PG A.M.: GOP state lawmakers use special session to muscle Democrats

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
Majority Caucus Chair Sen. Bill Cowsert (Athens) debates with Minority Leader Sen. Gloria Butler and Sen. Elena Parent during the second day of the Special Legislature Session of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Forced by a federal judge to redraw Georgia’s political boundaries, state Republicans are using the special legislative session to go on offense. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Majority Caucus Chair Sen. Bill Cowsert (Athens) debates with Minority Leader Sen. Gloria Butler and Sen. Elena Parent during the second day of the Special Legislature Session of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Forced by a federal judge to redraw Georgia’s political boundaries, state Republicans are using the special legislative session to go on offense. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Forced by a federal judge to redraw Georgia’s political boundaries, state Republicans are using the special legislative session to go on offense.

Since lawmakers returned to the Capitol last week, Republicans reconfigured state district lines to preserve GOP majorities and imperil key Democratic incumbents.

They forced Democrats to stake a position on the proposed Atlanta police and firefighter training complex that has divided many left-leaning voters.

They rallied behind a plan Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday to accelerate one of the largest income tax cuts in state history.

And they passed a pair of resolutions meant to demonstrate GOP support for Israel and expose rifts among Democrats over the U.S. response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and the retaliatory strikes that followed.

With the revised House district map on a large monitor Rep.  Beth Camp (R-Concord) speaks in support of HB1EX in the House Chamber at the Georgia State Capitol, Friday, December. 1, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Jason.Getz/AJC

The last came into play during an hour of back-and-forth discussion in the Georgia House over a resolution condemning the “evil” Hamas invasion — and made no mention of the growing Palestinian humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The resolution passed 129-2, but the overwhelming margin doesn’t reflect the fraught nature of the debate. About 30 Democrats abstained, and more than two dozen others were marked “excused” from the vote.

The legislation could have been even more divisive. Several Democrats tell us there was talk of a mass “walkout” in protest of the measure.

Kemp political adviser Cody Hall warned there would be political repercussions.

“If you’re a Georgia Democrat who walked on this vote because you thought doing so wouldn’t hurt you at the ballot box, think again,” said Hall.

***

The Georgia State Capitol.

Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Casey Sykes for the AJC

UNDER THE GOLD DOME:

  • 9 a.m.: The Senate convenes.
  • 10 a.m.: The House gavels in.
  • 1 p.m.: The Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee meets.
  • 1:30 p.m.: The House Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee meets.

***

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat is facing more scrutiny after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation detailed ties between state lawmakers and a lucrative contract involving the troubled Rice Street jail. (Katelyn Myrick/katelyn.myrick@ajc.com)

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

FULTON FRACAS. Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat is facing more scrutiny after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation detailed ties between state lawmakers and a lucrative contract involving the troubled Rice Street jail.

State Sen. Josh McLaurin of Sandy Springs became one of the highest-profile Democrats to call for Labat to resign after the AJC probe revealed state legislators own part of an Alpharetta tech company that received a series of no-bid contracts for inmate health monitoring.

Commissioners voted in October to rescind the $2.1 million they approved in April for a deal between Labat and Talitrix, whose owners include state Reps. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, and Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, and state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming.

McLaurin said Labat should step down because he has “failed to be forthright with the Fulton Commission about vendor contracts” while the jail remains in crisis.

“The commission needs a trustworthy partner,” he said.

Labat declined to comment to the AJC about the Talitrax contract. His office brushed off McLaurin’s demand, saying through a spokeswoman that he should “contact our office to address his concerns directly.”

***

Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty smile at supporters outside Georgia State University Convocation Center  following his inauguration on Thursday, January 12, 2023.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

SPOTTED:

  • Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp watching the Atlanta Boys’ Choir singing hymns before the annual flip-of-the-switch to light the massive Capitol Christmas Tree for the season Monday.
  • Also on hand: proud mom, state Rep. Saira Draper, D-Atlanta, watching her son Oscar perform as a member of the choir.
  • Cobb Commissioner Jerica Richardson was in the Capitol as lawmakers considered a redrawn Congressional map. The proposed map would move the 6th District, where Richardson plans to run as a Democrat in the 2024 election, to new territory west of Atlanta.

***

Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) speaks in the Senate chambers on Day 22 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, February 22, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

HEAD OF THE CLASS. The U.S. House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Collins on Monday, putting the Republican from Jackson in line to become the first member of this year’s freshman class to see a bill signed into law.

The measure, called the Testing, Rapid Analysis, and Narcotic Quality (TRANQ) Research Act, has already passed in the Senate and next goes to President Joe Biden.

