The Jolt: Cobb GOP infighting spells trouble for state Republicans

Gov. Brian Kemp makes a speech during the 17th annual Floyd County GOP Rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 in Rome. (Photo: Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Caption
Gov. Brian Kemp makes a speech during the 17th annual Floyd County GOP Rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 in Rome. (Photo: Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Credit: Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Fre

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

The Cobb County Republican Party used to be a dominant force in Georgia. But lately it’s an example of the internal fighting that threatens to rip the state and national Republicans apart.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio headlined the first Senate runoff rally at Cobb HQ last November. Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel trekked to the chapter a few weeks later to beg voters not to boycott the election.

And when Brian Kemp launched his campaign for governor in 2017, he made a beeline to the Cobb GOP to deliver his opening address, a “Georgia First” pitch modeled after Donald Trump’s mantra.

Now Trump and Kemp are on the outs over the governor’s refusal to illegally overturn the former president’s defeat. And the pro-Trump faction that’s taken over the Cobb GOP is calling it quits with Kemp, too.

The Cobb GOP’s county committee passed a resolution on Thursday censuring Kemp, ostensibly for failing to crack down on illegal immigration, party chair Salleigh Grubbs told the Marietta Daily Journal.

“So the resolution portion of it says that Gov. Brian Kemp be censured for his failure to keep his campaign promises and meet his obligations to end illegal immigration in the state of Georgia,” Grubbs said.

Never mind that ending illegal immigration is an impossible task for a state governor who has no say over U.S. border policy.

Within hours of the censure, former Cobb GOP chair Jason Shepherd stepped down. A few days later, the Cobb Young Republicans also blasted the county organization’s decision to rebuke Kemp.

“Cobb YRs feel that the decision to censure further divides the party at a critical time,” the group said in a statement.

Shepherd, who unsuccessfully ran for state party chair this year, took issue with both the process of the vote and the concept of censuring a GOP elected official.

“How does the Cobb GOP work to re-elect Brian Kemp if the voters choose him to be the nominee when it has officially censured him?” he asked. “This censure can now be used as campaign fodder in the primary by Kemp’s opponents.”

It’s not just a question for Cobb. Activists in more than a dozen county parties have already voted to censure Kemp, with rebukes in Appling, Chattooga, DeKalb, Jasper, Lowndes, Lumpkin, Murray Pierce, Pickens and Whitfield counties. So did the 7th District GOP a few weeks later.

While he avoided a formal censure at the state GOP convention in June, a group of activists at the Jekyll Island gathering bombarded him with boos that competed with cheers from the Kemp supporters in the audience.

It portends a rocky road ahead, not just for Kemp, but for the Republican Party itself.

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The proposal to honor U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with a statue on the statehouse grounds may have picked up an important ally.

Shortly after your Insiders reported that the proposal to memorialize the Georgia-born justice with a statue, we got this statement from House Speaker David Ralston’s spokesman:

“Speaker Ralston admires and respects Justice Clarence Thomas as a Georgian who has served our nation on the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. He’s open to a discussion of how to properly honor such a distinguished record of public service.”

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U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop tells us he isn’t thinking much about the congressional map proposed by state Senate Republicans, even though the new lines could make his 2nd District tougher for Democrats to hold onto the seat.

“It was put out marked d-r-a-f-t, draft,” the Albany lawmaker said Friday. “And I think we’ll be seeing a lot of maps, and hopefully by the end of the process we’ll have a map that’s good for Georgia, and good for the people of the 2nd Congressional district. I look forward to representing those people, whomever they are.”

Bishop said he believes that lawmakers can draw districts that make sense considering the demographics of various parts of the state, including his southwest Georgia district that has a heavy Black population.

“It’s important in the map-drawing that every demographic, and particularly demographics where there are a significant number of minority residents, have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” he said. “And where that’s possible and districts can be drawn to be compact, I think that should happen.”

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Progressives in the U.S. House were the winners of a tough week on Capitol Hill, thwarting a scheduled vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill because the larger $3.5 trillion social services and climate change package is not finalized.

Democrats said they expect both bills to pass, eventually. And the new deadline for a vote on infrastructure is Oct. 31, when the 30-day extension of surface transportation funding runs out.

That’s more than a month after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and a band of moderates a date-certain vote on the roads-and-bridges bill alone.

We asked the Democrats in Georgia’s House delegation where they stand on the two bills- including whether they need to be kept together. Reps. Hank Johnson and Nikema Williams sided with the progressives. Reps. Sanford Bishop, David Scott and Bourdeaux said they were ready to vote on infrastructure alone.

The only Georgia Democrat who didn’t weigh in is Rep. Lucy McBath. She declined several requests for comment through a spokesperson.

It isn’t unusual for the Marietta Democrat to sidestep public comments on contentious issues. Every position she takes will be used by Republican opponents hoping to knock her out of her swing suburban Atlanta district, which could become even more conservative after redistricting.

Democrats have plenty of work left to do before they can even get to a vote. The overall price tag of the social services measure needs to come down to about $2 trillion. And there is no clear strategy on how they’ll raise the debt ceiling prior to Oct. 18, when the federal government is projected to reach its borrowing limit.

The Senate is in session this week, and scheduled to be off the next. The House just began a two-week recess, but committees will continue to meet virtually and members could be called back to Washington -- if needed.

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There’s a lot to unpack from Glenn Beck’s nearly 30-minute long interview of Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

But we were struck by the Republican’s explanation of why he chose not to answer questions from CNN and other media about his past history of violent incidents.

Said Walker:

“I don’t talk to them because I’m not going to let them take my eye off the ball. I’m here to represent the state of Georgia. Here to represent the United States Senate. Not to go into these gotcha questions of them trying to educate themselves or trying to be funny. Because right now you got to take mental health back. I brought it so far today because I’ve been doing this for about 15 years. And what they’ve done is taken mental health and made it like a game. And I said, I’m not gonna sit back and let them do that. There’s people that are hiding in darkness, that they’re afraid to come out because they’re afraid of what people got to say about them.”

Walker also suggested that the media “educate themselves, maybe buy my book and read it,” something your Insiders did five months ago.

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The U.S. Supreme Court starts its 2021-2022 term today. This session will include high-stakes arguments on abortion rights, gun rights, and partisan gerrymandering.

The New York Times has a preview of what it calls a “blockbuster” term.

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Former Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Graves launched a new political action committee Monday that he calls America’s Future, Together. The committee was seeded with $1.9 million from Graves’ previous campaign account.

Its stated mission is to support bipartisanship in Congress. Of the 11 lawmakers who received contributions during the first six months of this year, the only Democrats so far are Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. There was also a donation to a joint fundraising committee benefitting 15 Senate Republicans.

Graves announced in 2019 that he would not seek a sixth term in office and left the House before his final term had ended. He was succeeded by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

He joined a Washington-based lobbying firm, previously known as Ervin Hill Strategy, and became president and CEO of the Ervin Graves Strategy Group.

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Today at the Georgia General Assembly, we’ll be keeping an eye on a joint hearing of the House Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood.

Although it’s not expected to touch on the proposal to create a Buckhead City, it will offer a preview of the wildy complicated process that any proposed city, including Buckhead, would have to go through to become the master of its domain.

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Happening this afternoon: At 5:00, the five leading candidates in the Atlanta mayor’s race will join the AJC’s City Hall team for our Community Conversation series.

Wilborn Nobles and J.D. Capelouto will put their questions to City councilmembers Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens, along with attorney Sharon Gay, Council President Felicia Moore, and former mayor Kasim Reed.

RSVP at AJC.com/conversation to join the live, online event.

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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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