Georgia lawmaker who refused COVID-19 test a no-show Wednesday

A state legislator who has refused to be tested for COVID-19 was a no-show Wednesday at the Georgia Capitol, but his defiance continued to anger some of his colleagues.

Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, has refused to be tested for the disease since the General Assembly convened three weeks ago. Because of that defiance, Clark was escorted from the House chamber by a state trooper Tuesday, though he vowed to return and said he would not get tested.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging in Georgia and across the nation, the House and Senate have required their members and employees to be tested twice a week. Clark is the only House member who has refused to be tested at all, according to House Speaker David Ralston’s office. But some other representatives were asked not to attend Wednesday’s session after they did not get tested Tuesday.

“We did have a small number of House members who did not — for a myriad of reasons — complete the COVID-19 testing yesterday but who have previously been tested as required by House policy,” said Kaleb McMichen, Ralston’s communication director. “Those members were marked as excused today and asked not to attend session until such time as they have been tested in accordance with House policy.”

McMichen said all those members agreed to comply.

Clark did not attend Wednesday’s House session, and Ralston said he had not heard from the legislator since his expulsion. But Clark’s defiance rankled some lawmakers, who saw it as a publicity stunt.

Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, took exception to comments David Clark made in an interview Tuesday in which he likened his expulsion to the removal of 33 Black and mixed-race Republicans from the General Assembly during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.

Speaking to her colleagues Wednesday, Clark said some of those 33 lawmakers were beaten, jailed or killed because of their race and desire to hold public office.

“The original 33 (legislators) were not expelled because of some self-serving, attention-seeking personal protest about following safety protocols,” said Clark, who is no relation to David Clark. “They were expelled because they were Black.”

She accused him of co-opting Black suffering to score political points.

“Black people fighting to be treated like human beings is not equivalent to your fight to not spit in a cup to protect your colleagues,” she said. Her comments drew applause from many representatives.

State Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican and former police officer, accused Clark of using law enforcement as a prop to make a political statement.

”The men and women that sacrifice themselves, that stand on the front line to protect you and I each and every day that we come down here, they are not employed as stunt doubles, they are not employed as background actors or extras for anybody’s political message,” he said from the Senate floor. “Grandiose political statements that are for nothing else but self-serving messages that require those to be pulled that away, that are here to protect us, I feel are unacceptable, unprofessional and just completely disgusting.”

David Clark could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, he likened Ralston to a dictator and said he was considering legal action.

Later, on Facebook, he said the tests are unnecessary and expensive.

“When I arrived (Tuesday) morning, I came prepared to follow the required protocols by wearing a mask in chamber, having my temperature checked upon entry, and social distancing,” Clark wrote. “What I will not do is be forced to have a COVID test, or any unnecessary medical test, done without a basis for doing so.”

On Wednesday, the speaker’s office confirmed Clark will be banned from the House chamber until he gets tested. Ralston also has revoked Clark’s access to office space in an adjacent legislative building.

Clark’s next opportunity to be tested at the Capitol is Thursday.

Testing of lawmakers got off to a rough start. Seventy-four of the 180 House members skipped the first test of the legislative session. On Wednesday, Ralston said compliance has improved, though he provided no numbers.

Compliance in the Senate is at about 90%, including senators, staff and aides. Of the about 200 people tested Tuesday, no one was found positive for COVID-19. Since testing began for staff 3 1/2 weeks ago, there have been about 15 positive tests.

“I’m pleased everyone is buying into the system and most pleased no one tested positive yesterday,” said Steve Tippins, chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.

Also Wednesday, the House Republican Caucus announced its members unanimously supported the testing requirements, though not all members were present.

“As a Republican caucus, we joined together to lend our support to Speaker Ralston and the policies he has enacted to keep everyone — legislators, staff, media and the public — safe when they have to come to our state Capitol,” said Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, chairman of the caucus.