PG A.M.: Herschel Walker still holds trove of unspent Senate campaign cash

Your daily jolt of news and analysis from the AJC politics team
Failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker filed financial disclosures this week that show his campaign account still holds nearly $4.4 million. (Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker filed financial disclosures this week that show his campaign account still holds nearly $4.4 million. (Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com)

Herschel Walker is still sitting on a pile of campaign cash, leading many political observers to wonder how he plans to spend that dough.

The failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate filed financial disclosures this week that show his campaign account holds nearly $4.4 million. He lost to U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock nearly 14 months ago in December 2022.

The report shows his campaign’s biggest expenditure the last three months of 2023 was a $100,000 gift to Polaris Action Inc., an offshoot of the conservative foreign policy organization.

That’s after he spent more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions last year supporting his favorite charities and political allies. He cut big checks to the Horatio Alger Association, a North Carolina camp and a Baptist ministry.

The slow spending reflects Walker’s low-profile existence since his election runoff defeat to Warnock ended his chaotic campaign.

He quietly reenrolled at the University of Georgia last year, taking steps to obtain a college degree he falsely claimed on the campaign trail that he had earned.

And the Buckhead house owned by his wife has been listed for sale for months, now posted for $1.35 million after a $100,000 price drop in October.

***

A recent panel discussion on Medicaid expansion alternatives at the Georgia Capitol featured (left to right): Natalie Crawford, executive director of Georgia First; Cindy Gillespie, former director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services; state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome; Paul Hull, vice president of regional advocacy for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; and North Carolina State Rep. Donny Lambeth. (Ariel Hart/AJC)

Credit: Ariel Hart/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Ariel Hart/AJC

MEDICAID WATCH. More than a few curious Republican state lawmakers joined health care advocates for a luncheon Wednesday that featured officials from Southern states that have expanded Medicaid.

Among the takeaways gleaned by our AJC colleague Michelle Baruchman: Cindy Gillespie, a former top health official in Arkansas, said applications for Social Security dropped by 20% after her state implemented a “private option” plan in 2014.

Lawmakers learned that no Republican incumbents who supported a North Carolina waiver to expand Medicaid lost his or her seat in their reelection campaign.

“We could not find anywhere this caused an incumbent to lose their seat,” said North Carolina GOP state Rep. Donny Lambeth, who pressed his state to expand for eight years. “It’s not an issue politically.”

Peg O’Connell of Care4Carolina, which backed Medicaid expansion, showed that two of the key GOP sponsors of the bill went on to win an election for a higher office. She showed similar findings in Virginia and Montana, both states that have expanded Medicaid.

***

House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, has reportedly softened his demand for a full-scale Medicaid expansion(Alyssa Pointer/AJC)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

MORE MEDICAID: Georgia Democrats are warming to an Arkansas-style plan to add more residents to Medicaid rolls.

The AJC’s Michelle Baruchman reports that House Minority Leader James Beverly has softened his demand for a full-scale Medicaid expansion, saying he would be open to a waiver plan that could involve purchasing private insurance for eligible recipients on the ACA marketplace.

“You have to standardize reimbursements for doctors so they are incentivized to take insurance,” he said in an interview, adding that “we’re wide open to whatever that is” as long as it expands access to health care.

The Macon Democrat also said he would support a deal that traded some form of expansion for the easing of “certificate of need” hospital regulations — so long as Democratic priorities, namely improvements to maternal mortality rates, could be addressed as well.

***

The Georgia State Capitol. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Casey Sykes

icon to expand image

Credit: Casey Sykes

UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Legislative Day 14:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Committee meetings begin.
  • 9 a.m.: The Senate gavels in.
  • 10 a.m.: The House convenes.

***

Gov. Brian Kemp signs antisemitism bill HB 30 at the Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, January 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

LEGISLATIVE ACTION. The General Assembly wraps its third week of legislative work — not counting a week of budget hearings — with today’s session. Here are measures on the move:

  • Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed the bill updating the state’s hate crime statute to include antisemitism, declaring “there is no place for hate in this great state.”
  • The House passed an election bill requiring watermarks be added to Georgia ballots this year. The feature is intended to make voter records easier to check for authenticity. The measure now goes to the Senate.
  • Senate panels are advancing legislation on sports betting and property tax hikes. The latter measure would cap assessment increases at 3% each year. The bills have yet to be brought to the Senate floor.

***

A new Georgia Greater polls shows Gov. Brian Kemp enjoys favorable ratings in the state. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

GREATER GEORGIA POLL. Greater Georgia, former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s voter mobilization group, is zeroing in on its key issues ahead of the 2024 elections. A new internal poll showed likely Republican voters called education, election security, and crime the issues they’d most like the Legislature to address.

On specific topics, the poll showed that 67% of likely voters favor the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, while 85% of likely Republican voters do. The survey also revealed that 50% of likely Georgia voters would support a $6,000 school voucher option for parents to spend on charter, private, or home schooling, while 67% of likely GOP voters support the idea.

Other information of interest to Georgia politicos:

  • President Joe Biden continues to struggle in his personal approval rating from Georgians, with 57% of likely voters having an unfavorable opinion of him and 35% favorable.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp has an almost inverted rating, with 58% of likely voters having a favorable opinion of him, with 33% unfavorable.
  • Although national polls typically show pessimism around economic issues, 51% of likely voters called Georgia’s economy excellent or good.

