The Jolt: ‘Buckhead City’ supporters pushing to start split process in special session

State leaders concerned that an increase in COVID-19 cases could cause crime surge
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State leaders concerned that an increase in COVID-19 cases could cause crime surge

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

Although the upcoming special session of the General Assembly is meant to address congressional and legislative redistricting, multiple Capitol sources say that the proposal to split “Buckhead City” away from Atlanta could see its own action, as well.

Supporters of the Buckhead City Committee are pushing to hold hearings in state House and Senate committees to review a recent feasibility study from Valdosta State University on the potential finances of a new municipality.

A separate study from those who want to keep the northwest Atlanta neighborhood inside the city of Atlanta, showed a potential split would leave a $232 million hole in the annual budget of Atlanta Public Schools alone.

Hearings would continue the fiery debate among lawmakers on a host of other thorny issues wrapped up in the proposal, too-- including the potential impact on crime; the idea of moving local legislation over local legislators’ objections; and an argument to let voters decide their local governance.

It would all happen in the heat of an expected runoff in the race for Atlanta mayor and during a difficult, and usually partisan, redistricting process.

The proposal is not expected to get a vote in the special session, but it will pick up endorsements from several Republican state senators at a Buckhead event later today, along with state Sen. Brandon Beach, who is sponsoring the effort in the Senate.

State Sen. Burt Jones, who is revving up a campaign for lieutenant governor, will talk about “failed far-left politicians who would rather play political games than stand for the safety of their citizens,” according to prepared remarks.

Jones is a longtime critic of Atlanta government and was a chief proponent of the airport takeover bill. (U.S. Senate candidate Gary Black was the first statewide Republican to endorse the idea of Buckhead cityhood.)

Gov. Brian Kemp has said he’s open to the plan, but he has yet to publicly support it. The area’s own lawmakers oppose the split.

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The Georgia Senate GOP’s political maps are just a starting point for the long redistricting saga. Still, there are takeaways beyond the new boundaries that target one suburban Congressional Democrat and leave another in safer territory.

The Senate version puts Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in far more dangerous waters, slicing DeKalb and parts of east Cobb from her district while adding heavily-conservative Forsyth County.

Though it’s just a first draft, several Republican officials tell us that the final version is likely to keep McBath on the defensive while securing the seat for her neighbor, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Bourdeaux’s district would shrink considerably in the Senate map to encompass a left-leaning chunk of Gwinnett County. It would also lose the swath of Forsyth that made it so competitive.

That might not change dramatically, as some Republicans acknowledge they must sacrifice one suburban district to put another in play again.

What is more likely to be altered is the composition of the 2nd District, a sprawling southwest Georgia territory that is now majority-minority but would become considerably whiter under the Senate plan. Such changes would almost certainly lead to litigation if not significant readjustment.

Also curious is the number of incumbents from both parties drawn out of their districts. Though U.S. House candidates are not required to live in their territories to represent them in Congress, the optics could still pose problems.

Under the Senate map, Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde of northeast Georgia and Bourdeaux are both drawn out of their districts. Two others – McBath and Republican U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk – also could be in new territories.

Our pal Niles Francis has a sharp look at the ins and outs of the new contours. Check it out here.

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Another day, another U.S. Senate filibuster. Republicans, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, on Tuesday refused to go along with a proposal by Senate Leader Chuck Schumer that would have allowed Democrats to raise the debt limit and avoid a potential federal default on government loans next month.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, had asked for unanimous consent to hold a vote to suspend the debt limit. That would have allowed the bill to pass on 51-vote threshold, which Democrats have with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker.

But with McConnell objecting to unanimous consent, Senate Democrats are back to looking for 60 votes to debate and vote on the bill.

As of this morning, a partial shutdown looms Friday. And without suspending or raising the debt ceiling, a default could come as early as Oct. 18.

