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The Jolt: Brian Kemp endorses replacing statue of Confederate leader in U.S. Capitol with one of John Lewis

July 29, 2020 Atlanta - Phi Beta Sigma fraternity members view the flag-draped casket of Congressman John Lewis during Omega Chapter Ceremony at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Behind them is a portrait of Alexander Stephens, a Georgia congressman and governor who was also the vice president of the Confederacy.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
July 29, 2020 Atlanta - Phi Beta Sigma fraternity members view the flag-draped casket of Congressman John Lewis during Omega Chapter Ceremony at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Behind them is a portrait of Alexander Stephens, a Georgia congressman and governor who was also the vice president of the Confederacy. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp has become the third GOP leader to endorse removing the figure of Alexander Stephens from National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol and replacing him with the likeness of John Lewis.

In a Tweet posted late Wednesday, the governor said that swapping the statue of Stephens, the first and only vice president of the Confederacy, with Lewis would “celebrate his legacy of service for years to come.”

Such a move would require the approval of the General Assembly. House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Senate, signaled their approval within days of Lewis’ death. From an earlier piece by one of your Insiders:

“I like the idea very much. I always admired Congressman Lewis and told him so many times. Georgia has a long history, so much more than just the Civil War, and John Lewis has been an important part of that,” House Speaker David Ralston said Saturday.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the state Senate, was of the same opinion. “It’s time for our state to be represented in the National Statuary Hall by a figure that aligns with our state’s core values -- that all are created equal -- and I’ll advocate for that figure to be Rep. John Lewis,” Duncan said.

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In the state Capitol on Wednesday, Lewis’ coffin lay under the gaze of a life-size portrait of Alexander Stephens, who once denounced the Declaration of Independence’s contention that “all men are created equal” and promised that the foundation of the Confederacy would be white supremacy.

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The qualifying period for the Sept. 29 special election to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Rep. John Lewis opened Wednesday, but not a single person signed up to run.

Our hunch is aspiring members of Congress held off out of respect to Lewis, who was honored in the state Capitol on Wednesday and will be feted by three former presidents on Thursday. We figure the rush will begin by Friday, the last day to qualify.

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Eulogies are words spoken about the dead, but aimed at the living. Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, currently locked in a legal battle over pandemic policy, engaged in something like a truce on Wednesday as they welcomed the body of U.S. Rep. John Lewis into the state Capitol.

Both mentioned Lewis’ trademarked advocacy of “good trouble,” But Bottoms, who followed Kemp, put a little English on this fastball:

“And so, governor, when the ‘good trouble’ continues, know that it is with the blessings of Congressman Lewis,” Bottoms said to applause. “Although the fight for liberty and equality continues, Congressman Lewis reminded us to be hopeful, optimistic, and to never lose a sense of hope.”

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Members of the state Legislative Black Caucus escorted the hearse carrying John Lewis off of Capitol grounds on Wednesday. They walked behind the vehicle for about a block before waving him good-bye as it continued onto Ebenezer Baptist Church, where today’s invitation-only funeral service will be held at 11 a.m.

The group was led by state Rep. Calvin Smyre and state Sen. Ed Harbison, both Columbus Democrats who are the longest serving legislators in their respective chambers.

Former President Barack Obama is expected to speak at today’s service. Also expected to attend are former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. Former President Jimmy Carter will not be there, but has sent a message of condolence.

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The Savannah Morning News reports that two local lawmakers are planning to pre-file legislation to rename the Talmadge Bridge as the “John Lewis Freedom Bridge.” The bridge currently bears the name of Eugene Talmadge, the former segregationist governor. A previous attempt to name the state’s longest span after Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low went nowhere.

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We’d like to extend get-well wishes to DuBose Porter, the former head of the Democratic Party of Georgia and ex-House minority leader, who has contracted the coronavirus. He’s resting up and, hopefully, on the mend.

