The Jolt: A midnight run to limit transgender sports in Georgia

News and analysis from the politics team at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gov. Brian Kemp after speaking on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022.   Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

Gov. Brian Kemp after speaking on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At 6 p.m. on Monday the Republican-led effort to ban transgender athletes from competing in high school supports seemed consigned to the dustbin.

By just after midnight Tuesday, it had passed both chambers with lightning-fast speed and seemed destined to be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

The Senate earlier Monday blocked a different version of the bill that would have required student athletes to play sports according to the gender on their birth certificate. Critics of the proposal were on the verge of celebrating.

But nothing is dead in the General Assembly until it’s dead. And a late compromise was reached to tack the provision to a separate controversial measure limiting how race is discussed in k-12 classrooms.

The new provision doesn’t explicitly ban transgender girls from competing in girls sports. But it allows the Georgia High School Association to make that call.

It also creates a study committee to examine whether transgender athletes should be limited or banned from school sports in the future.

It was helped by a late push from Kemp, who is eager to show his conservative bona fides ahead of a primary challenge against former U.S. Sen. David Perdue. In a speeches late Monday night, he told lawmakers to fight for “fairness” in sports and on Tuesday morning he made clear to WSB’s Scott Slade that he plans to sign it.

“It’s really fairness in girls sports. As the father of three daughters I certainly want them on a level playing field … To get something done, especially that late, was really good.”

But to reach his desk, it had to overcome opposition from House Speaker David Ralston, who was known to be a critic of the idea. Shortly after gaveling the session to an end, Ralston told us he saw it as a “not complicated compromise.”

“We are going to let them make those considerations,” he said of the GHSA. “We have an oversight committee on that. That’s really where these determinations need to be made, and hopefully they’ll do the right thing as we go forward.”

So what’s the “right thing” in Ralston’s mind?

“I’m going to communicate to them that I don’t want them targeted,” Ralston said of transgender athletes. “I hope that’s not the cause because, you know, I think that’s a determination that GHSA needs to make in consultation with the member schools.”

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a candidate for insurance commissioner and a leading critic of the measure, called it an outrage.

“It is so hard to reconcile being in a state that hates people for who they are with the love I have for us,” said Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat. “I’m sorry.”


Monday night crystallized an important dynamic in the Capitol: The durable alliance between House Speaker David Ralston and Gov. Brian Kemp.

Ralston and Kemp once warred over everything from fiscal policy to ideological approach. And Ralston famously backed Doug Collins for U.S. Senate over Kemp’s pick of Kelly Loeffler.

By Monday night, Ralston was helping Kemp score points with conservatives – and seeking out compromises he could stomach. We asked Ralston about how their relationship has evolved.

“The speaker of the House is not elected to be the best friend of the governor. That’s just the way it is. I value that. I try to protect that. And sometimes there are growing pains to that relationship.”

The speaker then nodded to Donald Trump’s wrath: “This governor has taken a lot of abuse. And we know where it’s come from. He’s kept on going. He’s governing. He’s not just out here speechmaking. I kind of admire that.”



  • Check the schedule and you’ll see: “No events scheduled for the next 14 days.” We’ll meet you back there in 2023.


The Capitol on Monday night was a hive of activity, with lobbyists huddling in hallways, lawmakers poring over papers stacked on their desks, and the House and Senate lobbing competing versions of bills back and forth. Here’s the rundown on:

What passed:

  • A $30.2 billion budget, with $2,000 pay raises for teachers, and a gradual ¾% income tax cut.
  • An elections bill to give the GBI, not the Secretary of State, original investigative power in elections. State Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is running for Secretary of State, warned Republicans, “Nothing you will do, short of overturning the 2020 elections, will satisfy a base that cannot accept facts.”
  • A bill to ban the teaching of nine “divisive topics” in Georgia classrooms;
  • A funding increase from $100 million to $120 million for the private school voucher program;
  • The last bill of the night-- a pension boost for members and leaders, spotted by our James Salzer.

What did not pass:

  • The bill restricting access to abortion medication by mail. Speaker David Ralston said following the session the interest in his caucus was not high enough to make it a priority;
  • Like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and that football, legislation to expand gambling, even betting on football, was a whiff. Again;
  • Changes to the state’s stalled medical marijuana program, which originally passed seven years ago, failed by a single vote in the state Senate.

