The Jolt: His own veto may have pushed Brian Kemp to abandon lawsuit against Atlanta

08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp (left) speaks with U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams before the start of a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. Both GOv. Kemp and Vice Admiral Adams encouraged Georgians to where a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)



08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp (left) speaks with U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams before the start of a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. Both GOv. Kemp and Vice Admiral Adams encouraged Georgians to where a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

On Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he would drop his lawsuit against Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the city of Atlanta over the municipality’s decision to require masks in public spaces – as a means of curbing the pandemic.

As a reason, the governor cited Bottoms’ intransigence in mediation sessions ordered by a federal judge, and said he would issue a rewritten emergency order that would make clear that businesses in the city – think bars and restaurants – don’t have to mind the city’s ordinance.

Kemp has been losing the mask debate – and wasn’t helped by last week’s images of maskless high school students in Paulding and Cherokee counties, whose school systems had made face-coverings a personal choice.

The governor also had to have already seen this piece of information, which ledes today’s AJC:

President Trump's coronavirus task force warns that Georgia continues to see “widespread and expanding community viral spread" and that the state's current policies aren't enough to curtail COVID-19.

The task force “strongly recommends" Georgia adopt a statewide mandate that citizens wear masks, joining a chorus of public health officials, Democrats and others who have warned that Gov. Brian Kemp's refusal to order face coverings has plunged the state into deeper crisis and will prolong recovery.

Businesses, such as nightclubs, bars and gyms, currently open with some restrictions in Georgia, should be closed in the highest risk counties, the report said.

But the legal reason that may have abandoned his lawsuit against Bottoms et al may be more arcane.

In recent years, Georgia trial lawyers have twice successfully pushed through legislation to carve out exceptions to the legal principle of sovereign immunity:

“So as to allow a party to sue a governmental entity for ‘equitable relief,’ i.e., to get an injunction against a governmental action or to get a determination by a court that the governmental action was illegal,” is how one attorney described it to us in an email this morning.

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed one of those bills. Governor Kemp rejected another in 2019, stating that it was necessary that exceptions to sovereign immunity “be appropriately tailored in conjunction with the executive branch to provide pathways for judicial intervention without unduly interfering with the daily operations of the state.”

The city filed a court briefing last month arguing that the lawsuit is barred by sovereign immunity -- in other words, the governor’s own veto may have doomed his chances in front of a judge.

Sachin Varghese, an attorney for the state party, took note of the peculiar circumstances in a tweet.


The banality of matter-of-fact journalism can be riveting, even terrifying. Consider these lines from the Statesboro Herald:

While official records show Bulloch County's COVID-19 death total at 13, there actually have been 16 Bulloch resident fatalities related to the coronavirus.

Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn said the Department of Public Health has not yet listed the recent passing of longtime Statesboro High School basketball coach Lee Hill as one of Bulloch County's COVID-19 fatalities…

Bulloch County EMS responded to calls of two people Monday who were diagnosed with the virus and were deceased upon EMS arrival, he said. This makes 16 the actual number of Bulloch residents who have died with the virus, even if official records still reflect 13, he said.


Last week, a column mentioned the race for House District 106, a Snellville-based contest that pits Republican incumbent Brett Harrell, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, against Democrat Rebecca Mitchell, an epidemiologist specializing in data analysis and the mother of four.

Jill Nolin at the Georgia Recorder has now added this element to the debate:

A Georgia Republican says he thinks the state House of Representatives is just a dozen votes shy of advancing a bill that would abolish the death penalty.

Rep. Brett Harrell of Snellville said Thursday that he thinks highlighting the cost of capital punishment may help win over the support needed, at least in the one chamber. Harrell... said he intends to push for the funding needed to pay for an analysis of how much Georgia spends to execute people.


Add 9/11 truther to the list of baseless conspiracies that Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene has embraced -- though she not has discarded it. Media Matters reported that she promoted the myth that a missile -- and not a plane -- hit the Pentagon in 2001.

