The Jolt: Details emerge about Ames Barnett, possible Brian Kemp primary foe

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo posted to Twitter by Ames Barnett, pictured with former President Donald Trump

Credit: Twitter @barnettames

Credit: Twitter @barnettames

Photo posted to Twitter by Ames Barnett, pictured with former President Donald Trump

Ames Barnett, a wealthy businessman and former small-town mayor, is moving closer to a Republican primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp. But his record has enough to rile up partisans from both sides of the aisle.

As readers of the Jolt learned yesterday, Barnett attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas over the weekend. He also met with former President Donald Trump, who snapped a photo with him that he strategically shared on his revamped Twitter feed.

Barnett’s steps toward running for higher office led to a fresh look at his record, which includes two stints as mayor of tiny Washington, Ga., a racially and politically-divided town of about 4,000 people in east Georgia.

A 2011 story in The Washington Post about the politics in Washington and Barnett’s narrow victory there includes a description of the Republican’s home, which he and his wife designed as a replica of “Beauvoir,” the Mississippi mansion where Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, lived the last decades of his life.

From the story:

Ames had supervised construction while Ashley worked with a designer to refine the interior, shopping at markets in Atlanta for Victorian furniture, chandeliers and restored glass from the 1800s.

“The Barnett Beauvoir," they called the house, and they had imbedded the name on the hardwood floors and tiled it into the kitchen countertop. They bought the property across the street, planted 13 magnolia trees and turned it into a private parking lot. They built a white picket fence around the house and placed rocking chairs on the wraparound porch. A guest book always sits on the entry table.

- The Washington Post

Now for the political decision that Kemp is sure to invoke should Barnett enter the race. While serving as mayor in 2014, Barnett cast the deciding vote to quit funding the local police department as a cost-saving measure.

The Augusta Chronicle reported the debate raged for weeks before the vote to “defund the police department” and residents rallied against the closure on the courthouse square:

The Washington, Georgia police department is no more.

Washington City Council voted 4-3 to defund the police department at Thursday night's meeting, with Mayor Ames Barnett breaking the 3-3 council member tie.

- The Augusta Chronicle

The vote left 14 employees without jobs, though some were hired by the local sheriff’s department, which took over law enforcement duties for the town.

How that decision would play in a statewide GOP primary is unknown. But it seems that a run for higher office has been on Ames’ mind for some time.

In a 2018 podcast unearthed by one of Insiders, Barnett said said he never intended to be a “lifelong mayor.”

“I have always had aspirations to go to state level, but only if I thought I can be effective at it. But I always said if I went to state level, I wanted to understand local government. They’re the closest to the people as you can get.”

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The Georgia GOP got a bit of its suburban mojo back in Cobb County last night.

Political prognosticators can’t read too much into a low-turnout special legislative election for a conservative-leaning state House seat.

But Republicans had plenty to cheer on Tuesday, when Devan Seabaugh netted 63% of the vote to defeat Democrat Priscilla Smith, overperforming the GOP vote in the 2020 election by a huge margin.

Bert Reeves, who stepped down to take a job at Georgia Tech, captured about 56% of the vote last year against Smith. As our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu noted, turnout was up about 2,000 votes compared with the first round of voting in June.

In South Georgia, Leesa Hagan defeated Wally Sapp in a special election to replace Rep. Greg Morris of Vidalia. All are Republicans.

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The resignation of one of the Georgia House’s most powerful lawmakers from a leadership post has sparked an internal race for the job that could threaten House Speaker David Ralston’s command of the chamber.

State Rep. Trey Kelley stepped down as the House Majority Whip earlier this month as he fights charges of reckless conduct stemming from a 2019 fatal hit-and-run crash.

The election to replace him as the fourth-ranking member of the chamber pits Matt Hatchett of Dublin, a close ally of Ralston, against Barry Fleming of Harlem, one of his chief GOP rivals.

It’s no secret inside the House GOP caucus that Ralston sees Fleming as a potential rival to his speakership. And Fleming’s clout helped force Ralston to hand him a special committee this year to address elections proposals.

A victory in the race for majority whip, which will likely take place a few weeks from now, would give him a seat at the table in the decision-making process -- and an inside track for the 2022 vote for the powerful job.

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It’s known as the “burn rate” -- the pace at which candidates spend the money they raise.

Ex-Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones, who is running against Gov. Brian Kemp in next year’s Republican primary, is an example of a candidate who is not letting his money burn a hole in his pocket.

Our campaign finance guy James Salzer reported last week that Jones raised $626,000 in the first 10 weeks of his campaign. He ended the latest reporting period with $125,000, meaning he burned through $500,000 in that time -- or about 80% of his cash.

By contrast, Kemp has spent about $3 million of the $12 million he’s raised. That’s roughly 25% of his campaign account.

