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The Jolt: Keisha Lance Bottoms on the governor’s ‘bizarre’ request for a gag order

Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

After eulogizing the late John Lewis on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Sunday returned to her feud with Gov. Brian Kemp, who has gone to court to block a city ordinance intended to tighten pandemic restrictions on residents.

That includes a masking mandate forbidden by the governor's latest emergency order.

While Kemp has pointed to the George Floyd protests as a cause for a spike in COVID-19 cases In Georgia, Bottoms insisted that the real accelerant was the governor’s decision to reopen the state’s economy in late April, before the state had met federal guidelines on tamping down the virus.

“The governor has done many things as of late and said many things of late that are quite frankly bizarre. He filed a 124-plus page lawsuit against me this week, calling for an emergency injunction to stop me from speaking about his orders,” Bottoms said, holding up a photocopy of the suit. “If the governor of this state had his way, I would not be allowed to speak with you today.

“And so this blame game is most unusual. There were other cities in our state that instituted mask mandates, and he did not push back against them,” the mayor said.

Bottoms has a point here. But first, about the gag order Kemp has requested. On one hand, the mayor has mildly overstated her case.

In the suit, the governor asks for “an interlocutory and permanent injunction to restrain Mayor Bottoms from issuing press releases, or making statements to the press, that she has the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures than are ordered by Governor Kemp.”

On the other hand, it is extremely rare for a governor to seek to silence another elected official over a matter of intense public debate. If anyone out there can cite a precedent, we are all ears.

Now, as for why Kemp has singled out Bottoms for attention -- why has he not challenged similar ordinances in other Georgia cities?

“Perhaps because they were led by men, or perhaps because of the demographics in the city of Atlanta. I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know the science is on our side,” Bottoms said.

Another theory she proffered: when President Donald Trump made a quick visit to Atlanta last week, the mayor noted that he did not wear a mask -- in violation of her city's ordinance.

Friday’s edition of GPB’s “Political Rewind” included legal scholar Fred Smith of Emory University. He, too, thought Governor Kemp’s legal targeting was unusual.

“The language of the [city of Atlanta’s] executive order does use the word ‘require.’ However, there’s no enforcement mechanism,” Smith noted. “There’s no fine associated with it. There’s no jail time. There are cities across the state that actually have an enforcement mechanism. There are fines associated with this. And so, from a legal perspective he picked literally the weakest case.”

On the other hand, those mayors aren’t on national Sunday talk shows, often representing Joe Biden.

Here’s another reason, offered by one of your Political Insiders:

The “phase one” order (pushing additional economic restrictions) was partly the reason Atlanta’s rules were challenged while other cities with mandates were not named as defendants. Though Bottoms described those regulations as voluntary, Kemp said some restaurants were “freaking out” over the rules and others worried they would have to enforce the restrictions.

“Businesses are barely hanging on now,” he said. “They can’t be some city’s police force.”

There are also political implications that likely factored into his decision to target Bottoms, whose once-friendly relationship with the governor has unraveled.

One more thing on this topic. When Governor Kemp or Attorney General Chris Carr -- or their deputies -- go to the Fulton County courthouse to argue their case, they’ll be required to wear masks. From Katheryn Tucker and The Daily Report:

Kemp’s lawsuit has been assigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe. As of Friday afternoon, the judge had not yet scheduled a hearing on the case, according to her senior staff attorney, Jennifer Ventry. An email from chambers included this reminder: “Face masks or facial coverings are required for entry into the Fulton County Courthouse and Justice Center Complex.”

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Strange times, indeed: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has noticeably distanced himself from Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to file a lawsuit challenging Atlanta’s mask mandate and other coronavirus restrictions.

In a CNN appearance last week, Duncan repeatedly dodged a question about whether he supported his ally’s decision and pointedly refused to defend it. Instead, he said the conversation about a mandate “was a distraction.”

Meanwhile, one of Kemp’s biggest Republican rivals -- U.S. Rep. Doug Collins -- came to his defense on the cable TV shows.

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Atlanta lost two civil rights icons on Friday. Early that morning, the Rev. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian passed away at age 95.

Vivian, a leader with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led a 1965 march to the Selma, Ala., courthouse to register to vote. The local sheriff was waiting for the 40 activists. He would punch Vivian so hard that he tumbled down the stairs. But television cameras were rolling, and the incident increased support for the civil rights movement.