Several reports Tuesday night indicated the Senate will work to pass a stand-alone bill today to temporarily fund the government through early December. But that leaves the debt ceiling, along with disaster aid and Afghan resettlement funding, unaddressed.

Top items on President Joe Biden’s to-do list remain in limbo. The U.S. House is scheduled to vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Thursday, but progressive Democrats warn they won’t support it without a larger $3.5 trillion social services and climate change package, too. Without support from progressives or a few Republicans Thursday, Democrats don’t have the votes.

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POSTED: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis warned the Fulton Commission earlier this month that a crippling backlog of unprocessed cases, along with a critical staff shortage, could leave her office with no choice by to release unindicted accused felons from custody.

One court-ordered date for release would have been yesterday. The AJC’s Ben Brasch, Joshua Sharpe, and Shadi Abusaid have this update:

DA's Office spokesman Jeff DiSantis said prosecutors had made decent headway as of Tuesday afternoon, noting the grand juries were expected to stay into the evening to finish their work.

“We think we're going to have everybody covered," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly after lunch.

He said investigators have been “burning the midnight oil" to track down key witnesses and bring them before the grand jury for a formal indictment of charges. It was a long day for those called in for jury duty, he said.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Speaking of Fani Willis, the Fulton County DA is the subject of a lengthy Time magazine profile this week that details her background, her approach to prosecutions, and several high-profile cases and projects underway the DA’s office.

One is the anti-gang initiative, “Full Force Fulton.” From the piece:

“A large portion of it is gangs and gang wars and making money in drugs. But we also have something deeper going on, just some real sick stuff. And to have both at the same time, we're in a really bad place," (Willis said).

Gangs generate, by one GBI estimate, as much as 90% of all violent crime in the state...Recently, Atlanta has been home to hybrid gangs; yes, in the “city too busy to hate," Crips and Bloods cooperate to commit crimes. One such group has even dubbed itself “America," or “Famerica," displaying the U.S. flag as its emblem because it has both red and blue parts.

- Time

Willis also explains the decision to investigate former President Donald Trump for possible election interference in Georgia:

Willis says she and others stopped what they were doing and had one of those, Wait. What in the hell moments...But within 10 minutes she knew. Over the next few days, as tape of the call emerged, others made it clear they did too. The case was hers.

“It was clear to me that I'm going to have to open an investigation…I knew that was a possible violation of the law," she says.

- Time

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Two more national profiles of Atlanta pols caught our eyes this early a.m.

Former Atlanta Mayor, and current mayoral hopeful, Kasim Reed is profiled by the New York Times’ with this lede from Richard Fausset:

“The fear of rising crime in American cities is having a profound effect on mayoral politics from New York to Seattle. In Atlanta, it has had the power of resurrection, delivering a reanimating jolt to the once-moribund career of one of the South's most polarizing public figures.

- The New York Times

And current Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tells the Washington Post about one thing that’s changed since she announced she won’t run for a second term: Her schedule.

“The reality of being in politics is that there are often things you do that you don't really want to do because you're constantly thinking about reelection, so I have been able to pare down my calendar simply because there are things that I don't wish to do."

- The Washington Post

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Former President Jimmy Carter is the latest Georgia politician to receive the graphic novel treatment in the form of a book titled, “Political Power: Jimmy Carter,” which is out today.

The publisher, Tidalwave Productions, said the comic is available in a collectible hardcover and a paperback version and “explores his life, loves, and leadership.” The book release was scheduled to coincide with Carter’s 97th birthday, which is Oct. 1.

Congressman John Lewis, who died in 2020, is the subject of a popular comic book series, with the most recent title, “Run,” being released in August.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde will host a telephone town hall for 9th District residents on Thursday, according to an email to constituents. The event will focus on issues facing his constituents in the 9th Congressional District.

Have you heard about other town hall meetings hosted by our Georgia delegation? Feel free to send details our way and we’d love to share in future Jolt editions.

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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.

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