The Jolt: A Jolt of good news for Republicans in Tuesday special elections

September 20, 2016 -  Atlanta - Georgia State Capitol, the Gold Dome.  Downtown Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia.  BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM
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September 20, 2016 - Atlanta - Georgia State Capitol, the Gold Dome. Downtown Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

We never want to read too much into special legislative elections, which have notoriously low turnout. But Republicans still have to be pretty pleased with the outcomes in two contests Tuesday to fill vacant seats in the Georgia General Assembly.

In the South Georgia open seat in House District 156, two Republicans are headed to a runoff, while a Democrat lagged with just 15% of the vote, underperforming Joe Biden.

And in the Marietta-based House District 34, vacated by former GOP Rep. Bert Reeves, GOP voters combined to amass about 60% of the tally. Biden notched about 47% in the district in November.

While Georgia Republicans suffered historic losses at the top of the ticket and in county-level elections in 2020, their performance in General Assembly races was a relative bright spot.

Democrats had hoped to pick up 16 seats in the state House to win control of the chamber, but managed to win just two. Holding on to both open seats will be essential for Republicans with redistricting looming later this year.

The next round of voting comes on July 13, when Republican Devan Seabaugh faces Democrat Priscilla Smith, who captured about a quarter of the vote to force a runoff. Seabaugh will be favored to hold the Republican-leaning district, but we will see how much time and treasure Democrats and their allies are willing to pump in to flip a seat in their favor.

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Big news for parents across Atlanta-- Every metro Atlanta school district is preparing for in-person learning to resume in the fall.

That was the main takeaway from a press conference this week arranged by U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who touted the $4 billion cash infusion headed to Georgia schools as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. Of that sum, about $1.5 billion is going toward Atlanta-area schools.

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Lisa Herring said the funding sped the reopening.

“We’ve utilized those funds for things such as wellness and intervention needs, social emotional wellness for not just our students, but for our staff as well,” she said.

Also at the press conference were leaders from Clayton County Public Schools, Cobb County Schools, City Schools of Decatur, DeKalb County Schools, Douglas County Schools, Fulton County Schools, Gwinnett County Public Schools, Henry County Schools, Newton County Public Schools, and Rockdale County Public Schools.

“Not only are these leaders preparing for a full return to in person learning, but they are investing in new opportunities, new programs, extra curricular learning, early childhood education,” said Ossoff.

One thing Ossoff wouldn’t bite on: A question from a TV reporter about critical race theory, the educational platform vilified by Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans.

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Keisha Lance Bottoms isn’t the only big city mayor calling it quits this year. Politico leads this morning with the many city leaders who have decided to leave office rather than seek another term overseeing pandemic recovery, stressed schools, and a dangerous spike in violent crime. Politico also spoke to Bottoms about her decision:

In an interview, Lance Bottoms said the last year had drained her and left her wanting to move on to something else. What, exactly, she does not yet know.

The days after Floyd's death, in particular, were a “perfect storm of disappointment," as people took to the streets of Atlanta and some demonstrations turned violent, Lance Bottoms said. “It was exhaustion, it was sadness, it was fatigue. I mean there's so many words that I could use, none of them probably strong enough to really capture the last 18 months. But it was, I can say personally, it felt like a very low point."

- Politico

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Speaking of recovery money, the City of Albany is set to receive about $20 million in recovery fund from the American Rescue Plan, but there’s debate locally about what to do with the funds, WALB-TV reports.

“Mayor Bo Dorough said that money should be used to repair the sewer infrastructure. However, Albany City Commissioner Demetrius Young argues that COVID recovery funding needs to specifically go to COVID recovery efforts.

“I don't disagree that we can use it for those purposes, but I don't agree that we should," Young said.

- WALB-TV

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Former U.S. Attorney BJay Pak tells us that he plans to grant the U.S. House Oversight Committee’s request that he come in for an interview to discuss his interactions with Department of Justice officials in the days prior to his abrupt resignation.

