder this week.

First, he faced scrutiny for claiming publicly on numerous occasions that he had worked in law enforcement. He had not.

The Daily Beast then stepped up the degree of difficulty when it reported that Walker has a 10-year-old son that he supports financially but does not see. The child’s mother sued Walker in 2013, a year after giving birth, to obtain a declaration of paternity and child support, according to court records.

A day later, Walker confirmed that he had two other children whom he had apparently never mentioned in public before.

“I have four children. Three sons and a daughter. They’re not ‘undisclosed’ — they’re my kids,” Walker said in a statement released by his campaign. “I support them all and love them all. I’ve never denied my children.”

The first, a daughter, was born when he was a star running back at the University of Georgia. Walker also said he has a 13-year-old son.

Until this week, the only child he had spoken about publicly — including frequent mentions during the campaign at public appearances and in interviews — was his 22-year-old son Christian, who was born during Walker’s first marriage to Cindy Grossman.

He said he “just chose not to use (the other children) as props to win a political campaign,” Walker’s statement said. “What parent would want their child involved in garbage, gutter politics like this?”

It is unclear what role Walker has played in the children’s lives.

Walker said he acknowledged the four children on a form he provided to the federal government when he was appointed to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition by President Donald Trump in 2018. The form is not publicly accessible but was provided to the AJC.

Walker has criticized other fathers, particularly in the Black community, who have abandoned their children.

“I tell people this, I say, ‘I want all African Americans out there to know, even though you may leave the mom, don’t leave the child,’ " Walker said in an interview last month with Atlanta rapper Killer Mike.

“Continue to be a dad,” he said. “Continue to be a strong figure in that child’s life.”

Parenting can be difficult at times.

Walker’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, has also had child support and custody issues. In a legal filing earlier this year, his ex-wife, Ouluye Ndoye, asked for more child support because Warnock’s income has increased. She also wants additional custody of their two children so she can spend time outside the state to complete a program at Harvard University. Warnock and Ndoye co-parent the children.

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A semi-automatic rifle is displayed on a wall of guns during the National Rifle Association annual meeting in May in Houston. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

A semi-automatic rifle is displayed on a wall of guns during the National Rifle Association annual meeting in May in Houston. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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A semi-automatic rifle is displayed on a wall of guns during the National Rifle Association annual meeting in May in Houston. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Top Demorats split on gun agreement

A group of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic U.S. senators reached an agreement on gun safety measures.

Georgia’s top two Democratic candidates. however, have not embraced the proposal with equal zeal.

The deal — made in the aftermath of a massacre at a Uvalde, Texas, school and a rash of other mass shootings — would:

  • Enhance federal background checks for gun buyers younger than 21 to include a review of mental health and juvenile justice records.
  • Provide financial incentives to states to create red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily seize weapons from a person deemed by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others.
  • Fund mental health resources and school security.
  • Ban gun sales to certain domestic violence offenders.
  • Tighten definitions for gun sellers to comply with background check requirements.
  • Establish new criminal penalties for gun traffickers and straw purchasers.

The agreement, however, does not provide for broader background checks, set new limits on which weapons can be sold, establish a mandatory federal red flag rule or raise the minimum age limit to purchase certain rifles.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, up for reelection in November, was happy enough with the compromise to endorse it, saying in a tweet that “inaction isn’t an option” after the high-profile shootings.

“Glad we’ve come this far — now, let’s get this done,” Warnock wrote.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor, said the package falls short, especially in a state where it just became legal to carry a concealed weapon without a license.

“While it is important that we see some progress in gun legislation, it is insufficient for the challenges we face here in Georgia,” Abrams said before vowing to beef up the state’s gun regulation.

GOP’s congressional hopefuls unite in bashing gun proposal

Republican congressional candidates in Tuesday’s runoffs are having a difficult time trying to separate themselves from their opponents on the Senate gun deal.

They all hate it.

Mike Collins, running in the 10th Congressional District, took his case to a gun store in Bogart.

“The Second Amendment is absolute,” Collins said. “And here we are, standing in a gun shop, and we’ve got the U.S. Senate debating how much of those rights they’re going to take.”

His opponent, Vernon Jones, staked out a similar stance, saying he “will never compromise on the Second Amendment – period.”

In the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, no longer safe electoral territory for a gun control advocate like U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, Jake Evans and Rich McCormick tried hard to outdo each other in proving their commitment to gun rights.

Evans said he will “oppose any effort to roll back gun rights for law-abiding citizens.” McCormick threw in a few extra adverbs but stuck to the same theme, saying he will “unequivocally and unapologetically oppose any legislation that makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker came the closest of any Republican in backing the gun deal. He approved of the bipartisan effort and was glad to see that the framework included strengthening mental health programs and school safety.