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U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, says he is self-quarantining -- citing contact with U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and a second unnamed individual diagnosed with COVID-19. Said Hice via Twitter:

While I’m feeling just fine, out of an abundance of caution and with the advice of the Attending Physician, I’ve entered a 14-day quarantine in the interest of keeping others safe.

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This so-called “cancel culture” that’s being talked about is nothing new, and certainly hasn’t always been a digital phenomenon. The Georgia Historical Society was kind enough to send this recently discovered 1971 photograph of Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox In the state Senate chamber, burning a copy of The Atlanta Constitution, the newspaper he loved to hate:

The Georgia Historical Society was kind enough to send this recently discovered 1971 photograph of Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox In the state Senate chamber, burning a copy of The Atlanta Constitution, the newspaper he loved to hate. The caption declares that Maddox, who had previously served as the state’s governor, “was incensed at an article which accused the Senate of being in shambles with a huge backlog of legislation. He said the newspaper did not have the ‘guts, integrity, manhood or decency’ to report the situation accurately.”
The Georgia Historical Society was kind enough to send this recently discovered 1971 photograph of Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox In the state Senate chamber, burning a copy of The Atlanta Constitution, the newspaper he loved to hate. The caption declares that Maddox, who had previously served as the state’s governor, “was incensed at an article which accused the Senate of being in shambles with a huge backlog of legislation. He said the newspaper did not have the ‘guts, integrity, manhood or decency’ to report the situation accurately.”

Credit: Georgia Historical Society

Credit: Georgia Historical Society

The caption declares that Maddox, who had previously served as the state’s governor, “was incensed at an article which accused the Senate of being in shambles with a huge backlog of legislation. He said the newspaper did not have the ‘guts, integrity, manhood or decency’ to report the situation accurately.”

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The chairman of a U.S. House coronavirus subcommittee has asked Gov. Brian Kemp to outline his plan for responding to the coronavirus pandemic, saying he was not in compliance with federal guidelines issued by White House task force, our AJC colleagues James Salzer and J. Scott Trubey report:

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, said Georgia is not following at least six recommendations from the task force, including mask mandates, strict limits on indoor dining and tighter restrictions on social gatherings.

“I am writing to request information about the private guidance the administration has provided to Georgia and whether you plan to implement those recommendations and take other critical action to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the state,” Clyburn wrote.

“Although the task force has apparently provided Georgia with private suggestions concerning public health measures designed to stop the spread of the virus, the state has not implemented many of these recommendations — and instead appears to be following the contradictory messaging coming from the administration.”

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Already posted: A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday – the latest in a string of surveys that shows the state is up for grabs in November:

The poll pegs both Biden and Trump at 47% of support from registered voters. About 3% say they’ll vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen and just 3% say they are undecided. The poll, conducted between July 23-27, has a margin of error at 4.9 percentage points.

It showed close races in Georgia’s two U.S. Senate contests. Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue held a 49-43 lead over Democrat Jon Ossoff. Libertarian Shane Hazel logged 1% of the vote and 7% were undecided.

In Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race, the free-for-all special election for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat, showed the Republican incumbent with a narrow advantage. Loeffler led the pack with 26% of support, followed by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins at 20%.

Matt Lieberman was the top Democrat with 14% of the vote, trailed by Raphael Warnock at 9% and Ed Tarver at 5%. Libertarian Brian Slowinski netted 3% and other candidates got 5%. Another 18% of voters are undecided.

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Again, the margin of error is larger than usual, but the poll could be a wake-up call for Democrats in pursuit of the Loeffler seat to consolidate. At this point, a Jan. 5 runoff would be in between the two Republicans.

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Max Blau with Georgia Health News reports that 45 central Georgia residents living near Plant Scherer, the nation’s largest coal-fired plant, have filed a lawsuit alleging that Georgia Power has unlawfully discharged coal ash into their community’s drinking water source. The residents get their water from private drinking wells, which draw water from the aquifer below the ground.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Fulton County Superior Court.

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