In a series of tweets Thursday, she blamed others, not herself, for the lie. Still, it was a rare retreat:

"Some people claimed a missile hit the Pentagon. I now know that is not correct," she tweeted. "The problem is our government lies to us so much to protect the Deep State that it's hard sometimes to know what is real and what is not."


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom Greene called a “bitch” in her victory speech on Tuesday, said she will let Republicans decide how to treat their likely new member. Party leaders will determine which committees Greene sits on if she wins in November.

“It’s a judgment to be made about them as to who they welcome into their ranks,” Pelosi said Thursday. “And again, we all have diversity of opinion, and that’s the beauty of the mix and Congress. But to have behavior that is beneath the dignity of the Congress, that is a judgment about them.”

“I do not apologize for calling her a b****,” Greene tweeted in response. “That’s the nicest word I could think of when trying to describe her. What’s below the dignity of Congress is her impeachment of @realDonaldTrump!”


Sometimes you just have to step back and marvel at a situation in which two Republicans in a U.S. Senate contest can welcome a propagator of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that the nation is secretly controlled by a cabal of pedophiles, even as they argue over who’s the best at hating on their party’s 2012 nominee for president.

Last night, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and incumbent U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler bickered back-and-forth over Mitt Romney, the U.S. senator from Utah who has become a pariah since his vote to impeach the president earlier this year.

And Collins wants to make sure Loeffler’s financial support of Romney comes back to haunt her.

She and her husband donated $1.5 million to his 2012 bid, but didn’t contribute to Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Since joining the Senate this year, Loeffler has worked overtime to curry favor with Trump and distanced herself from former friend Romney.

Tweeted Collins last night: “@KLoeffler has refused to condemn @MittRomney’s actions or answer for the disparity between her financial contributions to he and President Trump.”

Loeffler responded with a screenshot of Collins’ Facebook page in 2012, expressing support for the then-GOP nominee — an attempt to at least neutralize her rival’s attack.

“This you?” she asked.


But does he have one from Chipper Jones’ rookie season: Democratic Senate candidate Matt Lieberman recently reported in federal disclosure documents that he has amassed a trove of baseball cards that’s worth between $15,000 and $50,000.


Rep. Tommy Benton, R - Jefferson, has made controversial statements about the Ku Klux Klan and Southern history. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

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A state House member who has been in hot water before for racially insensitive statements has now weighed on the bipartisan campaign to replace the statue of Confederate leader Alexander Hamilton Stephens in the U.S. Capitol with one of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. From state Rep. Tommy Benton’s interview on WJJC (1270 AM) in Commerce:

Benton: “I notice that there's a movement to replace Alexander Stephens' statue in Washington D.C. with that of John Lewis. I would suggest that before they do something like that, that they take a pilgrimage down to Crawfordville and visit the Alexander Stephens museum, and read all the stuff that he did do.

“Now, the other person they're talking about replacing his statue with -- I have never read of a significant piece of legislation That was passed with his name on it."

Host: “Who is that?"

Benton: “John Lewis. His only claim to fame was that he got conked on the head at the [Edmund] Pettus bridge. And he has milked that for 50 years -- or he milked it for 50 years."

Benton also opposed erecting a statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Capitol grounds and once said the Ku Klux Klan made “people straighten up.”

As for what Stephens did do -- the vice president of the Confederacy is famous for saying that it was a mistake to include in the Declaration of Independence the phrase that “all men are created equal,” and promised that the Confederacy would be built on the foundation of white supremacy.

UPDATES: After this story posted, House Speaker David Ralston stripped Benton from his position as chair of the House Retirement Committee.

Said Ralston:

“The comments made by Representative Benton are offensive and disgusting. These comments do not reflect the values or the views of the House Majority Caucus. I can neither condone nor ignore such hurtful remarks.

“Congressman John Lewis spent a lifetime of public service advancing equality for all. He stood with Dr. King to fight for civil rights during dangerous times for which he paid a brutal price."

- - House Speaker David Ralston


The Cook Political Report has shifted Georgia’s Seventh District congressional race from “toss-up” status to “leans Democrat” as polls show President Donald Trump struggling in the Gwinnett-based district. Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux faces Republican Rich McCormick in November.