The Jolt: Georgia state senators tour “sham” Arizona ballot review

FILE - In this May 6, 2021 file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. For some conspiracy theorists, the 2020 election still hasn’t ended. Trump supporters are pushing to re-examine ballots from November across the country, and finding success in swing states like Arizona and Georgia. Their efforts and sometimes misleading conclusions are being gleefully amplified by the former president.  (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
FILE - In this May 6, 2021 file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. For some conspiracy theorists, the 2020 election still hasn’t ended. Trump supporters are pushing to re-examine ballots from November across the country, and finding success in swing states like Arizona and Georgia. Their efforts and sometimes misleading conclusions are being gleefully amplified by the former president. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

Credit: Matt York

Credit: Matt York

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

Time and again, a faction of leading Georgia Republicans have shown they’re more focused on re-litigating the 2020 results than the tough campaigns waiting for them in 2022.

Donald Trump’s grievances about his November defeat defined the GOP narrative of the January U.S. Senate runoffs, likely costing Republicans two Senate seats. And the call to rally around his false claims of a “rigged” election have so far dominated the 2021 dialogue, including the talk at last week’s state GOP convention.

Now we have more evidence of how the partisan effort to challenge the 2020 vote will continue to shape Republican strategy into the next election cycle.

State Sens. Brandon Beach and Burt Jones, along with state GOP chair David Shafer, all went to Arizona this week. On Tuesday they participated in a walk-through of ballot inspection stations where a Republican-backed review of Joe Biden’s victory is underway. The ongoing review, in its seventh week, is seen by experts and even some longtime Arizona Republicans as a “political theater” and “a sham.”

These are not fringe characters: Jones is expected to soon enter the race for lieutenant governor. Beach is a potential candidate for a suburban U.S. House seat. Shafer was just re-elected as the head of the state GOP, one of the most influential posts in Georgia politics.

Nor are they outliers. Election skeptics in Georgia are seeking a review of 2020 absentee ballots in an attempt to find counterfeits, though three separate tallies have upheld the election results and state and federal election officials have verified the outcome.

We polled some of the leading Republican U.S. Senate candidates to capture their views on the court-ordered review, which is on hold as Fulton County pushes a judge to dismiss the case.

Kelvin King, a military veteran and owner of a construction firm, endorsed the review:

“The commonality I find when talking to voters across our state is they want transparency. All Georgians, regardless of political affiliation or geography, should feel confident that their vote counted and counted accurately. Quite frankly, our entire system fails to work when confidence in our elections declines.”

So did Latham Saddler, a former Navy SEAL seeking to unseat incumbent Raphael Warnock:

“The distrust in the Fulton County election system is a threat to our democracy. If our residents can’t trust a free and fair election, a critical and basic right of the Constitution, then we risk a real failure of the freedoms we enjoy in this country. This audit provides transparency in a jurisdiction that needs it.”

And this from Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who joined the race last week:

“What’s wrong with transparency? Openness breeds confidence and our voting system badly needs confidence restored. We need to stop banning questions; just two weeks ago, you could get censored for asking if COVID came from a Chinese lab. Inquiry leads to truth. "

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Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action is going beyond the traditional focus on young people for voter registration to activate them to help pass legislation.

The group launched its “Hot Call Summer” campaign to mobilize its young progressive audience to help pass the For the People Act through the Senate.

The campaign will last throughout the month and include a national media buy, 10 million voter texts, and three regional virtual town halls. It’s all geared toward driving phone calls to U.S. senators’ offices asking them to vote for the federal voting and campaign finance overhaul.

The Southeastern town hall is slated for Thursday night at 8 pm, and will feature Abrams, Georgia U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams and voting rights activists.

And if you don’t know what “Hot Call Summer” refers to, ask someone under 40.

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Even though U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, and all Republicans remain opposed to the For the People Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to put the legislation on the floor for a vote later this month.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote a “dear colleague” letter to fellow Democrats to call for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, also known as H.R. 4.. She also expressed her ongoing support of the For the People Act, H.R. 1, which the House has already passed. And she said Lewis would feel the same way.

“H.R. 4 must be passed, but it will not be ready until the fall, and it is not a substitute for H.R. 1,” Pelosi wrote. “Congressman John Lewis wrote 300 pages of H.R. 1 to end voter suppression. H.R. 1/S. 1 must be passed now. It would be our hope to have this pass the House and Senate in a bipartisan way.”

