The Jolt: Geoff Duncan parts ways with the governor over special session

06/26/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp greets Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, right, before speaking to members of the Georgia Senate in the Senate Chambers on Sine Die, day 40, of the legislative session in Atlanta, Friday, June 26, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
06/26/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp greets Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, right, before speaking to members of the Georgia Senate in the Senate Chambers on Sine Die, day 40, of the legislative session in Atlanta, Friday, June 26, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

It was no surprise to see House Speaker David Ralston break ranks with Gov. Brian Kemp. But eyebrows jumped when Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan joined him in a defiant stance against Kemp’s proposed special session on Thursday.

Duncan and Ralston issued a joint statement critical of the governor’s claim that a special session was needed to overhaul a flawed tax credit measure -- and then threatened to override his veto of a separate health care bill.

That measure, House Bill 991, would have created a new board to scrutinize state health care contractors, which the two legislative leaders said would bring “critical oversight to taxpayer dollars.”

Kemp rejected the legislation because, he said, such a board might impinge on executive authority. “Two-thirds of the proposed committee’s members would be members of the General Assembly,” the governor said in his veto message.

Elected with Kemp in 2018, Duncan has been a reliable ally of the governor. He quickly endorsed kemp’s decision to select Kelly Loeffler for the U.S. Senate -- a decision that cost Duncan his top aide -- and has backed each of Kemp’s legislative priorities.

But their relationship is showing signs of strain. Duncan notably declined to defend Kemp’s lawsuit targeting Atlanta’s mask mandate and coronavirus restrictions.

Thursday’s open threat to reverse one of the governor’s four vetoes could presage a closer alliance between Duncan and Ralston next year.

One reason the special session is unpopular with lawmakers: Unlike the governor, all 236 of them are up for re-election in November. And fundraising would be banned while they meet -- whenever that is. No date has been set.

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Public health officials privately identified Atlanta as a coronavirus hotspot, according to a report published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C. The information was shared during a conference call attended by members of the White House Coronavirus Task and state and local officials, which then leaked to the media.

“We are seeing encouraging signs across the South,” Birx said, according to a recording of the call that C.P.I. obtained and later reported. “We are concerned that both Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a very high level — [also] Kansas City, Portland, Omaha [and] of course what we talked about in the Central Valley [of California].”

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Meanwhile, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr says President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers could serve as an example for local school authorities during this pandemic:

With thousands of teachers across the country currently protesting a return to the classroom because of COVID fears, Reagan’s example is particularly relevant. Like air traffic controllers, teachers sign employment contracts. While air traffic controllers contract with the federal government and teachers with local school districts, the principle is the same: perform the duties for which you were hired, or be fired.

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History is replete with lessons like this. For instance, there’s the story of malfunctioning U.S. aircraft that were dropping out of the sky during World War II. Then mechanics working on the planes were required to fly on them, and suddenly the problems disappeared.

Likewise, we could take governors, school superintendents and others who insist that masking should be voluntary – and give them desks in the crowded hallways of North Paulding High School.

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Speaking of that high school, a note to the community from Paulding County School Superintendent Brian Otott included this line:

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.”

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High school teachers across the state, who have spent their careers policing students who wear baseball caps or too-short skirts, got a chuckle out of that one.

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One more thing: Hannah Watters was one of two students at North Paulding High School in Dallas who were suspended this week for putting photos of their unmasked classmates in crowded hallways.

Watters is also proof that the late John Lewis’ slogan lives on. “I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble,” Watters told CNN.

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Georgia’s David Perdue has now entered a list of the 10 most vulnerable U.S. senators, according to the latest iteration of the CQ Roll Call list.

Perdue entered at No. 10, replacing Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan. Recent polling showing Georgia as a battleground in November, as well as data from the 2016 election and input from strategists from both sides of the aisle contributed to the change.

“Georgia’s changing political landscape and emergence as a pivotal presidential battleground has outside groups funnelling millions into both the state’s Senate races,” the report says. “That’s a cause of concern for Perdue, whose challenger Jon Ossoff established himself in a 2017 special election as a prolific fundraiser.”

The list, which was updated Thursday, now includes eight Republicans. Alabama Democrat Doug Jones remains at the top.

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A federal judge has dismissed a legal challenge by Republicans in the U.S. House to a Democrat-backed rule that allowed voting by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic.

While Republicans have avoided taking advantage of the change, several Democrats filed paperwork allowing a colleague to cast votes on their behalf. Until his death last month, U.S. Rep. John Lewis was among those who had designated a voting proxy.

That carried a risk of his final votes being invalidated if the judge had ruled against Democrats and said the rule change was unconstitutional.

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Tuesday night’s WNBA protest of Sen. Kelly Loeffler has paid off -- at least to some degree -- for Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is running against her in the November special election.

The “Vote Warnock” shirts worn by players on several teams made national headlines and highlighted Loeffler’s ongoing dispute with the league over “Black lives matter” protests.

Warnock’s team said that since then, he has raised more $185,000 from more than 3,500 new donors and grew his Twitter followers by nearly 3,500.

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In endorsement news: State Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, has endorsed Dr. John Cowan in the GOP runoff for 14th District congressional seat. Cooke is one of five former candidates for the seat who have endorsed Cowan over Marjorie Taylor Greene.

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