So what accounted for Jones’ high rate of spending? Jones’ biggest expense was the nearly $180,000 he paid to WinRed Technologies for online donation processing, a GOP fundraising platform promoted by Donald Trump’s campaign.

Other big expenditures include $77,000 for campaign materials; $21,000 for hotel, travel and other costs at last month’s Georgia GOP convention in Jekyll Island; and $2,000 for ads for the far-right Georgia Star News.

Among his staffing costs were about $6,700 to Carolyn Ryan, a former CBS 46 reporter; and $5,000 to Bernard Kerik, the jailed-and-later-pardoned former New York police commissioner listed as a “consultant.”

But one expense in particular caught Salzer’s eye: Jones’ campaign paid $805.30 to MyPillow, the company run by serial Trump conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

An inquiry to the Jones’ campaign found that he, indeed, bought two boxes of MyPillow pillows and sent one box to the governor’s mansion in a Twitter publicity stunt after Lindell was turned away from a Republican Governors Association meeting in Nashville.

The pillow company topper had previously warned he would confront Kemp there about the Georgia election, which Trump lost.

The second box was reportedly donated.

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POSTED: Nearly 200 ballots in Fulton County ballots were double-counted during a recount of the 2020 general election, but there is no indication any vote for president was counted more than once in official results.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse reports that the ballots were initially scanned twice, including an extra vote for write-in presidential candidate Kanye West.

Donald Trump backers searching for signs of fraud discovered the duplicate ballots. From the story:

Election observers and organizations say it's unlikely that double-counting occurred often or in large numbers.

The ballots counted twice would have given Biden 27 extra votes. After a recount, official results reflected that Trump gained a total of 121 absentee votes in Fulton. Biden won the county with 73% of 524,000 votes cast.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Strategist William Crozer made a great point on Twitter: Georgia now has two officials in leadership positions in some of the most influential government associations -- and they’re not from Atlanta.

Union City Mayor Vince Williams is the first vice president of the National League of Cities. And DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson was elected this week as president of the National Association of Counties.

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Well-known political activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at the 2020 Clark Atlanta University graduation Saturday at the Harkness Hall Quadrangle in Atlanta on May 15, 2021. The 2020 ceremony was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Stacey Abrams can now add another descriptor to her introduction: “Emmy-nominated.”

Abrams -- an author, activist and expected repeat candidate for governor -- received a Primetime Emmy nod Tuesday for her appearance on an election-themed double episode of “Black-ish” that aired last October.

She will find out on Sept. 19 whether she won in the category of Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance for the episode, which was an animated special installment of the popular series.

Abrams’ documentary on elections, “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” was also nominated for an Emmy in the category titled Outstanding Writing For A Nonfiction Program.

That prize accolade goes to Jack Youngelson, who is credited with writing the script. The documentary was also shortlisted for an Academy Award earlier this year, but didn’t make the final cut.

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President Joe Biden’s speech on voting rights included a reference to the Justice Department’s challenge to Georgia’s new voting law, which Biden called, “Georgia’s vicious anti-voting law.”

The president also encouraged Congress to pass the federal election law named for the late Congressman John Lewis, which would reinstate federal review of election laws like the one that passed in Georgia.

Just remember, our late friend John Lewis said, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act.” “Freedom is not a state; it is an act.” And we must act, and we will act. For our cause is just, our vision is clear, and our hearts are full.

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Georgia Congressman Doug Collins adjusts his face mask before the start of a round table discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Get your pre-orders in. Former Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is writing a book about former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment.

Collins, a Republican from Gainesville, had a first-hand role in the action as one of the president’s main defenders in Congress at the time and the top-ranking Republican on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

A press release announcing the book, “The Clock and the Calendar: A Front-Row Look at the Democrats’ Obsession with Donald Trump,” says that Collins is the first GOP member to write a book about the 2020 impeachment.

The book will be released on Nov. 16, with a forward by Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo.

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Republican Rich McCormick, the ER doctor planning a rematch against U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, announced that he raised $317,000 from April through June.

McCormick said he ended the quarter with $447,000 in the bank.

It is unclear if the district will be more red or blue after Republicans complete redistricting ahead of the 2022 contest. That could affect whether McCormick stays in the race or hops to another district.

Bourdeaux, meanwhile, has yet to release her fundraising numbers for the quarter. There are no other prominent candidates in the race right now.

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms refunded $413,000 in campaign contributions after announcing that she would no longer seek a second term.

The AJC’s Wilborn P. Nobles reports that 238 donors received refunds, but Bottoms’ campaign account still has a balance of $258,963.

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Very sad news to share about a familiar face in Georgia politics. Gene Callaway, a former GOP state representative, died unexpectedly last week at the age of 55.

Callaway represented his Gwinnett-based district for four years in the state House and remained active in Republican politics after that.

BJ Van Gundy, first vice chairman of the state GOP said, “Everybody in the Republican party all know him from all over the state. His loss has been devastating to a lot in the state of Georgia.”

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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.