The survey was conducted for Greater Georgia in early January by Guidant Polling and Strategy and has a 3.4% margin of error. In past years, the Loeffler organization has used similar polling data for ads, mailers and other messaging in targeted conservative districts of the state. And as we say, take all internal polling with a grain of salt.

***

From left to right: Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett. The three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia were killed by a drone strike on Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border. (Shawn Sanders and U.S. Army via AP)

Credit: U.S. Army via AP

icon to expand image

Credit: U.S. Army via AP

LISTEN UP. The “Politically Georgia” radio show team discussed the deaths of three Georgia-based U.S. Army Reservists in Wednesday’s episode. The service members were killed over the weekend in a drone strike on a base in Jordan. AJC journalist Joe Kovac Jr. was with the family of Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders in Waycross when President Joe Biden called her parents to offer condolences.

Listen at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And listen to Thursday’s show live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 FM, at AJC.com and at WABE.org.

****

The U.S. House on Wednesday signed off on an expansion of the child tax credit. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

Credit: Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

icon to expand image

Credit: Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

CHILD TAX CREDIT BOOST. The U.S. House on Wednesday signed off on an expansion of the child tax credit that would reinvigorate a program widely credited with drastically reducing America’s child poverty rates.

The vote on the tax policy legislation, which also includes business tax cuts, was 357-70. Most members of Georgia’s delegation supported the bill. Two members representing opposite ends of the spectrum — Reps. Andrew Clyde and Hank Johnson — voted “no.”

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, voted against expansion of the child tax credit. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Zuma Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

icon to expand image

Credit: TNS

Clyde, a Republican who represents Athens and northeast Georgia, said in a statement the bill would increase the national deficit while possibly benefitting undocumented immigrants.

“From welfare expansion to inflationary deficits, the Swamp’s tax bill is a Trojan Horse for bad policies disguised as tax relief,” he said.

Johnson, D-Lithonia, did not immediately explain his opposition to the bill but progressive Democrats like Johnson have pushed for a bigger expansion of the child tax credit.

The tax bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate where Republicans say they want to revise the measure, particularly the child tax credit provisions. Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he isn’t sure if or when the measure will be brought to the floor for a vote.

****

Georgia Congressman Rich McCormick was accused of behaving badly during a private tour of the Capitol dome. (Nathan Posner for the AJC)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

PROHIBITED PULLUPS. Georgia Congressman Rich McCormick received a scolding recently after Capitol Visitor’s Center staff accused him of behaving badly during a private tour of the Capitol dome.

Politico reported that McCormick, R-Suwanee, was accused of “unsafe actions” after performing a round of pullups on railings suspended hundreds of feet high. He also allegedly ignored signs telling him to stay away from unsafe areas.

The tour guide passed along concerns about McCormick’s behavior to his bosses who then sent an email to the House sergeant at arms. McCormick’s office then got a call.

As the story made the rounds on Wednesday, McCormick told colleagues the allegations were overblown and that he never put himself in any danger.

“There was a miscommunication and we have apologized,” McCormick spokesperson Julie Singleton told Politico.

***

President Joe Biden will attend the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol today. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

icon to expand image

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden attends the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol and then a political event in Detroit with the United Auto Workers union.
  • The Senate has judicial confirmation votes lined up.
  • The House is in session.

***

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns' district includes Savannah’s far suburban outskirts. (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

SAVANNAH INVASION. The knives came out for state lawmakers and other high-ranking public officials Wednesday at the Georgia Freight Depot: the oyster shucking knives, that is.

Hundreds of Capitol regulars joined a delegation of Savannah business and government leaders for the annual Savannah-Chatham Day Oyster Roast, one of the most-talked-about political networking events held each legislative session.

Among the mingling dignitaries was House Speaker Jon Burns, a Republican whose district includes Savannah’s far suburban outskirts, Attorney General Chris Carr and a number of Savannah-area elected leaders, such as Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.

***

Jonathan “JT” Wu, chairman of the Gwinnett County Public Library System, and Kayla Wong, a public school teacher, are engaged. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy photo

PERSONNEL NOTES. Stuart Wilkinson, a former Gov. Brian Kemp deputy, recently left McGuireWoods Consulting for an in-house lobbying post at PrizePicks, the Georgia-based daily fantasy sports firm. He’ll oversee external affairs across the region.

Also, congrats to Jonathan “JT” Wu, chairman of the Gwinnett County Public Library System, on his engagement to Kayla Wong, a public school teacher.

***

BABY NEWS. Congratulations to Camille Taylor and her husband, Austin, on their new baby boy. River Paul Taylor was born at 8 pounds, 2 ounces.

Camille is a familiar face to reporters who worked with her in the state House press gallery. She’ll be back to work at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities once River Paul gives her the go-ahead.

***

Gemma the cat lives in Smyrna with her people and her twin sister Clementine. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. Have you ever had one of these days? Gemma-the-cat has.

We’re assured that although Gemma is “a rather cranky 5-year-old” she is just yawning in this photo and not screaming. And a reliable source tells us Gemma has strong opinions but can’t be bothered to vote. We’ll work on that, Gemma.

She and her twin sister, Clementine, live in Smyrna with their person, Alanna. And cranky or tired, we’re right there with you, Gemma, so you’re our 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.