PG A.M.: University System chancellor unveils needs-based scholarship plan

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team

University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue said it’s time the state offered a more robust needs-based college scholarship to augment the HOPE program. And he’s raising cash from private foundations to jumpstart the initiative.

He revealed his efforts on Thursday during the “Politically Georgia” live event in Macon. He said he’s “committed to raising big national money to bring to Georgia and to deliver an appropriate needs-based scholarship” for students.

From left to right: AJC reporters Greg Bluestein, Patricia Murphy, Tia Mitchell and Bill Nigut interview University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue in Macon on Thursday.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

HOPE is merit-based and funded by the Georgia Lottery.

“I’m not suggesting that the Legislature solve the problem, although that would be something for them to have a great debate about,” said Perdue, a former two-term governor.” But I am suggesting that we need to do it. Georgia is better than that. We can do it here, and there are a lot of foundations out there who believe in student scholarships.”

State legislators have wrestled for years over expanding needs-based grants that help students who can’t afford to finish college.

The Georgia College Completion Grant program launched in 2022 after lawmakers authorized providing up to $2,500 to students who’ve completed 80% of their college credits and have a financial aid gap. General Assembly members have since tried to expand the program, though the efforts stalled.

Perdue said the foundation-funded scholarships might not involve huge sums of financial help. But he said even $500 could be vital to students.

“But it makes a difference — and if they drop out, you won’t see them again. And they won’t have that degree,” he said.

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The late Braves legend Hank Aaron breaks into a smile on the eve of his 80th birthday in 2014.

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

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Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

HOME RUN PITCH. Our colleague Jamie Dupree told you last week how several southern states are swapping out the statues they supply for the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall and suggested Georgia do the same.

On Thursday, state lawmaker Trey Kelley, a six-term GOP House member from Cedartown, pitched replacing a Georgia sculpture honoring Confederate leader Alexander Stephens with a tribute to baseball icon and Atlanta Braves legend Hank Aaron.

“There’s nothing more American than baseball, and no one personifies American values more than Hank Aaron,” Kelley told your insider Greg Bluestein. “He used his influence to advance civil rights, inspire entrepreneurship and hammer home the Georgia we know today.”

Kelley’s suggestion is backed by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, the president of the state Senate.

Bluestein has more on the history of the statue and the debate around it in this piece that published Thursday.

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GEORGIA 2024. Former Donald Trump aide Brian Jack is calling in major reinforcements for his campaign for the 3rd Congressional District.

In the last week, Jack has held events with a slew of MAGA-friendly Republicans: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper on Tuesday; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday; and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones along with Donald Trump Jr. in a virtual rally on Thursday.

“Brian knows the state, he knows the district, he understands the importance of getting things done for Georgia,” Gingrich said to a Columbus crowd this week.

He added: “You have a unique opportunity to help your country and help your state by helping Brian.”

Jack is among several Republicans competing to represent the west Georgia-based district. His top rivals include ex-state Sen. Mike Crane, former Senate GOP Leader Mike Dugan and former state Rep. Philip Singleton.

The incumbent, Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-The Rock, is not seeking reelection.

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DEBATE BATTLEGROUND. Followers of politics in Georgia are still buzzing over the state playing host to the first 2024 presidential debate, set for June 27 at CNN’s studios. Our own Patricia Murphy writes the showdown could be a bigger deal for Atlanta than if the city had landed the Democratic National Convention, which party leaders considered last year before choosing Chicago instead.

Writes Murphy:

Who needs a weeklong convention of pre-scripted speeches when Atlanta now has the first head-to-head matchup between Trump and Biden in nearly four years?

- Patricia Murphy, AJC

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BIDEN AT MOREHOUSE. As President Joe Biden’s visit to Atlanta this weekend to deliver the Morehouse College commencement address draws closer, so does his opportunity to galvanize support with a core voting bloc: Black men in Georgia.

Insider Greg Bluestein along with colleagues Ernie Suggs and Jillian Price unpack the challenges Biden faces in mobilizing the demographic in his reelection bid. Black men helped Biden carry Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes four years ago, but current polls show those voters are dissatisfied or apathetic about Biden this election cycle.

Biden’s speech at Morehouse carries political risk for the president considering the recent wave of pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses across the country. Those demonstrators are quick to criticize Biden for his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Yet the Morehouse address also gives Biden an opportunity to spotlight his administration’s support for historically Black colleges and universities, said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a 1991 Morehouse graduate.

“There are a lot of folks that recognize that here is an administration that has invested $7 billion in HBCUs. And this is critically important because for literally 157 years, they have been punching way above their weight,” said Warnock. “The president understands the importance of these schools.”

