The Jolt: Brian Kemp says no more election law changes this year

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp remarks at a press conference in response to President Joe Biden’s visit to Georgia and push for voting rights changes.  Kemp stands by the laws regulating voting in Georgia on Tuesday, Jan 11, 2022.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp remarks at a press conference in response to President Joe Biden’s visit to Georgia and push for voting rights changes. Kemp stands by the laws regulating voting in Georgia on Tuesday, Jan 11, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gov. Brian Kemp will deliver his State of the State speech later this morning, but don’t expect him to advocate for more changes to Georgia election law.

Asked about proposals to ban ballot drop boxes, Kemp said he doesn’t want to overhaul “the best elections integrity act in the country.”

“You need to speak individually to those legislators. I think the action we took on drop boxes to make them available is the right thing to do for Georgians, but it also needs to be a secure process,” he said. “And I think that’s what the General Assembly has done.”

State Senate GOP leader Butch Miller, a candidate for lieutenant governor, has been leading the legislative charge to ban the ballot drop boxes. He drew a reprimand this week from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which called him “despicable.“ Miller didn’t seem to mind.

Back to the governor: Expect Kemp to also discuss guns, taxes, crime, pay raises for state employees and teachers and the Georgia economy during today’s address. Read more here.

We hear he’s planning to wear a red-and-black UGA tie. After all, there’s no flag for excessive celebration after the football season is over, especially when the state’s flagship university wins the national championship.


We told you last month about the new Freedom Caucus planned for the Georgia General Assembly, modeled after the conservative group by the same name in the U.S. Congress. At the time, the group made it clear that some members might keep their involvement a secret.

Earlier this week, state Sen. Greg Dolezal told the Forsyth County Republican Party that some of those secret members may be in GOP leadership.

“We have members who are silent members because they don’t want to have their leadership positions or their committee chairmanships taken away from them,” Dolezal said in a video reviewed by the AJC. “So, when we move to negotiate on certain bills, we have a force behind us that not everybody knows what it is.”

We reached out to Dolezal, who chairs the Georgia Freedom Caucus, to find out more.

The Cumming Republican would not confirm whether any other Freedom Caucus members are also leaders or committee chairmen (he chairs the Science & Technology Committee), but he said if they are, they have good reason not to “out” themselves.

“Obviously, there’s a little bit of history of retribution in the Capitol for stepping out of line on various things. So, I think that might be a motivator for some folks,” he said.

The senator said he doesn’t see a conflict of interest for someone secretly being a Freedom Caucus member while also acting in a GOP leadership position, since they’ll often have the same positions on the same issues.

And he said that while the Freedom Caucus may have differences on policy from GOP leaders, he doesn’t plan for the group to attack or challenge fellow Republicans.

“I told the leader (of the Senate), ‘You’re not going to see me being part of a caucus that’s running around primarying a bunch of our members because they’re not conservative enough.”


Congressional Democrats’ new strategy for passing federal voting legislation took shape late Wednesday, but the question remains: are 50 Democrats in the Senate willing to change the rules so that Republicans can’t use the filibuster to block action?

The U.S. House has stripped out language from an existing bill and replaced it with the text of the two main election proposals backed by Democrats. Sometime today, House Democrats will pass that revised bill.

Around the same time, President Joe Biden will be meeting at the Capitol with Senate Democrats and likely twisting the arm of any holdouts to approving a rule change to avoid a filibuster on this new package.

Because Democrats are using an existing bill that has already volleyed between the two chambers, one filibuster vote has already been circumvented. That means for the first time senators will be allowed to debate these proposals on the floor. That could happen Friday.

However, Senate Republicans can still use the 60-vote filibuster to keep Democrats from ending debate and moving to a vote. That is where Senate Democrats still need to get on one accord.

They could use their majority to change the rules to either make it harder or impossible for Republicans to filibuster the bill. But it takes all 50, and there are two or more holdouts as we write this newsletter.


There is a thaw between the White House and the coalition of voting rights groups that criticized President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris ahead of their speeches on voting rights in Atlanta.

