The Jolt: Georgia Speaker David Ralston won’t run for U.S. Senate

Speaker of the House Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaks with members of the press following Sine Die, legislative day 40, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Speaker of the House Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaks with members of the press following Sine Die, legislative day 40, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston won’t be challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in 2022, we’re told.

Ralston will instead remain in his post atop the state House of Representatives, his top aide Kaleb McMichen said.

The speaker’s decision not to make a statewide run leaves the GOP field against Warnock at state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black (a Ralston ally), former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, military veteran Kelvin King, and a gigantic question mark for the will-he-or-won’t-he Herschel Walker.

Walker’s indecision has so far frozen other Republicans out of the field, including U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, since Walker has already received loud support from former President Donald Trump.

It has also left the GOP without a marquee name in the nationally watched race, which is more and more relevant as time ticks toward 2022. On Tuesday, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue was in his old stomping grounds on Capitol Hill, which set off speculation that he might be giving the race some thought, too.

We were always skeptical that Ralston would leave his post presiding over the state House, where he wields immense power over its agenda and membership. If he ran for and won a Senate seat, he’d be one of 100 in a chamber increasingly known for what it does not do instead of what it does. Plus, there is a chance GOP senators remain in the minority after 2022.

A run would have taken Ralston out of his current job and exposed him to fresh questions about his previous use of legislative privilege in his legal practice to delay court cases before leading the General Assembly to change the leave rules.

Despite these possibilities, we’re told Ralston was genuinely considering the idea. In May, he traveled to Washington and met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott, the Florida Republican in charge of the GOP recruitment effort in 2022.

But state Republicans already have a full plate this year, with a special session on redistricting sometime in the late fall. On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp encouraged a House committee to expand the special session agenda to also include a public safety bill aimed toward Atlanta, an obvious 2022 message that Kemp front-loaded to 2021.

Ralston certainly would have gotten questions from GOP House members about his plans this weekend on Jekyll Island, where the House Republican caucus is meeting.

McMichen said that the Speaker’s decision was not driven by who else is or isn’t already running for the Senate seat.

“It is more about what he can do in the position that he’s in than doing a ‘what-if’ in another position,” he said.

With the Senate decision out of the way, look for Ralston to push a message heavy on law enforcement and policing, mental health and economic development heading into 2022.

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On the agenda at the state House GOP retreat at Jekyll Island at the end of the week: Picking a new Majority Whip.

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

We reported last week that the election to replace him as the fourth-ranking member of the chamber pits Matt Hatchett of Dublin, a close ally of House Speaker David Ralston, against state Rep. Barry Fleming of Harlem.

Fleming got national attention this year as the chairman of the special House committee that pushed through Senate Bill 202, the state’s new election law. He’s also seen as a potential rival to Ralston down the road.

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Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic plan to move forward with a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure proposal to finance sweeping improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges and broadband pipelines that’s a key part of President Joe Biden’s roughly $4 trillion spending package.

U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock voted with the rest of the Democratic caucus to advance the plan, while all 50 of the Republicans in the Senate opposed.

Since it fell short of the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster, the measure failed to move forward, signaling a troubling start to what’s supposed to be a bipartisan package.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is still working on finalizing language and said a re-vote could happen next week. Still, Wednesday’s vote was a blow on reaching a deal.

The debate is rippling down to Georgia’s campaign trail, with Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and military veteran Latham Saddler both highlighting their opposition to the infrastructure plan. One of your Insiders caught up with Saddler in the rural town of Nashville, where he spoke about the proposal.

“What I don’t like about the infrastructure package that’s coming out of Washington is all the extra stuff. If it was singularly an infrastructure package, yes. Most reasonable folks agree we need to update our infrastructure in this country. But it should only be an infrastructure package.”

The vote came the same day as Senate Republicans threatened to tank a measure to increase the debt ceiling unless it’s paired with some sort of spending cut. It’s an idea that Saddler endorsed.

“It’s almost not even popular to campaign anymore about our national debt, but I’m still doing it because it matters. I tell folks this is a national security issue,” he said, adding that “passing trillion-dollar package after trillion-dollar package” will undercut confidence in U.S. currency.

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POSTED: Zell Miller’s grandson, Bryan Miller, will run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat in 2022.

Miller is a political newcomer known best for creating the Zell Miller Foundation. More:

Miller is the fourth Democrat to enter the race for lieutenant governor — and the first white candidate in the wide-open contest. State Reps. Erick Allen and Derrick Jackson, and political consultant Kolbey Gardner are also in the running. All three are Black. State Sen. Elena Parent is also considering joining the race.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller is the highest profile Republican in the race, and he’s already raised $2 million for his campaign. But state Sen. Burt Jones is expected to soon join the GOP contest, perhaps with former President Donald Trump’s seal of approval. Activist Jeanne Seaver is also running.

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In more 2022 news, Patty Durand announced she’ll challenge Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols for his District 2 seat.

The Peachtree Corners Democrat has been an outspoken critic of Echols, as well as the PSC’s role in overseeing the construction of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant.

Durand is a consumer advocate and consultant in the energy and technology space.

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A rally organized by Georgia Republicans meant to show solidarity with the Cuban people deteriorated into chaos on Sunday. We saw footage over the weekend of GOP officials peppered with boos from activists.

The AJC’s Lautaro Grinspan reported that many in the crowd were drawn to what they thought was a nonpartisan protest — and vented their anger at the political speechifying that ensued.

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American Bridge 21st Century, a political committee that supports Democrats, is out with a new ad praising the latest coronavirus relief plan and featuring a Macon pizza shop owner who says the credit goes to President Joe Biden.

The group says it is spending seven figures on ads targeting suburban women that will run in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia on TV, radio and online.

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Georgia Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, Lucy McBath and Nikema Williams are among a group of House Democrats who have filed a Medicaid expansion bill that is the companion to the Senate proposal backed by Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

The measure would set up a new health care program for uninsured people in conservative states like Georgia that declined to expand their Medicaid rolls under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

This afternoon, Warnock plans to deliver a floor speech where he will share an anecdote about a Georgia resident who would benefit from the new coverage.

Congressional Democrats have indicated they may include the health care plan in the reconciliation budget bill they are preparing, which can get passed into law without Republicans’ support.

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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.