Less than a month later, John Lewis – at the time chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – would lead another voting rights march in Selma. State troopers attacked him and others on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they attempted to walk to Montgomery.

Lewis’s prominence grew as his activism led to a career in local and then federal politics. The congressman died on Friday night. He was 80.

There has been a worldwide outpouring of love and grief over the passing of Lewis, who was the last one to die among the “big six” activists who led organizations behind the 1963 March on Washington.

His passing also left the Democratic Party of Georgia with some business to handle, and quickly. Over the weekend, party leaders announced a short application window for Fifth District residents who want to replace Lewis on the ballot in November for a two-year term that begins Jan. 1.

On Sunday, 131 people applied. A nominating committee will forward a list of several finalists to the party’s executive committee, which said it will choose a new nominee by this afternoon.

The front-runner was believed to be Nikema Williams, an Atlanta state senator who is also the chairwoman of the state party. Williams, 41, is a veteran activist with deep ties to the district and to Lewis; her husband was one of his aides.

But several Democratic officials and activists have urged the committee to tap a placeholder – someone who agrees to serve only a two-year term – or another candidate who will resign the seat in January to clear the way for a new vote.

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Just in case you were wondering, we checked in with former mayor and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young last night on whether he wanted to be considered a “placeholder” for the late John Lewis’ seat.

“It’s not just no. It’s hell no,” he chuckled. Also not among the applicants: Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Fulton County Commission chair Robb Pitts.

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House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has an idea about how Republicans praising the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis can honor the civil rights hero’s legacy: Adopt a measure named after him to restore portions of the Voting Rights Act. Said Clyburn on CNN:

“If they so want to celebrate the heroism of this man, then let’s go to work and pass that bill because it’s laid out the way the Supreme Court asked us to lay it out. And if the president were to sign that, then I think that’s what we would do to honor John. It should be the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020. That’s the way to do it. Words may be powerful, but deeds are lasting.”

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue says he will introduce a bill that will dedicate government resources to helping schools reopen this fall. The Safely Creating Healthy Opening Options Locally (SCHOOL) Act establishes a grant program to help districts develop plans, would help connect schools with health care professionals to establish best practices and encourages districts to share data and best practices among each other and the public.

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Over at GPB, Stephen Fowler has done some serious number crunching. From his weekend report:

Ten percent of Georgia’s polling places saw the last person cast their ballot after 8 p.m. on primary election day June 9, with nearly all of them in large metropolitan counties and half of them serving majority-Black precincts.

In all, two-thirds of the 243 voting locations that stayed open more than an hour past polls closed were in majority non-white communities. About 35% of the state’s roughly 2,300 polling places for the primary were majority non-white.

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Fowler used “poll pad check-in data from the secretary of state’s office, an absentee voter file, precinct-level demographic data and an updated list of emergency polling place changes” to compile his stats.

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More on the voting front: Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse reports that more than 700 Georgia voters incorrectly received nonpartisan absentee ballots instead of Democratic or Republican ballots for the state’s upcoming primary runoff election. Those voters are being mailed replacement ballots, along with a letter asking them to destroy their old ballots.

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Candidates in four congressional runoff races participated in debates on Sunday, sometimes sniping at each other in hopes of drawing the attention of voters.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is running for the Republican nomination in the 14th District, faced questions about her ties to QAnon and racist comments she made, downplaying both. Her opponent, Dr. John Cowan, has tried to sell his campaign as comparable to Greene on policy without the troubling behavior.

In the Ninth District, state Rep. Matt Gurtler faced off against gun store owner Andrew Clyde. Gurtler said his experience in the General Assembly, where he was often a dissenting voice even among his own party, makes him the best candidate. Clyde talked up his efforts to limit government overreach, which resulted in a federal law that now bears his name.

Democrats in two runoffs, Joyce Marie Griggs in the First District and Devin Pandy and Brooke Siskin in the Ninth, also debated but are considered long-shots in both races. Siskin was asked about her recent arrest in Gwinnett County after refusing to comply with a judge’s order to surrender her guns. Griggs’ opponent, Lisa Ring, did not participate.

The debates are available online here and they will air on GPB-TV tonight and tomorrow evening.

Early voting for the Aug. 11 runoff is now underway.

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