The Jolt: Georgia Democrats play hardball to derail GOP voting restrictions

02/25/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia —Demonstrators protest House Bill 531 outside of the Georgia State Capitol building on day 23 of the legislative session in downtown Atlanta Thursday, February 25, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
02/25/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia —Demonstrators protest House Bill 531 outside of the Georgia State Capitol building on day 23 of the legislative session in downtown Atlanta Thursday, February 25, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Georgia Democrats and their allies are behind an extraordinary campaign at the Capitol and in the public square to derail the new Republican-backed voting restrictions moving through the statehouse.

The pressure is mounting as Georgia House lawmakers prepare to vote Monday on a measure that would require ID for absentee voting, curb the use of ballot drop boxes and restrict weekend early voting hours.

Ads financed by Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action group began bombarding the airwaves last week with dire warnings that the new restrictions on mail-in ballots will hurt Republicans as much as Democrats.

Democratic lawyers have promised to challenge the new measures in court if they pass — and remind Republicans of their recent win streak on elections-related matters — while protesters brand the proposals “Jim Crow with a new suit and tie.”

Outnumbered Democrats can’t stop the measure or others, including separate legislation that would end no-excuse absentee voting, if ruling Republicans stay together. But they intend to exact a price.

One potential casualty is a measure to legalize sports betting that requires bipartisan support and that seemed, to some supporters at least, on the cusp of success in Georgia.

The House vote on the issue last week was delayed by Democratic leaders who say they’re withholding support both to demand new concessions, such as provisions for minority vendors, and also to protest the elections restrictions.

And a new phase of the pushback starts Monday as critics demand that Georgia’s biggest corporations to take a stand. Many of the same companies that opposed the “religious liberty” legislation in 2016 are now being asked to fight the GOP voting restrictions.

The campaign is being orchestrated by James Woodall, the president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP and a leading critic of the new restrictions. Said Woodall:

Now is the time that we all must act, for if we do not, we may find that our state’s democracy is no longer a democracy at all, but a shrine to the politicians that seek to whittle away the electorate to ensure their power for decades to come.

This is the moment for Georgia’s business community to decide on which side they will stand - on the side of the people, or on the side of a second coming of Jim Crow.

This is the time for action, because none of us, not a single ally to democracy, not a single one of us can afford to remain silent or stay on the sidelines while our rights are under assault. Now is the time for action - because if not now, there may not be another chance.

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Gov. Brian Kemp may have dodged a bullet on Sunday when former President Donald Trump unveiled his Nixon-esque enemies list during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

In the first public appearance since he left office, Trump went through name-by-name every Republican who supported his second impeachment, calling them RINOs who “will destroy our country itself.”

He reserved special venom for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, whom he called “a warmonger” and claimed that her “poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen.”

But absent from the hit list was Kemp or other Georgia GOP officials who drew Trump’s fury after they refused his attempts to overturn his election defeat.

That’s not to say Kemp or others, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, have escaped his vows for payback. But it does indicate that Trump’s galaxy of targets has grown more crowded as more Republicans speak out against him.

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The U.S. House approved President Joe Biden’s top priority early Saturday by passing a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package. There were no surprises among Georgia’s delegation: all six Democrats were in favor and all eight Republicans were opposed.

The question now becomes what happens to the package in the Senate. The House decided not to take out the increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, despite the Senate Parliamentarian ruling that the provision does not adhere to budget reconciliation rules being used to avoid a filibuster.

Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have made it clear that getting a bill signed into law ASAP is their top priority as well.

The $1,400 direct checks and health care spending is what they care about the most, though both have also endorsed the $15 minimum wage increase.

But now Senate Democrats have to decide whether they will take out the minimum wage portion or push back on the parliamentarian’s findings.

Remember, the goal is to get a package on Biden’s desk and signed into law by March 14 when some existing COVID relief provisions are set to expire. However, Senate amendments will require the bill to go back to the House for another vote.

The clock is ticking.

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Expect the U.S. House to move quickly this week on a sweeping elections, campaign finance, redistricting and voting law measure called the For the People Act.

The Rules Committee will review the measure and consider amendments on Monday, meaning a floor vote could happen as soon as Tuesday.

This is the legislation that Stacey Abrams and other activists have said is needed to offset efforts in Georgia and other states to rollback access to early and absentee voting.

It can pass the House easily but has a more uncertain future in the Senate … unless Democrats are willing to blow up the filibuster.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is also on the agenda for Monday’s Rules meeting. The bill would create new accountability measures and federal oversight of law enforcement while also tying funding to policy changes.

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01/27/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia —Georgia lawmakers, lobbyist and staff gather in the hallways on the sixth day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
01/27/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia —Georgia lawmakers, lobbyist and staff gather in the hallways on the sixth day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Usually, the Georgia Capitol is clogged with visitors hotfooting across the marble corridors to gab with legislators. The pandemic has turned the statehouse into a shell of its former self, though some of that networking is now done online.

An example comes Monday when the 100 Black Men of Atlanta hold their “virtual day” at the Gold Dome. Among the speakers are legislative leaders from both chambers, City Council President Felicia Moore, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Gov. Brian Kemp.

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Kelly Loeffler’s “dream” is no longer. We learned Friday that the former U.S. senator sold the WNBA Atlanta Dream franchise to a real estate investor, his business partner and a former Dream star.

That player, Renee Montgomery, was among those who revolted against Loeffler last year after she was critical of the notoriously progressive women’s basketball league.

Over the weekend, the AJC’s Chris Vivlamore profiled Montgomery, the first former WNBA athlete to have ownership of a team:

The career path was not something that Montgomery, who spent her final two seasons with the Dream, envisioned when she opted out of the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues. It is, however, why she announced her retirement earlier this year. You see, you can’t be both an owner and a player in the WNBA.

It started in earnest with a tweet.

Montgomery had been involved with LeBron James and his More Than a Vote campaign, a group of Black athletes and artists with a stated priority of “combating systemic, racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting our community.” On Jan. 6, James posted on social media a picture of Atlanta Dream players in ‘Vote Warnock’ T-shirts and wrote: “Think I gone put together an ownership group for the The Dream. Whose in?”

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