The Jolt: Fair Fight court defeat rocks Kemp-Abrams rematch

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

Four years ago, Stacey Abrams ended her campaign for governor by starting a political organization that brought a far-ranging lawsuit alleging “gross mismanagement” and “unconstitutional flaws” in the 2018 elections.

A few days ago, a federal judge’s decision to reject the legal challenge by Fair Fight Action marked a stinging setback to Abrams just as her rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp enters its final stretch.

Abrams hasn’t focused on voting rights this cycle as intensely as she did during her first campaign. But she has pointed to her 2018 defeat and an overhaul of Georgia election laws in 2021 at Kemp’s urging as evidence that Republicans seek to limit Georgians’ voting rights.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama, undercuts the claims by Abrams and other Democrats that the GOP policies systematically disenfranchise voters.

The decision released Friday brought no shortage of derision from Republicans

Kemp ripped the lawsuit as a scheme for Abrams “to line her pockets.”

Credit: David Barnes/AJC

Credit: David Barnes/AJC

Attorney General Chris Carr’s office focused on the financial fallout and said more than $6 million in public funds were used to defend the litigation.

“This ruling confirms what I have said all along,” Carr said. “There is not one single eligible Georgian in 2018 who was prohibited from voting.”

Kemp’s spokesman, Cody Hall, mocked Abrams’ 2018 non-concession speech, when she attributed her narrow defeat to an “erosion of our democracy.”

“Does this mean Stacey Abrams will finally concede the 2018 race?” Kemp spokesman. “Asking for a friend.”

Despite the court’s unequivocal decision, Abrams still claimed partial victory.

She pointed to an ongoing “battle for voter empowerment” that has already addressed some of the concerns in the litigation.

A 2019 Georgia law replaced the state’s outdated touchscreen machines with a new hybrid system that relies on computerized voting terminals that print voters’ completed paper ballots.

Abrams and Fair Fight also note other policy wins, such as the reinstatement of about 22,000 voters who had been removed from the voting rolls, and an overhaul of the “exact match” standard, as proof that the Fair Fight lawsuit was not in vain.


SCHOOLS CHIEF. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ty Tagami takes a deeper look at the race for state superintendent of schools.

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

From Tagami:

Richard Woods, the incumbent, says he wants a third term to continue cutting bureaucracy so teachers have more time and freedom to teach. It's a process the Tifton Republican says he could have implemented more quickly if he'd had the support he now enjoys from influential members of his party.

His challenger, Alisha Thomas Searcy, a former Democratic state representative from Austell, says Woods has done too little with his eight years in office. She contends she could implement rapid changes to improve outcomes, though she may not have the backing of her entire party.

At stake is control over the Georgia Department of Education, which is responsible for a third of the state budget. The agency distributes state and federal funding to schools while monitoring their academic performance and their compliance with laws and regulations.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In Friday’s Jolt, we also told you that Searcy has clashed with her fellow Democrats in the past, including a recent Facebook post saying she had been “ostracized” by Stacey Abrams’ One Georgia campaign.


KEMP ON TRUMP. Gov. Brian Kemp was a guest on Fox News Sunday, where he gave an update on impacts from Hurricane Ian, reacted to Friday’s verdict in the Fair Fight suit, and responded (or didn’t respond) to a question about whether he’d campaign with former President Donald Trump.

“Well look, that’s not anything I can control,” he said.


EVERYTOWN ADS. Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund, the political arm of the gun safety organization, announced that it is spending $1.4 million on a round of ads focused on mobilizing Georgia voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

One ad criticizes U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, a Republican, for opposing gun control measures and abortion rights.

“He wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest or to save a mother’s life, and he opposes common-sense gun safety laws that save lives,” the narrator says. “Siding against law enforcement, he’d even make it easier for dangerous people to carry guns in public with no questions asked.”


DRAG RULES. Former Georgia GOP state Rep. Colton Moore wants to strip parental rights from people who take their children to drag shows, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

In a news release, Moore also called on the Georgia Legislature to make it a felony to take a minor to a drag show, which he called a “drag sex show.”

Moore’s declaration came in response to a controversy over a video taken at a recent Chattanooga Pride event, where children joined performers on stage at what was billed by organizers as a “family-friendly drag show.”

Expect to hear more from Moore next year, since he is running unopposed in November to replace outgoing state Sen. Jeff Mullis in his north Georgia district.


TRAIL MIX. Stacey Abrams held a canvas launch on Sunday in Sandy Springs with Shannon Watts, the founder of the Moms Demand Action, and Bob Christian, Democrats’ 6th Congressional District nominee.

Watts said “our safety is on the ballot” in November.

“We have to show candidates when they do the right thing, we’ll have their back, when they do the wrong thing, we will have their jobs,” she said.


SHUTDOWN AVOIDED. The U.S. House signed off on legislation Friday to keep the government funded through mid-December, just hours before a midnight deadline to avoid a shutdown.

All House Democrats and 10 Republicans voted in favor of the measure, which also included disaster relief funding and money to help Ukraine in its war with Russia. Georgia’s delegation split along party lines, with all six Democrats in favor and all eight Republicans opposed.

President Joe Biden signed the funding legislation into law later on Friday, and Congress is expected to mostly be quiet for the next six weeks as members focus on the midterm elections.

One question is whether the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot will reschedule its final hearing, which was scrapped last week because of Hurricane Ian.


Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

Credit: Curtis Compton / AJC

DOBBINS CAUCUS. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, are teaming up to lead an effort to land new aircraft at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.

The campaign has the support of the state’s entire 16-member congressional delegation, who all signed a letter to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall requesting that eight legacy C-130H Hercules aircraft be replaced with newer model C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.

Dobbins is on the short list of bases that currently house C-130H planes to be chosen as sites for the C-130Js.

“We believe Dobbins ARB would be an excellent choice to host these recapitalized aircraft,” Warnock and Loudermilk wrote. “The past and current contributions of Dobbins Air Reserve Base to our nation’s security cannot be overstated. We believe that Dobbins ARB’s future is just as bright and encourage you to fully consider this critical installation as the future site of the C-130J aircraft.”


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. PRESIDENT. Former President Jimmy Carter celebrated his 98th birthday over the weekend.

The AJC’s Ernie Suggs collected memories from just a few of the many, many Georgians who have met Carter over the years.

And he wrote the incredible story of Bernstein Hollis, who has worked with Carter for more than 40 years and whose family ties with the Carters go back a century.


PERSONNEL DEPARTMENT. Macy McFall, the top aide to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, is joining Robbins Government Relations this month as the newest member of its state lobbying team.

McFall emerged as one of the most effective movers-and-shakers at the state Capitol this year. She helped steer Duncan’s agenda through a thorny Legislature, despite her boss’s lame-duck status.

And she worked with counterparts in the state House and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office to pass sweeping measures related to the budget, education policies and tax refunds.


TWO PEAS IN A BAG. GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker got the Weekend Update treatment in the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend.

Kenan Thompson played Walker, who described himself and McConnell as, “two peas in a bag.”

The skit also included Walker’s own words from past quotes on “China’s bad air” and apes and evolution.


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