The Jolt: Keisha Lance Bottoms makes the first move to settle pandemic policy dispute with Brian Kemp

May 30, 2020 - Atlanta - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a 9pm curfew as protests continued for a second day. Protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody spread around the United States on Saturday, as his case renewed anger about others involving African Americans, police and race relations. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

A deal may be in the works between Gov. Brian Kemp and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over pandemic policy in the city of Atlanta and the rest of Georgia.

At least that’s what we gathered from last night’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which you can read about here.

One of the first questions aimed at the mayor was about the lawsuit that Kemp has filed against her -- over restrictions on some businesses and a mask requirement imposed by the city. Said Bottoms:

“Ironically, just before joining you, I had a very good conversation with the governor. So we discussed where we disagree and, hopefully, we can figure out a way to agree to disagree without having to play this out in court.

“But at the end of the day, we want the same thing. We want people to be safe, we want to stop the spread of COVID-19. And it certainly doesn’t help when we’re having to fight one another.”

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Cody Hall, a spokesman for Kemp, said it was Bottoms who made the first move:

“Yesterday, the mayor asked the governor to discuss a potential settlement. Their conversation was productive. We have no further comment at this time.”

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A first hearing on the lawsuit scheduled for earlier this week was cancelled after two judges assigned the case recused themselves. A new hearing before a third judge is scheduled for Tuesday.

One thing that might have given Bottom's confidence to reach out to the governor may have been an amicus brief filed Tuesday by the Georgia Municipal Association.

The organization argued that Kemp had overstepped the authority granted him under the state Constitution, and alleged that mask requirements initiated by 100 Georgia cities -- directed at behavior within their own facilities -- were threatened by the governor's action.

Bottoms is scheduled to have a Zoom press conference later this afternoon.

Read the full story here.

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Late Wednesday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, stood in front of a Fox News camera and said the current spike in coronavirus cases in the South and Southwest can be traced too early economic reopenings:

“This time we saw wide virus spread across counties, across rural areas, across more metros and big metros all the way across the south, southwest and west almost simultaneously,” Birx said of the latest coronavirus movement. “So this was an event that we think can be traced to a Memorial Day and opening up and people traveling again and being on vacations.”

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Governor Kemp is having none of it. From an interview with the Marietta Daily Journal published this morning:

“We reopened well over two months ago,” he said. “And you know, our cases declined after reopening. It wasn’t until we got to the Memorial Day weekend, the protest started and the start of summer that we really started seeing our cases go back up.”

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Also from the governor:

“We just got to hit reset, get everybody to hunker down here for four weeks,” Kemp said. “Those have worked well for us in the past to help us flatten the curve and slow the spread. And we know that they’ll do that again. Unfortunately, those things are not getting enforced very much.”

Kemp said public health officials have traced multiple infections to parents throwing backyard graduation parties for their children and churches failing to follow state safety guidelines.

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The state Board of Education was considering a resolution pushing back the start of school statewide until Sept. 8, but officials had a change of heart. Some political context:

Only about 1 in 10 Americans think daycare centers, preschools or K-12 schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. Most think mask requirements and other safety measures are necessary to restart in-person instruction, and roughly 3 in 10 say that teaching kids in classrooms shouldn’t happen at all.

The poll finds only 8% of Americans say K-12 schools should open for normal in-person instruction. Just 14% think they can reopen with minor adjustments, while 46% think major adjustments are needed. Another 31% think instruction should not be in person this fall. It’s little different among the parents of school-age children.

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From this morning’s Gainesville Times: The Northeast Georgia Health System is treating 159 COVID-19 patients as of July 22, an increase of 18 from the day before and 76 from the week before. It is also ties the hospital’s April 29 record for COVID-19 patients being treated.

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Shortly before the Zoom call on Monday to select Rep. John Lewis’ replacement on the ballot, a group of dozens of Democratic activists and officials held a private call.

The topic, we’re told, involved pressuring party leaders to tap someone who would step down shortly after taking office in January -- and trigger a special election open to all comers. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state party, won the spot and doesn’t seem interested in cutting her time in Washington short. But the group hasn’t abandoned their effort.

Their criticism isn’t focused on Williams, a state senator with deep ties to the district. It focuses on a process the activists say was rushed, opaque and unnecessary.

One of the organizers is Maya Dillard Smith, the former ACLU of Georgia official who waged an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in June. Smith said she is upset about the “lack of fundamental fairness, inclusion or transparency.”

She said that party leaders in DeKalb and Fulton counties weren’t part of the nominating committee that selected the finalists, while Clayton officials were excluded entirely. The district spans parts of all three counties.

“The process was rigged and the voters of the Fifth Congressional District — especially in Clayton County — were suppressed without any representation on the nominating committee,” she told us. “Is that how the DPG honors the legacy and name of John Lewis, the profound voting rights champion? Absolutely not.”

Another point of contention: Though the law required Democrats to determine whether to replace Lewis’ name on the ballot by Monday at 4:30 p.m., it didn’t specify that the name of the replacement was needed by that deadline.

State Rep. Able Mable Thomas of Atlanta, one of more than 130 Democrats who applied for the nomination, asked the Office of Legislative Council for an opinion on how to interpret the law. The answer quickly made the rounds.

