The Jolt: Can lawmakers do more than redistrict during special session? Not so fast.

01/07/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, makes remarks during a pre legislative session media availability at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, January 7, 2021. The Georgia legislative session will begin January 11, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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01/07/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, makes remarks during a pre legislative session media availability at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, January 7, 2021. The Georgia legislative session will begin January 11, 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

Gov. Brian Kemp was always going to summon legislators back to the Capitol before the end of the year to redraw the political maps for the constitutionally required redistricting process.

But he’s under increasing pressure to add to the special session’s agenda, even though a delay in the Census data has drastically shortened the timeframe lawmakers have to get the work done.

The Republican has already announced he would ask lawmakers to pass legislation targeting rising crime in metro Atlanta and other parts of the state.

From his right flank, pro-Donald Trump legislators repeating his false claims of rampant election fraud want him to add more election-related legislation to the docket.

Meanwhile, Democrats are urging him to broaden the scope of the session to include expanding Medicaid. State Rep. Matthew Wilson, who is running for insurance commissioner, is holding a press conference today to echo that call.

But House Speaker David Ralston, the ultimate decision maker on the House-side agenda, tapped the brakes on the possibility of doing anything more than redrawing legislative boundaries during the already tight timeframe.

In an interview about his 2022 agenda, we asked Ralston about Kemp’s call to pass public safety legislation before January. Here’s what he Ralston said:

“Well, I applaud his motivation, which is that we need to do something sooner rather than later. The reality is that the clock may not help us. If we don’t begin the redistricting session until, say, early November, that doesn’t leave a lot of time before the second Monday in January. And we’ve got a couple of holidays in there. I don’t know how we’ll have enough time. What we don’t get done, if we’re able to get a few things moved down the field, we can come back and pick it up in January.”

And for those who heard Ralston predict last spring that the special session will begin, “When the frost is on the pumpkin,” we asked him when that is, for the non-farmers among you.

The answer: Around Halloween.

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A part of the Bryan County mega-site recently purchased by the state of Georgia to attract major economic development deals.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

A part of the Bryan County mega-site recently purchased by the state of Georgia to attract major economic development deals.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

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A part of the Bryan County mega-site recently purchased by the state of Georgia to attract major economic development deals.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Take one of the sleepier exits on I-16 west of Savannah, head past a few greasy fast-food joints and gas stations and the cinderblock church on the right until the paved road suddenly gives way to hard-packed dirt.

Then head down dusty Tar City Road in Ellabell, Ga. – and you’ll get a glimpse of one of the state’s largest strategic investments with a long political back story.

The 2,284-acre “megasite” in Bryan County, a purchase announced in May, was designed to compete with other large plots of land around the country for game-changing economic development deals that could bring tens of thousands of suppliers to Georgia.

The AJC reported Monday that Georgia is trying to recruit Rivian, an electric vehicle startup, by dangling the benefits of the Bryan County site and others closer to metro Atlanta.

It’s part of a long-range strategy to lure an automaker -- and the thousands of jobs it would generate -- to Georgia.

Georgia’s last big victory on that front came in 2006, when a bounty of state and local tax breaks worth more than $400 million helped woo Kia to put a plant in West Point, 75 miles southwest of Atlanta.

But later efforts ended in heartbreak, most notably the 2015 pursuit of a Volvo factory. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal wanted it to be his signature economic development project, and he took a number of steps to sweeten the pot.

He persuaded Georgia lawmakers to make it easier for state agencies to buy Georgia-made cars and championed the overhaul of an environmental agency to clear the way.

His economic development team shuttled back and forth to Volvo’s home country of Sweden and Deal flew to New York to make a final pitch.

Volvo ultimately chose South Carolina, in part because of promises of expensive infrastructure improvements and encouraging reports from executives of a nearby BMW plant.

So the sprawling Bryan County land remains untouched, waiting for a new suitor enticed by its location along I-16 and a heavy-duty rail line, and close to bustling ports in Savannah and Brunswick.

Could it be Rivian? We could be in the first stages of one of the most important economic development pursuits in the last decade.

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The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief siding with the Georgia NAACP and other voting rights groups challenging Georgia’s new election law.

The NAACP led a group of plaintiffs in filing the lawsuit in March, the second in what are now several challenges filed against the sweeping election and voting changes.

This case is separate from the Justice Department’s own legal challenge of the law. The federal government is essentially saying it agrees with the NAACP’s arguments and disagreeing with Republican lawmakers and their attorneys, who have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

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We’ve picked up word that Cory Ruth, a financial executive, is considering joining the race for Labor Commissioner as a Republican.

Ruth has run unsuccessfully for several local offices over the last decade. But he’s built a political and fundraising network he could tap if he enters the race.

He’d join a growing field of contenders challenging incumbent Republican Mark Butler. State Sen. Bruce Thompson is already in the GOP contest.

Three Democrats are also in the race: State Rep. William Boddie of East Point, state Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah and Nicole Horn, an Atlanta consultant.

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POSTED: Some Georgia Republicans are trying to build the case for a state takeover of Fulton County’s election board.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse and Ben Brasch report that the state’s new election law makes that possible and why Democrats in the county are concerned.

“What happens if this one single election superintendent refuses to certify any of Fulton's votes in future elections?" Maggie Goldman, a Johns Creek real estate agent running for the County Commission, asked during public comment at a recent commission meeting. “That would truly be disenfranchising voters. And don't think it can't happen."

Lawmakers are demanding answers from Fulton, with the possibility that unsatisfactory responses could start the takeover process.

State Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican running for lieutenant governor, is considering calling for a performance review based on questions about ballot scanning and audit tally sheet totals. State Sen. Burt Jones, a potential Republican rival for lieutenant governor, wants legislative hearings.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Atlanta restaurant announces plan to serve only vaccinated customers

Atlanta restaurant announces plan to serve only vaccinated customers

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Atlanta restaurant announces plan to serve only vaccinated customers

An East Atlanta restaurant is requiring proof of vaccination for customers, and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s angry response had led to threats against the eatery and a grassroots campaign of support.

Let’s recap. Here is a key passage from the article by the AJC’s Ligaya Figueras about the Argosy’s decision to require shots from patrons:

The decision came after four Argosy employees — co-owner Armando Celentano and three bartenders — recently tested positive for COVID-19. Each had been vaccinated, marking them as “breakthrough" cases. Celentano was tested after feeling ill. His positive result prompted a round of companywide testing. “We think we were exposed at different times to unvaccinated people," he said.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The article caught the attention of Greene, a Republican from well outside of Atlanta in Rome, on Sunday.

“This is called segregation,” she wrote on Twitter. “Will you be testing everyone at the door for the flu, strep throat, stomach bugs, colds, meningitis, aids, venereal diseases, Hep A, Hep C, staff (sic) infections, athletes foot, pink eye, croup, bronchitis, ringworm, scabies, or any other contagions?”

We’ll stop here to point out the obvious historical inaccuracy of comparing a request for proof of vaccination against a deadly virus to segregation, especially in the South. But conservatives have fought hard against allowing restaurants, businesses and employers to require proof of vaccination.

We heard from Celentano last night and he said he had been deleting negative and even threatening comments from his social media all day. Greene didn’t start the vitriol, but she fanned the flames.

“This is what makes Marjorie Taylor Greene’s remarks so dangerous,” he wrote in a text message. “She’s instigating violence (directly or not) against completely innocent people and should be held accountable.”

Democrats and progressives on Monday encouraged people to support the Argosy, anticipating more fallout.

“Will y’all join me in supporting Argosy in EAV this week and next?” state Rep. David Dreyer, a Democrat whose district is nearby, wrote on Twitter. “A certain congressperson from NW GA is attacking them for their health policy. They’ll be getting a lot of hate from the far right. Let’s make sure we tip well and take care of the staff and mgmt.”

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Happening today:

-The U.S. House Select Committee on Jan. 6 will hold its first meeting to hear from law enforcement officers who helped defend the Capitol that day. All nine committee members, including two Republicans, were appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Stream it here.

-Robert Aaron Long, the man accused of shooting and killing eight people during a spree that targeted Asian spas in metro Atlanta, is expected to plead guilty to four counts of murder related to the Cherokee County facility. The arraignment is set for 9 a.m.

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Cosby Johnson is vice president of government affairs for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He’s also running for mayor of Brunswick, and a recent visit to the coastal city found signs for his campaign all over downtown.

But it appears Johnson’s day job and his campaign rhetoric could clash.

Republican state lawmakers took note Monday night of a campaign Facebook post following a hearing of the House and Senate Reapportionment committee in Brunswick.

“Gerrymandered districts, distorted lines, and disenfranchising minority and rural communities have to be made an antiquated practice,” he wrote, adding that people from all backgrounds are ready for “a new way of governing.”

He added: “Tonight was a dynamic example that citizens from all backgrounds and political affiliations are ready for a new way of governing.”

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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.