The Jolt: Architect of Georgia election law loses vote for key House GOP leadership post

03/22/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Special Committee on Election Integrity committee Chairman Barry Fleming makes remarks during a committee meeting on day 36 of the legislative session at the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta, Monday, March 22, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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03/22/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Special Committee on Election Integrity committee Chairman Barry Fleming makes remarks during a committee meeting on day 36 of the legislative session at the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta, Monday, March 22, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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

Updates: State Rep. Matt Hatchett, an ally of Speaker David Ralston, defeated state Rep. Barry Fleming for a House leadership position. Fleming was a chief architect of Georgia’s new election overhaul and a potential rival to Ralston, and the vote was seen as a proxy fight over the speaker’s control of the chamber. The vote was by secret ballot, but two Republicans with knowledge of the totals said it was an overwhelming victory for Hatchett. One senior Republican lawmaker said the final tally was 52-36.

Original post below:

Jekyll Island – House Republicans are gathering today on the sweltering Georgia coast for more than rah-rah speeches and some fun in the sun. They’ll convene for a key leadership vote that will help determine the direction of the state party.

The House GOP retreat kicks off today with speeches by party luminaries, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Veteran strategist Karl Rove will address the crowd Saturday, perhaps with his famous whiteboard. State party leaders will also pep up the 80 or so GOP lawmakers in attendance.

But we’re most closely watching what’s shaping up to be a key test of House Speaker David Ralston’s grip on the speaker’s gavel. It involves a vote scheduled mid-morning to replace state Rep. Trey Kelley after he stepped down as Majority Whip as he fights charges stemming from a 2019 fatal accident.

The contest to replace him as the fourth-ranking member of the chamber pits Ralston ally Matt Hatchett against Barry Fleming, an attorney with designs on running for speaker one day himself. Some House Republicans view it as a proxy fight over Ralston’s leadership.

Fleming chaired the special House committee that shepherded Senate Bill 202, the state’s new election law, through the Legislature. And he’s assiduously courted allies who want to push the chamber in a more combative direction than Ralston. A victory could potentially set him up to challenge Ralston in 2023.

We’re not sure how serious the talk is, and we know it’s dangerous to bet against Ralston. He’s survived threats to his power before, most notably a push to oust him from leadership in 2019 that attracted only 10 GOP names. As testament to his grip on the reins, many of those dissenters are no longer in office.

Ralston knows the perils of leading a failed revolt. He lost a challenge to then-House Speaker Glenn Richardson in 2008, leaving him in a virtual exile, only to win the job a few years later after his old adversary stepped down in disgrace.

Allies of Fleming say he wants a seat at the decision-making table. Depending on whom you ask, Fleming either has more than enough votes or he’ll lose in a landslide. These affairs are behind closed doors, and the vote margins kept secret, so it will be harder to divine what it means.

But here’s what we do know. If Hatchett wins by a comfortable margin, Ralston’s power and influence remains intact. If Fleming ekes out a victory, it will encourage questions about the speaker’s staying power headed into the next election cycle.

As we noted earlier, though, Ralston’s opponents come at him at their own peril.

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POSTED: A jury convicted former Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck on 37 criminal counts of fraud and money laundering Thursday, the AP reported.

Sentencing is scheduled for October 8th and he was immediately removed from office. Interim Commissioner John King, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp after Beck was indicted, now becomes the permanent insurance chief. He is running for a full four-year term against Democrat Matthew Wilson.

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There’s a new mover-and-shaker in Georgia politics who deserves your attention: Quentin Fulks.

The native of Ellaville – the tiny Georgia town that also produced comedien Blaire Erskine – Fulks was deputy campaign manager for J.B. Pritzker’s campaign for Illinois governor in 2018 and later oversaw the Democrat’s political operation while he was in office.

Fulks is now returning to his home state to serve as campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s re-election campaign. The senator called Fulks a “national talent who brings vast experience and a love of our state.”

“I know he’s the right person to lead our campaign in 2022,” he said.

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Republican state Sen. Tyler Harper is stepping on the gas in his bid for agriculture commissioner.

