The muted response from Atlanta’s top Democrats after Republican Attorney General Chris Carr indicted more than five dozen activists on racketeering charges over their efforts to block the proposed public safety training center infuriated the project’s opponents.
Now the city’s refusal to verify tens of thousands of signatures from those hoping to force a public vote on the project has some threatening payback in upcoming elections — not just in local contests, but in next year’s White House race and statewide contests in 2026.
At City Hall and in interviews, demonstrators warned that liberal voters in Atlanta are being taken for granted. Mary Hooks of the Movement for Black Lives, one of the chief organizers of the referendum movement, said activists who “spend cold months in December” fighting for Democrats have been let down.
“As voters, we are not going to forget,” she said. “I think it’s going to be hard-pressed for us to continue to show up for Democrats in this state, when they continue to turn their back on us.”
And Hillary Holley, a veteran in Georgia politics who currently serves as executive director for Care in Action, warned that elected leaders in Atlanta are “betraying basically every single organization” that helped elect them.
“Instead of Atlanta Democrats allowing voters to decide, they are using voter suppression tactics to silence over 110,000 constituents ahead of a very hard 2024 presidential cycle,” she said. “This is a slap in the face to voters and those who worked hard to get Democrats elected and politically dumb.”
A few hours later, the voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams added its voice to the chorus. In a scathing statement, Cianti Stewart-Reid of Fair Fight Action accused Atlanta leaders of “following the same tired anti-voter playbook that has been wielded against voters of color for generations.”
Much of the vitriol is leveled at Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. He is a champion of the $90 million project and helped engineer the 11-4 City Council vote that allowed it to move forward.
Credit: Ben Hendren for the AJC
Credit: Ben Hendren for the AJC
But others have also criticized Democratic U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Atlanta residents who have navigated a tricky political balance over the issue. Both raised concerns about the arrests of people linked to protests but stopped short of directly opposing the training center’s construction.
“I think the choice between public safety and justice is a false choice, and not one that we have to make,” Warnock said recently. “I support law enforcement, I support the right of people to have their voices heard in this conversation. I’m going to do everything I can as a U.S. senator representing the people of Georgia to make sure the people are safe.”
COURT COSTS. Even as the Georgia GOP dips deep into its account to pay the legal fees for the Republican electors facing criminal charges, the party’s former chairman has revived a lawsuit alleging the organization is stiffing him on court costs with a separate case.
John Padgett wants the state party to pay him $230,000 for legal costs he said he incurred when he was named in a lawsuit filed by Qiana Keith. She is a former Georgia GOP staffer who claimed co-workers referred to her with a racial slur and humiliated her.
Padgett first filed the lawsuit against the party in 2021, but attorney Jefferson Allen said the litigation was voluntarily dismissed and refiled to seek more discovery. The new claims resemble the old ones.
The state GOP paid more than $500,000 in 2017 to settle Keith’s lawsuit and racked up more than $1 million overall in legal costs. Padgett, who led the party from 2013 to 2017, said he should be repaid the legal fees he ran up trying to be removed from the case.
The state GOP in 2021 told our Greg Bluestein that Padgett’s original lawsuit seeking repayment was “frivolous.”
What makes the case more interesting is the full-scale fundraising campaign current party chair Josh McKoon has launched to pay the legal fees for three other ex-state GOP officials.
Our colleague James Salzer reported in July that the state GOP spent more than $500,000 on legal fees during the first half of 2023, mostly to pay lawyers to defend the electors who filed bogus certificates claiming Donald Trump won Georgia’s 2020 presidential election vote.
Three of those electors have since been indicted in Fulton County’s sprawling case against the former president and his allies: Former state GOP chair David Shafer, state Sen. Shawn Still and former Coffee County GOP chair Cathy Latham. Each has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Credit: T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times
Credit: T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times
CONGRESS CHAOS. U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick is firing back as Democrats circle his suburban Atlanta seat, which could be redrawn from a Republican stronghold to a more competitive district if plaintiffs suing the state have their way.
