The Jolt: Gov. Brian Kemp’s 2022 plans take shape

January 14, 2021 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp exchanges fist-bumps with lawmakers as he leaves after he delivered the State of the State Address to lawmakers in the House Chambers during the 4th day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building on Thursday, January 14, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
January 14, 2021 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp exchanges fist-bumps with lawmakers as he leaves after he delivered the State of the State Address to lawmakers in the House Chambers during the 4th day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building on Thursday, January 14, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Hank Aaron ties, voting laws, and Collins-Loeffler leftovers lead the day

You can call it an evolution of the “Kemp way.” As the Republican governor prepares for a re-election bid, Brian Kemp has brought on a new team of consultants to shape his campaign.

Parlay Marketing Partners — the agency headed by Jeremy Brand and Ryan Mahoney that’s listed in financial disclosures as “Sugarcane Strategies”— will no longer be directly running Kemp’s political strategy.

Instead, Kemp hired Bobby Saparow, the former top aide to U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, to serve as his new campaign manager.

The shift has raised eyebrows in Georgia Republican circles, in part because Ferguson defied Kemp by endorsing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins for Senate instead of Kelly Loeffler, the governor’s appointment.

But it also reflects a new and potentially less combative approach for Kemp, who in late 2020 reshuffled his official office by tapping Trey Kilpatrick, a former Sen. Johnny Isakson chief of staff, as his top aide.

Kilpatrick has quickly made his mark on the governor’s office, perhaps most notably with the more conciliatory State of the State address earlier this month. We’ve picked up word about increased competition for Kemp’s ear between his older hands and the newer cohort.

This doesn’t mean Parlay, the powerful consulting firm that helped Kemp defeat Stacey Abrams in 2018, will be on the sidelines for a potential rematch next year.

We’re told the seasoned strategists were tapped to lead re-election efforts from outside the bubble of the campaign through a network of political organizations, where they can shape their own message without coordination. More news on this front is expected soon.

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Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the state House passage of HB 16, the bill that officially removed the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag.

The change unleashed a torrent of backlash against then-Gov. Roy Barnes and his fellow Democrats, opening the door for Republicans to win over rural white voters and dominate the state’s electoral politics for nearly two decades.

Republicans’ coalition of suburban and rural white voters took a major hit in 2020, when suburban women rejected Donald Trump and fled the party in favor of President Joe Biden and the state’s two new Democratic senators.

Recreating that governing coalition, or finding one that works just as well, is the new task ahead of the GOP if it wants to hold onto the considerable power it maintains to this day.

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The death of Atlanta Braves icon Henry “Hank” Aaron hit home, literally, for U.S. Rep. David Scott. Scott is married to Alfredia Aaron Scott, Hank’s younger sister.

The legend died on Friday at age 86. Former President Bill Clinton and former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig are expected to attend the funeral on Wednesday.

“My wife, Alfredia, Hank Aaron’s sister, and I, and our entire family are deeply saddened at his passing,” Scott, D-Atlanta, said in a statement. “But we know that the Lord said to all of us, ‘let your light shine so that the whole world may see your great works.’ And Hank Aaron did just that.”

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop grew up in the same neighborhood as the Aaron family, in Mobile, Ala. Bishop, an Albany Democrat, says the baseball great’s achievements transcended sports.

“He accomplished great things as an athlete, but more importantly beyond athletics he and his wife have contributed tremendously to numerous charities, which have made a difference in our country and in the Atlanta area,” Bishop said.

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Republican plans to push for changes to voting laws this session in the Georgia General Assembly are well documented.

But Politico’s Zach Montelarro reports that Georgia is just one of several states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Wisconsin, where Republicans are also looking to add restrictions to voting access.

Not only is the effort broader than it first appeared, former president Donald Trump could also get involved. Jason Miller, an adviser to Trump, told conservative website JusttheNews.com last week that voting laws will be Trump’s primary focus post-White House and that he plans to involve himself directly in state legislative processes after months of pressuring states to illegally change the results of the 2020 election.

“You’re going to see him emerge as the nation’s leader on ballot and voting integrity,” Miller said.

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Could the epic battle that raged between former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins be headed for a rematch?

Supporters of the two Republicans have both rumbled about a 2022 campaign — this time against now-incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who took advantage of the GOP infighting to help fuel his runoff victory.

Allies of both are pointing fingers about which Republican is to blame for the stunning upset earlier this month.

Loeffler’s camp blames Collins for entering the race, forcing her to run to the party’s right flank and shift her attention to battering her fellow Republican rather than attacking Warnock.

Collins’ former hands say the infighting could have been avoided if Gov. Brain Kemp and other Republican leaders supported changing the law to create a partisan primary to filter out nominees, rather than the free-for-all special election mayhem of November.

Dan McLagan, Collins’ former aide, said as much in a lengthy statement. He’s no longer a spokesman for the congressman and is instead speaking personally. But his words carry the weight of the Collins circle. Here’s what he said:

“This result was totally predictable. In fact we predicted it. A terrible candidate with no core values can buy their way on stage, but as soon as they open their mouths, the audience knows they were duped.