That request came after committee members reviewed hundreds of pages of emails, which they made public Tuesday to coincide with a hearing regarding their investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Allies of former President Donald Trump within the DOJ were reaching out to Pak, then Atlanta’s chief federal prosecutor, at the same time Trump was pushing a false narrative that fraud and mismanagement were behind Joe Biden’s win in Georgia. After three days of being pulled into conversations with top DOJ officials, Pak stepped down weeks ahead of his scheduled retirement.

Logistics of his Oversight Committee interview, including scheduling and whether certain topics will be off limits because of executive privilege, still need to be ironed out. But it looks like sometime in the near future he will finally speak publicly about that surprise announcement.

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Richmond County’s longtime elections director Lynn Bailey announced she will retire at the end of this year.

But the Augusta Chronicle reports that Bailey said her grandchildren, and not Senate Bill 202, are the reason she decided to step down after 28 years.

“I love my job, and my decision to retire has nothing to do with the last election cycle or any upcoming changes,” she told the paper.

One interesting detail about the county’s elections in 2020 were the use of four ballot drop boxes, used for the first time in 2020, but now limited in the county to a single drop box by language in the state’s recent elections overhaul.

“Bailey said other than 30-40 voters who forgot to place their ballot in the ballot envelope, Augusta had no known problems with the boxes previously.”

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The always contentious process of redistricting got underway yesterday with the first hearing the state Joint Reapportionment Committee, chaired by state Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee and state Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse covered the forum, which was the first of 11 public town halls for the committee to receive public input before new maps are drawn for state and federal legislative districts. More on what’s next:

The Republican majority in the General Assembly will attempt to approve maps that increase their control of 58% of state legislative districts, and Democrats will try to stop them while also preserving their own seats. Lawsuits challenging the fairness of maps could follow.

On the congressional level, Democrats worry that suburban U.S. House districts represented by U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath could be combined in a way that results in an additional Republican seat.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia’s U.S. Rep. David Scott will chair a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday morning examining strategies to strengthen the country’s 1890 Land Grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Among the witnesses will be Fort Valley State president Dr. Paul Jones.

Scott is the first Black lawmaker to chair the House Agriculture Committee. The most recent Farm Bill set aside $80 million in scholarships at Land Grant universities. Scott has said he wants to make that scholarship program permanent.

Scott graduated from Florida A&M, an 1890 Institution, before going on to the Wharton School of Business for his MBA.

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The vote to award Capitol police officers and other law enforcement agencies with Congressional Gold Medals to honor their bravery during the Jan. 6 insurrection was overwhelming and bipartisan.

The House approved the measure 406-21. But that still means 21 lawmakers voted against honoring officers who protected them during the riot.

Each of the 21 representatives who voted against H.R. 3325 were Republicans and three of them are from Georgia: Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome.

None of them made speeches on the floor before or after the vote to explain their reasoning. Clyde and Hice’s office didn’t respond a request for comment, and Greene’s spokesman replied with an insult.

One more wrinkle to this: U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, reportedly knew there were some GOP members who opposed the measure and, according to CNN reporter Kristin Wilson, Waters insisted the bill receive its own roll call vote to get each lawmaker on the record.

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The Senate advanced a measure making Juneteenth a federal holiday. The legislation is expected to win approval in the House and be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that slaves in Texas learned about President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, roughly two-and-a-half years after the document had been signed. Observances across the nation increased last year in light of protests about racism; Juneteenth events often double as commemorations of the end of formalized slavery and celebrations of Black culture.

CNN reported that Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin had held up passage of the bill, arguing that a holiday for federal employees would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Johnson dropped his objection Tuesday, allowing the bill to pass by unanimous consent.

The bipartisan vote included Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock as “aye’s.”

Most states, including Georgia, recognize Juneteenth for commemoration but not as an official state holiday.

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The Democratic Party of Georgia announced Tuesday that it will partner with counterparts in Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia to launch Battleground South, a joint fundraising effort targeted at small-dollar donors.

This partnership allows the states, which all were pivotal to Joe Biden’s win last year, to work together to raise money going into statewide elections later this year (Virginia) and the 2022 mid-term elections.

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Union City Mayor Vince Williams launched his bid for a third term as mayor Tuesday. Williams is the president of the powerful Georgia Municipal Association and was first elected mayor in 2013 with more than 70 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed for re-election in 2017.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.