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Don’t be surprised if former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed takes steps to launch his comeback bid as early as Wednesday -- a day ahead of his expected formal announcement of a City Hall bid.

On the same note, veteran Democratic strategist and businessman Tharon Johnson is also seriously considering joining the still-growing field. Time is running out for new entrants: Qualifying is scheduled for August.

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U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has made good on his campaign promise to put his financial assets in a qualified blind trust.

Both of Georgia’s former U.S. senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, faced widespread criticism for actively trading individual stocks in their portfolios during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although neither GOP senator was found to have done anything wrong, the perceived conflicts of interest dogged them on the campaign trail.

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Our AJC colleague Chris Joyner picked up on a disturbing development at this weekend’s GOP convention. From his dispatch:

Dominic Box, a Savannah-area activist with a history of spreading the QAnon conspiracy theory, attended last weekend's state GOP convention as a paid guest.

Box was among the thousands who marched on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, livestreaming the event through a Facebook account of the Chatham County activist group Savannah Freedom Exchange.

Footage from that livestream appears to show Box inside the Capitol. Box lost his job at a local Nissan dealership shortly after the riot, but he is not among the nearly 600 people who have been charged in the incident.

Box, who claims to be a citizen journalist, posted several photos and videos from the convention on Facebook. He also posted a link to a video interview with fellow activist Sarah Thompson, who claimed she was ejected from the convention shortly after arriving.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Three Georgia district attorneys were among nearly 100 attorneys general, prosecutors and law enforcement officials nationwide who signed onto a letter urging Congress to pass election legislation.

Sherry Boston, the DeKalb County DA, Jared Williams, Augusta’s DA, and Deborah Gonzalez, the newly elected top prosecutor in Athens, joined 92 others in criticizing states like Georgia that passed laws limiting access to balloting and the polls, saying these new measures are threats to democracy.

Their letter, sent by the advocacy organization Fair and Just Prosection, encourages Congress to pass both the wide-ranging For the People Act and the more tailored John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“I stand in solidarity with my colleagues,” Boston wrote on Twitter. “Calling for an end to the attack on our democracy. Calling on Congress to act. So much at stake.”

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Despite some 11th hour protests from Republicans that delayed a vote for weeks, the U.S. Senate approved a $250 billion bill to boost tech research and development. The vote on the bill, which is designed to increase American competitiveness in the tech sector, was bipartisan.

Eighteen Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, including Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, in passing the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.

Ossoff and Warnock both worked to increase funding for domestic semiconductor production, which could help solve supply chain issues that temporarily shuttered the Kia Plant in West Point last month.

The House is expected to pass similar legislation in the coming weeks. President Joe Biden has already said he will sign the measure once it reaches his desk.

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There’s a free speech standoff in South Georgia, where a group of activists says a local billboard owner won’t put up their sign that calls for Gov. Brian Kemp to be removed from office.

The Valdosta Daily Times reports that Tom Hochschild, who represents Georgians for the Impeachment of Brian Kemp, wanted to display a billboard with “Stop Voter Suppression” and “Impeach Kemp,” alongside a Republican elephant-imprinted boot crushing the hands of various races reaching out.

More:

He said the Roger Budd Company is refusing to display the billboard even though the group has a month left with the contract, which came about out of a similar issue.

In 2018, the group, known then as Georgians for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, paid for a billboard reading “Impeach" with a picture of President Donald Trump. It lasted a single day before the Roger Budd Company removed the billboard...

Hochschild said the company rejected the Kemp billboard because it now had a policy regarding “negative advertising."

- Valdosta Daily Times

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The next phase of the planned expansion of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle will be “significantly delayed” past its projected January completion, the Public Service Commission will be told later this month.

According to the Augusta Chronicle, testimony from commission staff charged with monitoring progress at the Waynesboro site was posted online ahead of its meeting later this month.

Separate testimony from staff also estimates the Phase 3 expansion will come in $2 billion over its $17 billion budget.

Georgia Power contends that its timeline is achievable. The project has been dogged by delays and cost overruns.

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They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and it would have been harder to think of a stranger combo than disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Rod Blagojevich and Vernon Jones, who were both advertised as the featured guests at an Illinois event later this month, hosted by conservative media host Gary Franchi.

But a spokesman for Jones said the Georgia candidate for governor never accepted the invitation to headline the event and will not attend.

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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.

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