“I don’t even think it was the governor’s fault. His political guys saw an opportunity to make millions and convinced him it was a genius move.

“No Kelly — or at least a primary — would have meant no stock scandal hanging on both her and David Perdue, no Trump feud, no divided GOP in November, no awful awkward candidate. Trump would have probably won Georgia, and we’d have two GOP senators.

“You can spend $100 million telling people that a cat is a dog or that Pepsi is better than Coke or there’s such a thing as barbecue in the North, but they ain’t going to buy it. She was a phony and all her money couldn’t change that.”

Loeffler ally Eric Tanenblatt said those remarks smack of “sour grapes” after Collins came in third-place in the November election by roughly six percentage points. Said Tanenblatt:

“The Republican donors and activists I speak with say Doug is the one who is partially to blame. The governor has the right to appoint to that position, and when he appointed Kelly, I assumed Republicans would line up behind her. But Doug getting in the race muddied all that up. It created a primary in a general election and caused a split in the party. And it let Raphael Warnock walk into this runoff with high favorability ratings.

“Had we not had a contentious primary, David Perdue might have gotten the votes he needed to win — and Donald Trump might have won Georgia. We ended up getting a civil war.”

Still, Tanenblatt added, Collins isn’t the primary source of the rift. He pinned that blame on former President Donald Trump, whose false claims of widespread fraud sent confusing messages to the GOP base.

“We were not unified. David and Kelly did everything they could,” he said. “We had a president more interested in his own issues — and it created division in the party.”

***

Speaking of 2022, the Savannah Morning News floats the idea that Al Scott, the former state representative, state senator, labor commissioner, and chairman of the Chatham County Commissioner, could be eying a challenge to U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter.

Editorial page editor Adam Van Brimmer points to Scott’s comment during a local podcast as evidence. “The only thing I haven’t done in my political life that I used to daydream about is go to Congress,” Scott said.

Van Brimmer makes his case for a Scott candidacy and Carter defeat and writes:

“This wasn’t some offhand remark to an unexpected question. Scott was sending a message.

“To those who thought Scott’s public service career was at an end and that he was eager, at age 73, to retire from politics — you were wrong.”

***

We told you last week about the Hebrew scripture that U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff used for his swearing in to the Senate.

The book of scripture once belonged to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the leader of Atlanta’s famed Temple synagogue in 1958 when white supremacists bombed it in retaliation for Rothschild’s partnership with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

Rothschild’s widow, Janice Rothschild Blumberg, writes a personal essay in The Forward about what it meant to see Ossoff use her late-husband’s chumash on the Senate floor.

“Spreading a warm glow over the entire moment, for me, is the connection that chumash invokes recalling our friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King. We grew close to them in the years after the bombing, and seeing Ossoff sworn in on my husband's book alongside Rev. Raphael Warnock, I felt such joy imaging how they and Jack might react to the moment.

“I like to imagine Martin and Coretta holding hands as they look down on us, smiling and singing “We Shall Overcome." We're not there yet, but today is a wonderful milestone along the journey."

- The Forward

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Matt Hennie over at Project Q Atlanta has fascinating context about the unanimous vote last week that made Everton Blair, Jr. the chair of the Gwinnett County School Board.

Blair is the first Black and first openly gay member to serve on the board, but his history-making appointment spans beyond Georgia. Writes Hennie:

He is one of about two-dozen LGBTQ school board members in the U.S. and apparently is the only gay school board president in the country, according to the Victory Institute.

… Blair replaces (Louise) Radloff as chair. In July, Radloff was heavily criticized after complaining to Wilbanks that “I could strangle" Blair. The remark came at the end of a school board meeting and was caught on a live microphone.

“Things come full circle for a reason," Blair said Friday.

- Project Q Atlanta

Radloff later apologized to Blair and told the Gwinnett Daily Post her comment had been “out of order,” but the damage, for many, was done.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneer Leonard Fournette carried a special message on his uniform as his team won the National Football Conference championship on Sunday.

The name “Jordan Davis” was written on the back of the running back’s helmet as part of the NFL’s “Say Their Stories” initiative to bring awareness to systemic racism. Jordan Davis is the son of U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.

The teenager was killed in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2012 by a white man who was unhappy about the loud music coming from the Black youth’s vehicle. Davis’s death compelled McBath to first become a gun control advocate and, later, to run for Congress. Fournette played for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2017 to 2020.

“It makes no sense to be killed playing your own music...It’s just crazy how that happened to a young man like that,” Fournette said in an NFL video about the initiative. “That could have been our family member, our child, our cousin. NFL players are wearing these names because we want these names to be remembered and heard.”

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A task force created by Decatur’s mayor and a DeKalb County commissioner has recommended that a tribute to the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis replace the Confederate monument that was removed last year from the center of town.

Lewis’s Fifth Congressional District included a large part of DeKalb County. The Confederate obelisk that had stood in Decatur square for more than 100 years was removed about a month before Lewis died of pancreatic cancer in July, reports the AJC’s Tyler Estep.

Community groups and activists had already suggested honoring Lewis at the site and a new report by a task force assembled by Mayor Patti Garrett and County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson has now recommended the same.

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