“But at this point, it’s just that — a framework,” Walker said. “With these D.C. politicians you always have to check the fine print. So I’ll be looking closely at the specifics of the entire legislation once it’s made public.”

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Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, left, and Mike Collins face each other in Tuesday's GOP runoff in the 10th Congressional District.

Credit: AJC file photo

Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, left, and Mike Collins face each other in Tuesday's GOP runoff in the 10th Congressional District.

Credit: AJC file photo

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Former state Rep. Vernon Jones, left, and Mike Collins face each other in Tuesday's GOP runoff in the 10th Congressional District.

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

Things get nasty in the 10th District

Politics ain’t beanbag, the saying goes, but it’s a particularly fierce game in the 10th Congressional District.

Mailboxes in the 18 counties of east-central Georgia were recently filled with mailers from the campaign of Mike Collins attacking his opponent in Tuesday’s Republican runoff: Vernon Jones.

Jones, once a Democratic state representative and the former CEO of liberal DeKalb County, now stylizes himself as the “Black Donald Trump.”

Collins’ mailer cast him in a different light, calling Jones a “radically anti-white racist.”

“We don’t have to worry about a corrupt career politician who is actually a Democrat from DeKalb County,” Collins, whose father once represented the region in Congress, said at a recent stop. “You can vote for someone who has lived here all his life, a conservative who is also an outsider.”

That kind of rhetoric is almost expected.

But Collins also started handing out red rape whistles bearing Jones’ name, a reference to his past misconduct toward women.

Jones responded by filing a police report in Morgan County claiming Collins is encouraging “violence against me.” Authorities say they will not investigate.

As the top vote-getter in the May 24 primary, Collins may be the favorite to win Tuesday, although Jones bears an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

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Former President Donald Trump has endorsed candidates in two of Georgia's Republican congressional runoffs on Tuesday, but his influence doesn't seem to match what it used to be. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

Credit: Michael Wyke

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed candidates in two of Georgia's Republican congressional runoffs on Tuesday, but his influence doesn't seem to match what it used to be. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

Credit: Michael Wyke

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Former President Donald Trump has endorsed candidates in two of Georgia's Republican congressional runoffs on Tuesday, but his influence doesn't seem to match what it used to be. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

Credit: Michael Wyke

Credit: Michael Wyke

Trump endorsements shift into ‘neutral’

Tuesday’s runoff elections pose another opportunity to gauge former President Donald Trump’s grip on Georgia’s GOP.

He’s endorsed candidates in two of the Republican congressional runoffs: Jakes Evans in the 6th District and Vernon Jones in the 10th District.

But those endorsements don’t appear to matter as much as they once did.

At best, May’s GOP primary was a mixed bag for the former president. His chosen candidates in the races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and even insurance commissioner all suffered significant losses. Trump’s favored hopefuls did win in the U.S. Senate race and the contest for lieutenant governor.

“At this point in time, the Trump endorsement is neutral. It’s not a plus and it’s not a negative,” said Gordon Rhoden, the Athens-Clarke County GOP chair. “People are moving beyond that.”

Silence might be the best way to measure Trump’s current standing.

Rhoden described a recent county event where GOP U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker was the featured speaker as the “biggest crowd we ever had — and even Herschel didn’t mention Trump.”

Politically expedient

  • McBath ad backs Bailey for work on gun violence: U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath produced an ad focusing on gun violence to support Charlie Bailey’s candidacy in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff for lieutenant governor. Bailey also picked up an endorsement from the Georgia Association of Educators Fund for Public Education Committee.
  • Miller endorses Hall: Bryan Miller, the grandson of former Gov. Zell Miller who also made a short-lived bid for lieutenant governor, is backing Kwanza Hall for that position in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff.
  • Onetime competitor sides with West: Wayne Johnson, who ran in the 2nd Congressional District’s Republican primary, has endorsed Chris West in the district’s runoff.
  • Hunt gains support from outside state: Tennessee U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn is backing Jeremy Hunt in the 2nd Congressional District’s Republican runoff. Hunt also picked up support from the Tea Party Express.
  • Former rival backs McCormick: Former state Rep. Meagan Hanson, who lost her bid in the 6th Congressional District GOP primary, has endorsed Rich McCormick in the district’s runoff over Jake Evans. McCormick also notched an endorsement from U.S. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise.
  • Ex-sheriff favors Gonsalves: Former Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway is backing Mark Gonsalves in Tuesday’s GOP runoff in the 7th Congressional District against Mike Corbin.
  • Kemp throws support behind Collins: Gov. Brian Kemp has endorsed Mike Collins in his runoff Tuesday in the 10th Congressional District against Vernon Jones.

More top stories online

Here’s a sample of other stories about Georgia government and politics that can be found at www.ajc.com/politics/: