The Jolt: Capitol tensions boiling over local redistricting

Credit: 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

State Rep. David Wilkerson let his emotions take control this week during an impassioned speech on the House floor opposing a Republican-led override of local maps in his county.

“I’m going to be honest with you: This s**t sucks,” the Cobb County Democrat said, before apologizing multiple times for violating decorum.

Tempers are flaring under the Gold Dome, and Wilkerson is one of the lawmakers at the center of the tumult. A few days earlier, Republican state Rep. Darlene Taylor threatened to call Capitol police after a testy exchange with Wilkerson over redistricting in the House committee she chairs.

“You’re going to listen to me,” Taylor told Wilkerson after he said he was “disgusted” at the GOP’s refusal to discuss a proposed map with local Democrats.

“I’m not going to listen to you,” he shot back, “because I’m tired of you talking down to me.”

Though Wilkerson wasn’t arrested or cleared from the room, it seemed no idle threat to Democrats who have seen two of their colleagues detained by authorities in the last four years: Then-state Sen. Nikema Williams in 2018 and state Rep. Park Cannon in 2021.

Democrats have also accused the majority GOP of a power grab during the local redistricting process by revamping lines in Gwinnett County and Augusta-Richmond County where Democrats are ascendant. House Speaker David Ralston dismissed those concerns a few days ago.

“There are consequences to elections and there are a lot of people in both of those counties who feel disenfranchised by maps that were prepared locally,” he said. “The jobs of the legislators in that county are to take those concerns and represent them before the General Assembly.”

But the election-year breaches of decorum haven’t been purely partisan, nor has it revolved solely around redistricting. After all, it was Republican state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia who flipped the bird during an official House portrait in an act of protest against his party’s leadership.

Democratic state Rep. Josh McLaurin sees a pent-up backlash at eroding traditions under the Gold Dome, such as letting local lawmakers craft political maps for their counties.

“Part of what Democrats are getting at when they let slip a cuss word is anger that the majority is deliberately flouting other norms,” the Sandy Springs attorney said.

“It’s a way of communicating that frustration. When one party decides to unilaterally erode norms, we have to show there are consequences.”

Despite objections, the House and Senate have now both approved the new local district maps in Cobb that Wilkerson was protesting in the first place.

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UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Wednesday, Feb. 16:

The Planner:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Committee meetings begin;
  • The House and Senate are adjourned for a full committee work day. Floor action will resume Thursday.

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We’re keeping an eye on the 12:00 hearing of the state House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday. Lawmakers will review the Mental Health Parity Act, the bipartisan omnibus bill from Speaker David Ralston addressing mental health care services across Georgia.

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You could hear an audible gasp in the Senate chamber Tuesday when state Sen. Lindsey Tippins announced that he won’t seek reelection in 2022.

The Cobb lawmaker has spent his 12 years in the chamber as a leading voice on education issues.

He called serving in the Senate, “one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in my life,” but also said he knows he’s in the “fourth quarter” of life.

“I just don’t know how many minutes are on the clock, and I want to spend most of it with the folks that I love.”

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POSTED: You’ve been reading about it in the Jolt for months. Now the state Board of Regents has named former Gov. Sonny Perdue as the sole finalist to become the next chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

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It was a David Perdue double-whammy in Columbus Tuesday.

The Republican candidate for governor falsely claimed during a speech to the local GOP women’s group that 235,000 people who did not live in Georgia in November 2020 voted in the January 2021 U.S. Senate runoff.

But the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer fact checked that claim:

“The Georgia Secretary of State's Office told the Ledger-Enquirer there were only 104,000 new registrations filed between the end of October, when registration closed for the general election, and the early December runoff registration cutoff. All were verified for county of residence and eligibility."

- Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Later, during a lengthy interview with veteran reporter Chuck Williams of WRBL, Perdue claimed that a private citizen in Houston County he knows had found 4,200 “duplicate votes,” but “not one” person was investigated for double-voting.

The AJC reported last week that the state investigated about 300 people for casting two ballots during the 2020 election, though almost always because of mistakes by confused voters and poll workers.

Asked by Williams if the 2020 and 2021 election results were accurate, Perdue said, “Of course not.”

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With David Perdue out on the campaign trail, Gov. Brian Kemp will make five campaign stops during a north Georgia swing Friday. Look for him in Gainesville, Cornelia, Toccoa, Clayton and Cleveland.

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Republicans on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee boycotted Tuesday’s hearing to consider Sarah Bloom Raskin as a nominee to the Federal Reserve Board.

But the delay also swept up Georgia native Lisa Cook, who was part of the same bloc of appointees with Raskin. Republicans who oppose Raskin made it clear that if she is removed from the group, Cook and others will be approved. But for now Democrats are not willing to separate the nominees, which would be the death knell for Raskin.

Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both sit on the Banking committee and voted to advance the group of nominees. But it was a symbolic vote without a quorum to conduct business.

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U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath writes a letter to her deceased son Jordan every year on his birthday. Since Wednesday would have been his 27th, we have an early copy of McBath’s letter to her son.

“You would have turned 27 today. I probably would have joked with you that you’re officially in your ‘late twenties’ now. I say ‘would’ because almost 10 years ago you were stolen from me.”

After Jordan was gunned down by a white man at a Florida gas station in what became known locally as the “loud music shooting,” McBath became a vocal gun safety activist. She ran for Congress in 2018 to pursue stricter federal gun laws. Now in her second term, she’s facing a primary fellow incumbent, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdueax.

“So, I’ve worked to honor your legacy every day since your murder,” McBath said in her letter. “Our family thought that you might have gone into organizing, advocacy, or public service because of the way you had with people and your concern for the greater good. After your death, I felt called to do that work.”

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U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff picked up another unlikely endorsement for his effort to ban members of Congress from making individual stock trades. Conservative talk show host Erick Erickson backed the idea on his WSB show this week.

“Jon Ossoff, the Democratic senator from Georgia, is one of those advocating hard for a ban on individual stock purchases by members of Congress. It’s a good idea. It’s getting bipartisan support. And we’re going to need to proceed on this I think to get this passed.”

Earlier this week, Fox News host Sean Hannity posted about the measure on his website.

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Metro Atlanta donors were among the top contributors to the Canadian trucker convoys, according to a Washington Post analysis of leaked data from two online fundraising platforms.

Of the 10 ZIP codes with the most donors, three were from Atlanta’s wealthy northern suburbs: Marietta, Roswell and Alpharetta.

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If you love a baked racoon as much as the next Georgian, you’re going to love HB 1147, the bill passed by the state House Tuesday to make racoon and opossum hunting season year round.

State Rep. Al Williams scolded his colleagues for turning up their noses at the marsupial meals.

“Some of you have developed a bourgeois attitude after getting out of your former circumstances,” the Savannah Democrat joked.

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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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