Who said goodbye:

  • State Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the longest serving member of the Legislature, received a rare honor from his friend, House Speaker David Ralston, who commissioned a portrait of the Dean to hang in the state Capitol in his honor;
  • Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who became a Donald Trump punching bag in 2020 after he refused to go along with Trump’s election lies, opted not to run for reelection. The former pitcher for the Georgia Tech baseball team, also threw a brick of a ceremonial first pitch down the center aisle of the state Senate, hitting a desk by accident. After saying 2020 was still getting to him, Duncan wound up and threw it straight to get the session started.
  • State Sen. Jen Jordan, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, state Sen. Butch Miller, state Rep. Erick Allen, were just a few of the state lawmakers who won’t be back at their seats next year, since they’re running for higher office in 2022. State Sen. Burt Jones, who is running against Miller for LG, said he hopes to be back in six months in the new job. So did state Sen. Tyler Harper, the sole GOP candidate for agriculture commissioner.


Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston, dozens of lawmakers and hundreds of activists attended a bill signing ceremony for HB 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act.

The bill goes into effect July 1 and includes more than $180 million to begin to expand in- and out-patient treatment options in Georgia, workforce expansion, and a co-responder program to give law enforcement officers support from mental health professionals when responding to mental health crisis calls.


At the northeast Georgia Republican candidate forum over the weekend, four Republican Senate contenders each signaled support for repealing the Affordable Care Act.

While Herschel Walker was a no-show, he’s also criticized the healthcare law over the years.

At the forum, the four candidates - Gary Black, Josh Clark, Kelvin King and Latham Saddler – each were asked what they would do to improve the measure. You can listen to the exchange here.

Clark, a former state legislator, said he “went office by office trying to make sure that we did not implement the Not Affordable Care Act in the state of Georgia.”

Saddler, a veteran Navy SEAL, said the U.S. should “get rid of the rest of Obamacare is what we need to do, for starters.”

Black, the agriculture commissioner, said he was “disappointed in Republican leadership” because they failed to put forward a “Republican piece of legislation” that would repeal and replace Obamacare.

And King, a military contractor, said “obviously we need to eliminate Obamacare.”


This endorsement caught our attention: Republican Jake Evans boasted of winning the support of former Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker. The wrinkle? Evans is running for the 6th District. Johns Creek is in the neighboring 7th.


Former President Barack Obama is returning to the White House today for a joint event with President Joe Biden about changes he is proposing to the Affordable Care Act.

And we hear there will be some Georgia folks in the audience for the event, which is centered around closing the so-called “family glitch” that keeps certain people from being eligible for Obamacare coverage. Obama and Biden will also mark the 12-year anniversary of the signing of the landmark health care legislation.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux is among the Georgia lawmakers who will be in the audience.

At least two other Georgia residents are also among the invited guests. Himali Patel, an Atlanta resident with several medical conditions, who relies on the exchange for coverage. Rebecca Grapevine is a freelance journalist who has written extensively on the Affordable Care Act for Georgia Health News.


POSTED: Another big money group is starting to spend on behalf of U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in her primary against fellow incumbent Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control organization that once counted U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath as one of its top spokespeople, is spending at least $1 million on ads supporting her 2022 campaign. The organization said the low seven-figures buy will go toward direct mail, radio spots and digital ads.

McBath’s campaign also announced this morning that it is releasing its first television ad, a 30-second spot titled “Purpose” that will run on TV in metro Atlanta and online. The campaign said it is spending six-figures on that buy.


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court moved forward on Monday with the support of three Senate Republicans.

Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all voted with Democrats to discharge Jackson’s confirmation from committee. That procedural vote was needed because the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on party lines, as expected, on the matter.

There will be another procedural vote today. And with Romney, Collins and Murkowski lending support, Jackson is expected to be confirmed as early as this week to become the first Black woman on the high court.

Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff told the Monday committee, “She will be a superb addition to the U.S. Supreme Court, and I look forward to enthusiastically voting to move her to the floor today and supporting her on the floor.”


Don Cheadle won a Grammy on Sunday night in the spoken word category for his recording of one of John Lewis’ final writings, “Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation.”

The book includes lessons and stories that Lewis shared as he was undergoing treatment for cancer. He died in July 2020, and the book was published in 2021. Ambassador Andrew Young wrote the foreword.


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