The Jolt: Election deniers in state Senate stripped of chairmanships

January 12, 2021 Atlanta - Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (left) confers with staff inside the Senate Chambers during the second day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
January 12, 2021 Atlanta - Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (left) confers with staff inside the Senate Chambers during the second day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

It’s payback time. The Republican rift in the state Senate came to a head Tuesday when Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan demoted three Republican senators who have backed attempts to overturn the presidential vote in Georgia over baseless allegations of irregularities.

When the bloodletting was over, state Sens. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, Matt Brass of Newnan and Burt Jones of Jackson were sapped of their political influence on the second day of the winter session.

As our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports, Duncan stripped Beach of his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee, while Jones will no longer lead the Insurance and Labor Committee. Neither will serve as even a rank-and-file member on the two panels they once led.

And though state Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan will still be a committee chairman this term, he was shelved to a lesser posting. Instead of serving as chairman of the committee that is set to redraw the political map later this year, he’ll oversee a banking committee.

None of this was much of a surprise. The three aggressively promoted President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud, and pushed efforts to overturn the outcome that ran afoul of Duncan, who has called out the phony narrative.

Beach in particular had signed onto a vast federal lawsuit alleging election misdoings in Georgia and several other states. Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston, and Senate President pro tem Butch Miller were among the many named defendants.

Not all of the members of the pro-Trump Senate caucus were punished. Several others who signed a letter urging Vice President Mike Pence to illegally block Joe Biden’s win were awarded coveted committee chairmanships.

And state Sen. Greg Dolezal of Cumming will oversee the Science and Technology Committee -- the same lower-profile panel that Renee Unterman was shunted to in 2019.

Some insiders call it a “smack down,” others say they got the “McKoon treatment” in honor of former state Sen. Josh McKoon, who lost his Judiciary Committee post after peeving the powers-that-be.

But there’s also a benefit for the outcasts. They are no longer tethered to party leadership and are freer to buck Duncan and other top GOP figures.

Some point to Tom Graves, who became a hero to some conservatives after he was sacked in the state Legislature -- and later parlayed his popularity to a seat in the U.S. House.

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We mentioned that letter from pro-Trump senators to Vice President Mike Pence. Read more about it in today’s print column. There, we spill some ink on state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, who on Tuesday drew a straight line between two Senate subcommittees held in December, which became national platforms for election deniers, and last week’s mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. Watch the video here:

From the column:

“Members of this body aided and abetted the spread of information. They gave oxygen to a lie. Livestreaming on OAN and Newsmax — livestreaming from the fourth floor of this building," Jordan said.

“Words are powerful, especially when they come from those elected to represent the people. Those with official titles, those with power — and lies have consequences," she said. “It was done in service to a man — a man, flesh and blood. Just like any of us. Who has somehow made grown men — good men, smart men — turn their backs on their obligations and their country and their state."

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The U.S. House will vote today, not entirely along party lines, to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time. The charge against him: “incitement of an insurrection” after he encouraged supporters to protest at the U.S. Capitol.

A handful of Republicans have indicated they will vote in favor of impeachment, although none from Georgia. Meanwhile, national outlets are reporting that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is inclined to convict once the charges land in the Senate chamber.

Late Tuesday, the House voted 223-205 on a resolution asking Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office. Only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, was in favor of that measure. Pence himself said Tuesday he will not take this step, making that proposal moot.

Your Washington Insider will have updates on the impeachment vote later today.

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John McCormack of the National Review reports that on a Tuesday conference call, U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy warned Republican members “not to verbally attack colleagues who vote for impeachment because it could endanger their lives.”

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Members of the Congress arriving for today’s vote will be required to pass through metal detectors before being allowed on the House floor. Also a new rule passed late Tuesday will impose fines upon members who refuse to wear masks.

Their salaries will be docked $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for the second. Hard-line conservatives including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, have resisted mask requirements.

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Axios reports that infighting has already broken out among U.S. House freshmen since last Wednesday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol:

On Tuesday, Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) got in a tart back and forth on a text chain with all freshmen GOP members, according to sources who've read the text messages

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Gov. Brian Kemp said the state is “fully prepared” for any protests at the state Capitol ahead of next week’s inauguration of Joe Biden as president. Some lawmakers are already facing threats at home.

Over at Decaturish, Patrick Saunders reports that state Rep. Bee Nguyen’s address was doxxed and that she’s received other threats after thoroughly debunking false claims of voter fraud at a state House hearing last month. From Saunders:

The threats have led the Atlanta Police Department and the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office to conduct drive-bys on her street, Nguyen revealed during a Kirkwood Neighbors Organization meeting on Sunday. Nguyen also found a Georgia Capitol Police officer stationed outside her home recently.

“He said they made a decision that they would keep me as a person that they would continue to track," she said. “It made me a little uneasy. It was a little discomforting."

The Atlanta Democrat, who represents Stacey Abrams’ former House district, is considered a top potential contender to challenge Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger next year.

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COVID at the state Capitol: The session opened Monday. On Tuesday, Senate Republican Leader Mike Dugan said he tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home, our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports. Meanwhile, House Speaker David Ralston said nearly half of his chamber did not take the coronavirus test as required on Monday.

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Already posted: The state legislative effort to remove the figure of Alexander Stephens from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a likeness of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis will begin in earnest on Wednesday with a bipartisan resolution promoting the change:

The measure is to be sponsored by state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, a coalition that symbolizes the consensus behind the push to put a statue of the civil rights hero in place of Stephens, a white supremacist who was the vice president of the Confederacy.

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The annual Eggs and Issues event this morning was drier than ever. And not just because it was held virtually, without the heaving platters of chicken biscuits and ice-cold orange juice.

The event, put on by the Georgia Chamber this year, illustrates the dangers of a pro-business outside group taking sides in political races.

Gov. Brian Kemp has studiously avoided making news at the event since he took office, with his allies upset at the way he was treated by the group during the 2018 race. Since then, the Chamber has taken a more conservative approach, with leaders railing against creeping “socialism.” The group endorsed U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of their paired runoffs this month — alienating Democrats, many of whom simply ignored this year’s event.

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The idea appears to be contagious: On Tuesday, University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley announced plans today to retire on July 1. Wrigley has served as the 13th chancellor of the university system since 2017. From the press release:

Wrigley formerly served in leadership roles at the University of Georgia as senior vice president for external affairs, vice president for government relations and director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Prior to his service in the University System, he served as chief of staff to former Georgia Governor Zell Miller.

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Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will headline the annual Georgia Baptist Pastors Day event at the state Capitol on Feb. 18.

The Republican has been one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken supporters even after he leveled false claims of widespread voter fraud and refused to condemn the violent mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol.

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