McCormick accused Democrats of “pulling out all the stops to beat me at the ballot box” as the case progresses in federal court. It was brought by civil rights groups and others who allege Republicans illegally diluted Black voting power when they overhauled the map in 2021, especially in altering McCormick’s 6th District from Democratic-leaning to solidly conservative.
He has already attracted several potential challengers ahead of a 2024 reelection bid, including Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson, who announced last week she would run for the seat.
“As we look to next year’s election, our team is taking nothing for granted,” McCormick, R-Suwanee, said in a fundraising appeal to local Republicans. “We are preparing for the battles to come and hope we can count on your support again.”
HEAVY WORKLOAD. The U.S. House returns from a six-week recess today and already a deadline looms: Sept. 30. The House and Senate must pass 12 spending bills in the weeks ahead — or a continuing resolution to maintain funding at current levels — to avert a government shutdown.
The pressure is on in the Republican-controlled House. Two of the 12 bills are still in the drafting stage with the House Appropriations Committee, and only one of the other 10 is scheduled for consideration on the chamber floor this week.
Meanwhile, the Senate has passed all 12 bills out of committee and senators are working on a three-bill funding “minibus” package, reports Jamie Dupree in his Regular Order newsletter. The Democrat-controlled Senate is focused on military construction, the Veterans Administration, transportation, housing and agriculture, with a procedural vote on the defense spending bill scheduled for this afternoon.
“I think that folks at home in Georgia look at the dysfunction in Washington and those that seem to be almost advocating for a shutdown and they scratch their heads,” U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock told us at the end of last week. He added: “Chaos is not good for the Georgia economy, it’s not good for workers, it’s not good for families. It’s not good for veterans. So I hope cooler heads will prevail.”
Warnock’s fellow Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, spoke with WDUN radio host Martha Zoller about the appropriations process last Thursday. The first-term Democrat stressed the political conversation should be focused on “national interests,” not Democrat or Republican interests, and that a shutdown would be “deeply irresponsible.”
TODAY IN WASHINGTON:
- President Joe Biden, fresh off his G20 summit trip to India, has no public events scheduled.
- The U.S. Senate will consider confirmations and will vote on advancing one of 12 appropriations bills to the floor.
- The U.S. House returns after a six-week recess with votes scheduled for this evening.
- The House Freedom Caucus will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. outlining members’ position on the brewing appropriations battle.
- U.S. Rep. Austin Scott’s staff will host mobile office hours at times and locations across the Republican’s south Georgia district this week. His team will offer assistance with Medicare, Social Security, immigration and passport, the Internal Revenue Service and veterans’ benefits.
SAPELO SHOWDOWN. A major zoning change to Sapelo Island along the Georgia coast will be considered today by the McIntosh County Commission.
Sapelo is a sparsely populated barrier island located halfway between Savannah and Brunswick. Reachable only by boat, Sapelo is known for its iconic lighthouse and as home to Hog Hammock, a community populated by descendants of enslaved people who worked the island’s plantations known as Gullah Geechee. Current residents trace their ancestry on the island to before the Civil War.
The Gullah Geechee are wary of the potential impacts of the proposed zoning changes on their 427-acre community. According to journalist Mary Landers, writing for the online publication The Current, the new zoning law would more than double the allowed square footage of homes built on the island, from 1,400 square feet to 3,000 square feet.
Hog Hammock residents have voiced concerns that the change would attract development to the island, affecting their quality of life and increasing property taxes as home values rise.
The McIntosh Commission reviewed the proposed zoning change in a Monday workshop, tweaking other language that Hog Hammock residents found objectionable. The commission is expected to vote on the measure in tonight’s regularly scheduled meeting.
DOG OF THE DAY. Meet Aoife, Katie, and Molly Conley, the three leisure-loving canines who call the very distinguished Carolyn Conley their person.
Not only is Conley a professor emerita of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she is also an AJC subscriber so devoted she has trained her dogs to appreciate it, too.
A picture of these three lounging came with the caption: “After they read the AJC every morning, they just go back to bed.” Sweet dreams, you three. You’re our Dogs of the Day.
Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and location, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.
AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.