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U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., is fighting the law that led to her arrest during a demonstration at the state Capitol in Atlanta in 2018.

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

LAW REVIEW. The Georgia Supreme Court is weighing the state law used to twice arrest state lawmakers participating in peaceful protests at the Georgia Capitol.

Those legislators, now-U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, and state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, filed a civil complaint in Fulton County in 2022. The case reached the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, with the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Gerald Weber, arguing the state law under which Williams, Cannon and others were arrested is unconstitutionally broad as it criminalizes speech that is not disruptive or intended to be disruptive.

According to reporting from the AJC’s Rosie Manins, the state’s attorney countered that Georgia’s “disruption statute” is reasonably designed to ensure that the work at the Capitol isn’t interfered with.

The Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling in the case is expected to come later this year.

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From left to right: Macon Mayor Lester Miller and Macon Mayor Pro Tem Seth Clark participated in a taping of the "Politically Georgia" podcast in Macon on Thursday.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today on the “Politically Georgia” radio show, hear the recording of our live event held Thursday night in Macon. Mayor Lester Miller and Mayor Pro Tem Seth Clark discussed their efforts to revitalize the city, which includes working with the Georgia congressional delegation to get Ocmulgee Mounds designated as a National Park.

University System chancellor Sonny Perdue was also a guest on the show and shared why he believes his current role is the most rewarding of all the jobs he has held during a long political career.

Listen live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 or follow “Politically Georgia” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

In case you missed it, Thursday’s show featured WRBL-TV’s Chuck Williams, who previewed the Republican Party of Georgia convention in Columbus.

Also, state Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, talked about the recent arrest of a suspect in the Tara Baker cold case and the legislation he sponsored that the GBI credited with making the arrest possible.

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A view of the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah at sunrise.

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

BRIDGE WORK. The days are numbered for Savannah’s Talmadge Bridge. But the countdown is well into the four figures.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials on Thursday gave a rough timeline for the removal of the iconic cable-stayed span located on the edge of the city’s historic district. The bridge is still relatively young — it opened in 1991 — but doesn’t provide enough clearance for next-generation cargo ships to access Georgia Ports Authority terminals located upriver.

Tearing the Talmadge down can’t happen until a new river crossing is built — either a new, higher bridge or an underground tunnel — and that construction will take a minimum of nine years, a GDOT project manager said. And that work won’t begin until after a lengthy public engagement period after which state leaders will decide on the replacement and secure permits and federal funding.

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Cheryl Brown Henderson, center, daughter of Brown v. Board of Education plaintiff Oliver Brown, speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington on Thursday after a meeting with President Joe Biden.

Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

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Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

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U.S. Rich McCormick, R-Suwanee, is in the news of late because he is divorcing his wife.

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

MCCORMICK’S MESS. U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Suwanee, is going through a divorce with his wife of nearly 13 years. That we know from public records.

The Daily Mail published an article Thursday, which other publications cite, including the Daily Beast and the New York Post, indicating the split comes amid rumors that McCormick has fostered a romantic relationship with a fellow lawmaker.

From the Daily Mail:

Capitol Hill insiders say McCormick has often been seen acting overly friendly toward a female Republican member of the House Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas.

One GOP member told DailyMail.com they had seen McCormick and Van Duyne 'holding hands under the table' at the weekly Republican Study Committee lunch within the last three to four months and had seen him 'grab the small of her back' on the House floor during votes.

Two eyewitnesses say they have seen he and Beth holding hands, with one witnessing it as the pair were leaving votes.

- The Daily Mail

A spokeswoman for McCormick told the Daily Mail that he and his wife, Dr. Debra Miller, “have been separated for quite some time. He has kept that private and will continue to keep his personal life out of the media spotlight.”

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ROCKETS ON THE HILL. A group of students from Oconee County High School in Watkinsville are participating in a competition at the U.S. Capitol that is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association.

The Oconee team is among the 100 national finalists in the American Rocketry Challenge, the world’s largest student rocketry competition. They will put the model rocket they built to the test over the weekend, battling for a piece of over $100,000 in prize money and a trip to the International Finals in London this summer.

The Rockets on the Hill event starts today when they will show off their creation and interact with industry officials and elected leaders. The Oconee students are the only team from Georgia to make the finals this year.

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The Georgia Decides voter guide, a joint project from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Atlanta Civic Circle.

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

VOTER GUIDE. Today marks the close of early in-person voting in the May primaries and nonpartisan elections. Whether you are researching your ballot to make it to the polls before the day is out or to prep for Election Day next Tuesday, we’ve got a resource for you: The Georgia Decides voter guide, a joint project from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Atlanta Civic Circle.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.