The Ocilla farmer rolled out a leadership team helmed by Jessica Perdue, the daughter-in-law of former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and includes several well-known leaders in the farming world.

And today he launched a statewide digital ad campaign backed by a five-figure buy that highlights his rural south Georgia roots and a fresh attack on “Washington liberals.”

“We must hold the line and keep D.C. politics out of God’s country,” he said in one of the ads.

“I’ll protect our way of life,” he said in the other.

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene famously ditched the 6th Congressional district for the 14th in 2020 when her chances of election looked better to the north.

But a tipster alerts us to Greene’s return to Cobb County in August when she’ll be featured at a “special event breakfast” fundraiser for the party.

Greene is billed as “a true patriot,” and will headline the event as the featured speaker.

The invitation and hoopla also seem to mark the end of the county party’s soul searching over whether or not to embrace the far-right politics of the Greene/ Trump strain of the party. The obvious answer: the pro-Trump facelift for the suburban Cobb party is complete.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and several other activists were arrested on Capitol Hill Thursday during a protest on voting rights. Six days earlier, Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty was taken into custody in a similar fashion after demonstrating on the same issue.

Capitol Police said that Johnson and the other activists, including former Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson, broke the law by protesting without a permit and blocking an entrance to the Hart Senate office building.

Black Voters Matter, the group that organized the demonstration, had bail money waiting and the men arrested were expected to be processed and released quickly.

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A majority of voters in one of Georgia’s swing Metro Atlanta districts supports passing an infrastructure bill. But those same voters want the bill to be bipartisan, according to results from a new poll.

The survey was conducted July 16-21 by HarrisX on behalf of No Labels, a nonpartisan group that supports bipartisan solutions in Washington.

The poll focused on voters in 33 toss-up congressional districts, including Georgia’s 7th, a district currently represented by Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Here are some of the stats:

-61% of voters in Georgia’s 7th said infrastructure should only be passed with bipartisan support and Democrats should not use parliamentary techniques to bypass the need for GOP support;

-54% of voters in the district want the infrastructure bill to focus on physical projects like roads, transportation and broadband. The remaining 46% were open to including “soft” infrastructure like childcare and elder care.

-Of all the toss-up districts polled where a Democrat currently holds the seat, support for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package currently being finalized in the Senate was softest among 7th District voters. 64% approved of the measure, compared to the overall approval of 72%.

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The defense in the Ahmaud Arbery trial has abandoned an attempt to bar the media from jury selection, the Brunswick News reports.

Several media outlets had challenged the effort in court filings, citing First Amendment privileges.

The same reports offers insight into pre-trial jousting between the prosecution and defense lawyers, including accusations from the defense that Arbery was attempting a carjacking.

Linda Dunikoski, assisting prosecuting attorney with the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office prosecuting the case, rejected the suggestion:

“Allow me to be crystal clear," Dunikoski said tersely. “Mr. Bryan hit Mr. Arbery with his truck. That's why his palm print is on there. He assaulted him with a 5,000-pound pickup truck, a lethal weapon ... when he was pushing him into a ditch. Now he's turned it into Mr. Arbery's committing a carjacking. Mr. Arbery was trying to save his life from a man who was trying to hit him with a pickup truck."

- The Brunswick News

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Savannah has landed a new city manager after a bumpy months-long effort, the Savannah Morning News Reports.

Jay Melder, who is currently the assistant city manager of Washington, D.C., will start in September.

It’s the second attempt for the city to bring in a new manager after the Savannah City Council failed to agree on a finalist from the previous round.

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will take a role at Clark Atlanta University after her time in office ends, the AJC’s Wilborn Nobles reports.

Bottoms, whose mayoral term ends in January, will be the first honorary fellow of a new effort to train people for careers as leaders of historically Black colleges and universities. The HBCU Executive Leadership Institute will be based at Clark Atlanta University, the state’s largest, private HBCU.

The mayor’s role will include speaking to the first cohort of fellows. The institute is funded in large part by the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, which contributed $1 million toward the effort.

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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.