The White House has opened the lines of communication with these groups and promised to keep them updated on progress in Washington. The coalition received a heads up that Biden would be meeting with Senate Democrats today, which the activists had suggested as a step toward moving the federal elections bills forward.


Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens will open a new police precinct in Buckhead today.

The move will come as welcome news to Buckhead residents who have made their worries about increased crime in the neighborhood well known.

It will also counter accusations from Buckhead Cityhood organizers that the City of Atlanta is ignoring locals’ concerns about the issue. But the movement’s leader, Bill White, has made it clear he doesn’t believe the precinct is nearly enough to address the problems.

Speaking of Buckhead, state Rep. Shea Roberts has introduced a bill that would require residents of any existing city to also have a say during de-annexation talks. That would theoretically give everyone in the city of Atlanta a voice in the Buckhead cityhood movement, however the Atlanta Democrats’ bill is unlikely to get traction in the GOP-led legislature.


Two people selected by Gov. Brian Kemp to join Georgia’s Board of Regents could boost former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s hopes to serve as chancellor, the AJC’s Eric Stirgus and Bluestein report.

Kemp named longtime businessmen Richard “Tim” Evans and Jim Syfan to the powerful 19-member board, replacing Kessel D. Stelling, Jr. and Philip A. Wilheit, Sr., whose seven-year terms expired this month.

The governor last year backed former two-term Gov. Sonny Perdue for chancellor. Two people close to Kemp said the Republican’s chances for the coveted post are still alive.

Stelling was said to be one of the staunchest opponents of the Perdue appointment, though other regents have raised private objections to the move.


Democrat Phil Olaleye has jumped into the race for the newly drawn state House District 59.

The Summerhill-based non-profit executive already has the backing of some high-profile local leaders, including state Sen. Nan Orrock, Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman, and City councilmembers Amir Farokhi, Jason Dozier, and Matt Westmoreland.


U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts lawmaker who is also a member of the progressive “Squad,” has endorsed U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in her 7th District primary showdown against fellow incumbent U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.


Big news from the political consulting world: Four of Atlanta’s best-known operatives joined forces to start a media buying firm. They call it Authenticity Partners.

The co-founders are former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, political strategist Tharon Johnson, media guru Lori Geary and advertising expert Brian Tolleson.

“We’re launching in Georgia because we have rapidly become one of the most diverse media markets in the country, and diversity demands authenticity at every level,” Franklin said.

“Georgia is the new epicenter of politics, business, entertainment, sports, education, and healthcare. It’s the right time and the right place for reaching people in meaningful ways to drive change.”

The day-to-day operations of the new venture will be overseen by another veteran communications specialist: Bryan Leavoy, the former managing editor of WSB-TV.


Jeremy Hunt, a former U.S. Army captain, is joining a growing field of Republican candidates running in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District.

Democrat Sanford Bishop is the incumbent, and the seat remains slightly left-leaning. But Republicans believe that the trend line for the rural southwest Georgia district means that a flip is inevitable.

Other announced candidates include Thomasville attorney Chris West, former federal education official Wayne Johnson, Dougherty County GOP chairwoman Tracy Taylor and Vivian Childs, who ran for the seat in 2020 but lost in a close primary.



8:00 a.m.: Committee meetings begin

10:00 a.m.: The House convenes;

10:00 a.m.: The Senate gavels in;

11:00 a.m.: Joint session convenes for Gov. Brian Kemp’s State of the State address.


Most politicians have their fair share of angry constituents. But people who control the public purse also get more than their share of flattery. A case in point: MARTA’s new video honoring some Georgia politicians who support public transportation in Congress.

The video – unveiled at Wednesday’s virtual State of MARTA event – portrays the likenesses of U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff and others as “MARTA Comics” superheroes, the AJC’s David Wickert tells us.

Supporting an infrastructure package that includes at least $923 million for public transportation metro Atlanta is bound to get a “thank you.” But the Avengers treatment might be a bit over the top.

You be the judge.


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