The legislation directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to deepen its research into synthetic opioids, particularly a type of tranquilizer that is often an additive to fentanyl.

Collins issued a news release to highlight his trailblazing status among the House’s new members.

“By funding research into detection methods for these dangerous substances, we are helping local law enforcement and Border Patrol protect themselves when they encounter dangerous narcotics like the Zombie Drug in the field,” Collins wrote. “I am proud that my first bill to be signed into law will help our heroes in blue and green stay safe as they selflessly serve our communities.”

***

 The ongoing redistricting session redo at the Capitol has jeopardized U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s future in Congress as Republicans significantly alter the lines of Marietta Democrat’s district. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

LISTEN UP: The ongoing redistricting session redo at the Capitol has jeopardized U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s future in Congress as Republicans significantly alter the lines of the Marietta Democrat’s district.

McBath campaign advisor Jake Orvis joins the Tuesday edition of the “Politically Georgia” radio show and podcast to discuss the fallout. The program airs live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 FM and streams at AJC.com and WABE.org.

In case you missed it, Monday’s show is available as a podcast and features two of Georgia’s foremost political experts, Emory professor Andra Gillespie and University of Georgia professor Audrey Haynes, in a panel discussion regarding redistricting and the U.S. House’s expulsion of Rep. George Santos, a New York Republican.

Listen and subscribe to “Politically Georgia” at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

***

SCOTUS APPEAL. Two lower courts ruled against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and two other Republicans who hoped to avoid paying fines for refusing to wear masks on the House floor during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the trio has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case.

Two lower courts ruled against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and two other Republicans who hoped to avoid paying fines for refusing to wear masks on the House floor during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

Greene accumulated more than $100,000 in mask fines in 2021 and 2022, which were docked from her $174,000 annual salary.

The petition for a Supreme Court review is a long shot. The court receives 5,000 to 6,000 such requests each term but usually agrees to hear 60 to 70 cases.

Attorneys for Greene, R-Rome, and Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina are making the same arguments the lower courts already rejected.

***

To make the case that a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes could be unpopular among President Joe Biden’s supporters in Georgia, tobacco giant Altria is circulating the results of its own polling. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

icon to expand image

Credit: TNS

MENTHOL BAN. To make the case that a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes could be unpopular among President Joe Biden’s supporters in Georgia, tobacco giant Altria is circulating the results of its own polling.

The survey found that 57% of core Biden voters in Georgia, defined as voters of color and non-conservative white voters under the age of 45, oppose any ban on menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars. Nearly half, 48%, of those same voters opposed a ban on the sale of cigarettes containing nicotine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a final version of its proposed rules to the White House in October. The regulations would prohibit flavored cigars and cigarettes from containing menthol, a compound that adds a minty flavor or cooling sensation when consumed.

The rule has yet to be finalized, although both opponents and critics say it’s a matter of time. Doctors and healthy advocacy groups have long fought for the change, saying that menthol can make cigarettes more addictive.

But tobacco companies and retailers have fought against the change, saying it could lead to illegal sales on the black market.

***

U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop (pictured) D-Albany, and Austin Scott, R-Tifton, are scheduled to lead a tribute to Rosalynn Carter on the House floor today. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden campaigns in Boston.
  • Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, and Austin Scott, R-Tifton, lead a tribute to Rosalynn Carter on the House floor. The Senate has confirmation votes lined up.
  • A House Oversight subcommittee holds a hearing on transgender girls and women competing in sports.
  • U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers host a news conference to tout a bill intended to protect children from dangerous interactions on social media.
  • U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, delivers closing remarks at the Center for American Progress’ 9th Annual National Gun Violence Prevention Summit.

***

DA STEPS AWAY: Muscogee County District Attorney Stacey Jackson has taken a medical leave of absence and is expected to be out until after the new year.

Columbus TV station WRBL reports Jackson’s chief assistant, Donald Kelly, will lead the Chattahoochee Circuit in the meantime.

Jackson has served as the lead prosecutor for the six-county circuit since his appointment by Gov. Brian Kemp in May 2022. He replaced Mark Jones, who was removed in November 2021 after pleading guilty to a public corruption charge. Jones won the office in the 2020 election.

***

Dog of the Day Livvy Hawkins calls Atlanta’s Lenze Hawkins her person. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. It’s time to meet Livvy Hawkins, the 3-year-old labradoodle who calls Lenze Hawkins her person.

As a campaign-ready ’doodle, Livvy has lived all over. But after a stop in Washington, D.C., she and Lenze now call Atlanta home. And we call Livvy out Dog of the Day!

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and location, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

***

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.