“The actual name does not have to be provided on the next business day following actual knowledge of the vacancy, only the decision as to whether such vacancy in the nomination will be filled,” wrote Jeff Lanier, the office’s deputy legislative counsel.

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On a somewhat related note, it’s not yet clear whether Nikema Williams will remain as party chair or step down. But vice-chair Ted Terry made clear he won’t take her place.

“At this moment in our political history, the Democratic Party of Georgia should have a woman as its leader,” he said. “My staying as vice chair ensures that will happen.”

Note to non-Democrats: The bylaws of the state Democratic party requires gender-balanced leadership. If the vice-chair is male, then the chair must be female.

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There’s even more outside spending in Georgia’s Senate races than we first realized. A veteran strategist sent us a tally that shows about $60 million in ad money is already on the books.

Pro-Democratic groups have plowed roughly $10 million into the contests, led by the Duty and Honor PAC’s $4.5 million spend and Majority Forward’s $3.5 million. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have each devoted about $1 million so far.

Pro-Republican groups are far outpacing their rivals, with more than $50 million in ads that already aired or are booked in the future.

The biggest spender is U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has already laid out $9 million in ads and has booked at least another $6 million worth of spots.

Close behind is the Senate Leadership Fund, which has logged about $14.2 million in ad spending. U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign has booked another $9 million worth of ads.

The pro-Perdue One Nation PAC doesn’t appear to have aired an ad yet -- but it’s placed more than $8 million for a slate of TV spots set to run the week of Aug. 4. The group is slated to run $2 million worth of ads a week through the month.

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Speaking of ads, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched its second ad in support of U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign. The ad doesn’t mention Perdue; the entire 30 seconds is spent attacking Democratic rival Jon Ossoff.

Perdue’s campaign also has a new ad out, titled “Freedom,” that also focuses heavily on Ossoff attacks.

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U.S. House Democrats have pushed through a measure that would require the removal of statues of Confederate leaders on display in the Capitol building, including Georgia’s Alexander Stephens.

About one-third of House Republicans also supported the measure, but none of the nine from Georgia. (U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk was not at the Capitol Wednesday and missed all votes.)

The bill is largely symbolic since the Republican-led U.S. Senate is unlikely to take it up.

More likely in the coming months is a state-based effort to get rid of the tribute to Stephens, a former congressman and governor who was also vice president of the Confederacy. Legislators are discussing replacing his statue with one of John Lewis.

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has introduced a bill modeled after Georgia’s own anti-gang and violence laws.

The measure expands the criteria that can be used to enhance a person’s sentence after being convicted of gang activity. It also makes it easier to prosecute accused gang members and allows for undocumented immigrants convicted of gang crime to be referred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for possible deportation.

Loeffler’s bill, which she sponsored with fellow Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, also creates a federal database to track gang activity in cities and states.

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The Democratic National Committee’s platform committee, chaired by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, has released its draft document, which was noted for nods to but not a flat out embrace of progressive ideas. More from Politico:

The most contentious debates between moderates and progressives in the drafting of the platform were over health care, criminal justice reform and Israel, according to people involved in the process. Though their deliberations on both the panel and task forces were more hidden from public view compared to 2016, when the intraparty conflict was on display in nationwide meetings about the Democratic agenda, the opposite flanks of the party still fought this year over even small wording changes.

For instance, (Bernie) Sanders aides tried to push moderates to remove language from the platform about the right to “affordable” health care, preferring instead to emphasize the right to simply have health care, said people on the committee. They were largely unsuccessful.

However, progressives did win a positive mention of Medicare for All, despite the fact that Biden opposes the idea. Sanders staffers said that furthers their goal of normalizing single-payer health care.

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In endorsement news:

-- The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List has endorsed Rich McCormick in the general election for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.

-- The Voter Protection Project, a progressive super PAC, is backing Raphael Warnock in the U.S. Senate special election for Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat.

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Many people have been reflecting on their connections to or interactions with U.S. Rep. John Lewis since news of his death Friday night. Here is U.S. Senate candidate Matt Lieberman’s story, which he detailed in a recent campaign email:

“The last time I had the honor to shake his hand was at Atlanta’s Pride parade last fall. In 2000, he placed my dad’s name in nomination for Vice President of the United States, the first Jew to be nominated by a major party in America. I know it meant a lot to our whole family that this hero of civil rights, this great soul, played that important part in our own small part of history.”

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Plans to hold the Republican National Committee in Jacksonville hit another stumbling block last night, according to a Florida Times-Union report on emergency legislation filed by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry:

The bill, which still leaves gaps about how the city plans to handle testing, treatment and the potential spread of coronavirus, grants Curry extraordinary power to spend $33 million in federal security funds how he thinks is necessary.

City Council President Tommy Hazouri told the Times-Union he opposes the bill, though it’s possible he could be persuaded to change his vote depending on the outcome of a Friday council meeting where he’s asked the sheriff and other officials to testify.

The fact that he hasn’t gotten the mayor to commit to be there, he said, is a strike against the bill’s chances of passing. If the bill fails a two-thirds majority vote next Tuesday, Hazouri said, he doesn’t see how the convention could come.

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