The Jolt: Democrats still look to John Lewis as their moral center

A group of men hoist U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, on their shoulders so he can speak to the crowd of marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma's re-enactment of Bloody Sunday on Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Selma.  Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
A group of men hoist U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, on their shoulders so he can speak to the crowd of marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma's re-enactment of Bloody Sunday on Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Selma. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The “conscience of the Congress” may have passed away eight months ago, but he never really left the U.S. House.

His name is always on the lips of fellow Democrats — at political events like last fall’s national convention, on the campaign trail where Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock mentioned their ties to him throughout their successful U.S. Senate campaigns, and on the floor where colleagues cited his work on gay rights ahead of last week’s passage of anti-LGBTQ discrimination policies. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams’ profile is higher than the average freshman in a safe Democratic seat in part because she is Lewis’ successor.

Just Monday, Ossoff successfully passed by unanimous consent a resolution that honored what would have been Lewis’ 81st birthday. Similar legislation is pending in the U.S. House.

If anything, expect the civil rights icon to be mentioned more than usual this week.

Some of it is because of the calendar. March 7 is the 56th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where Lewis and other civil rights activists were beaten by law enforcement officers in an incident that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

This will be the first annual commemoration that Lewis’ won’t be alive to witness. (Because of COVID-19, it’s virtual this year.) Frail with cancer, Lewis attended last year’s reenactment and made one final walk on the towering span. Just four months later, his casket was drawn by horses across the bridge one last time. It was among the most enduring and heart-wrenching images of the weeklong memorial services held in Lewis’ honor after his death on July 17.

Lewis’ name is also likely to be mentioned a bunch this week because of the House agenda. A floor vote can happen as early as today on the For the People Act, a slate of elections, campaign finance and redistricting reforms that include reinvigorating the Voting Rights Act, a cause Lewis championed.

The House is also expected to take up a bill that contains policing and law enforcement reforms that respond to protests over the killing of people of color at the hands of the police, such as George Floyd. Gun control could be on the horizon soon, too.

It often seems as if Democrats like to bring up Lewis not just because it resonates with the public, but because it resonates within them. Many have mentioned in recent weeks how their memories of him help remind them of their mission in Washington.

Here is how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke of Lewis last week during her floor speech on the Equality Act: “As we remember John Lewis’s life, we remember his words, spoken at the Pride parade in Atlanta shortly before being diagnosed with cancer. He said, ‘We are one people and one family. We all live in the same house.’”

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BREAKING: Vernon Jordan, close friend and political ally of former President Bill Clinton and the attorney who worked to desegregate the University of Georgia, has died. CNN has more:

The former president of the National Urban League rose to prominence as a civil rights activist with close connections in all corners of American politics, working with presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.

Jordan, born on August 15, 1935, studied law at Howard University and began his career fighting segregation, beginning with a lawsuit against University of Georgia’s integration policy in 1961. He worked as a field director for the NAACP and as a director of the Southern Regional Council for the Voter Education Project before he became president of the president of the National Urban League.

Jordan’s closest political friendship was with Bill and Hillary Clinton, advising the former president during his 1992 presidential campaign and acting as an outside adviser to his friend. He remained close to the Clintons for the next decades, endorsing both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

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We got hold of a survey of roughly 1,600 residents in U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s northwest Georgia district that pointed to her vulnerabilities ahead of the 2022 election. The February poll was commissioned by an unnamed left-leaning group and conducted by GAJ Solutions.

A plurality of the respondents — 39% — said she was doing a “bad job” in Congress while 33% said she is doing a good one. In another question, 42% said she cares more about “herself and attacking Democrats” than she does her constituents. On the other hand, 26% of respondents said she cares about what is happening to them.

From the analysis:

Republican voters consistently reported that either they had voted for her because she had the local GOP support, but they were told the talk of her comments and QAnon behaviors was “a left-wing conspiracy.” Now they are feeling betrayed. At the same time, they noted that she has barely gotten to Congress and already was being stripped of committees and threatened with being kicked out and felt that was deeply unfair to them. They still deserve a voice in Congress.

Check it out here.

On the same note, Greene’s newest opponent may be a Democrat with thin odds of winning in the conservative district, but his campaign roll out must have irked Greene’s supporters. Shortly after Marcus Flowers posted a video about his campaign to oust her, he said, folks tried to get Twitter to take it down.

Said Flowers: “We cannot let this stand. This is the whole reason I launched this campaign. Radicalism, extremism and disinformation have no place in America.”

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It’s one of the most quoted political sayings in Georgia, and was one of former Gov. Zell Miller’s favorites:

“If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know that he or she didn’t get up there by themselves. Somebody helped put them there.”

At his eulogy, Democratic state Rep. Calvin Smyre said it was Miller’s credo because it showed “he was always pulling others up and to assist his fellow man.”

During Monday’s debate in the Georgia House, state Rep. Mike Wilensky brought up the saying to voice opposition to new voting restrictions that passed on a party-line vote.

That led Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, one of the chamber’s most powerful Republicans, to offer a different and more conservative view of the reptile’s plight.

“Frankly, I’ve always felt sorry for the turtle stuck on the fencepost. I always hoped someone would give assistance to him so he could travel on to a cool stream on the other side of the road.

“I’ve never thought of the turtle as being ‘lifted up’ to something better as was suggested earlier, but rather as a victim. The hero is the one who cuts down the fence post and gives the turtle his freedom.

“HB 531 takes a few whacks at the fencepost, impediments to elections that are fair, understandable, trustworthy and accessible elections.”

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Gov. Brian Kemp continued his criticism of the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus plan, which he said shortchanged Georgia by favoring bigger states with higher unemployment rates.

“This is a blue state bailout,” he told the Hugh Hewitt show on Tuesday. “I don’t think we need the bailout as big as it is. I’m certainly in favor of targeted funding ... but if they’re going to do this, they need to do it equitably.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who will vote for the proposal, offered this assessment of the direct aid on social media this morning:

“For months now, Georgia’s cities and towns have been waiting for robust relief that’s crucial to keeping essential workers on the job and supporting vital community services—critical relief that wasn’t possible before January 20,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve been pushing to send as much federal funding to our state as possible, including for priorities like expanding Medicaid and making sure Georgians can keep our localities running during this pandemic.”

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POSTED: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock will chair the Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection. In this role, he has oversight of banks, credit unions, the Federal Reserve System, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

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Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has his first primary opponent: Jeanne Seaver, a pro-Trump activist who talks of putting “people first” and backing new voting restrictions, such as an end to no-excuse absentee voting.

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Many Democrats are showing support for a unionization campaign underway at an Amazon plant in Alabama. Joe Biden posted a video on Twitter that was taken as a clear endorsement of workers’ rights to organize. A New York Times reporter on Monday noted that U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, is part of a congressional delegation set to travel to Bessemer on Friday to back the cause.

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Learn more about Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd, the first Black man to hold this title, and his roots in the south Georgia town of Thomasville by reading this insightful article by the AJC’s Jeremy Redmon. He writes about how Lloyd follows in the footsteps of another Thomasville native: Henry Flipper, the first African-American graduate of West Point.

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