The Jolt: Kemp faces test with GOP-backed voting restrictions

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp talks with the media about Georgia’s four mass COVID-19 vaccination sites Monday at the State Operations Center, GEMA, February 22, 2021   STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp talks with the media about Georgia’s four mass COVID-19 vaccination sites Monday at the State Operations Center, GEMA, February 22, 2021 STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Gov. Brian Kemp has taken some evasive action when it comes to the latest GOP proposals to add restrictions to voting.

After strongly endorsing new ID requirements for absentee ballots, the Republican ducked questions about recent measures to limit weekend early voting days, curb the use of ballot drop boxes and curtail no-excuse mail-in voting.

It’s a strategic decision to stay out of the way of the sausage-making in the Legislature, an approach that crystallized Tuesday in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, when Kemp wouldn’t specify where he stands on the pending proposals.

“It depends on what it is and what’s in it” when it reaches his desk, he said.

Not exactly illuminating. And fairly soon, he’s going to have to take a position if he wants to influence the measure before it reaches his desk.

Behind the scenes, we’re told, the governor has taken a sharper stance.

He’s concerned that limiting no-excuse mail-in voting would hurt both parties, people close to him say, and is no fan of measures to end automatic voter registration — an initiative he expanded while he was secretary of state.

Asked for comment, Kemp’s office indicated his relative silence could soon end.

Kemp spokeswoman Mallory Blount said his office plans to work with legislators following next week’s Crossover Day deadline to find a path toward a measure that would make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

“The governor has been respectful of both the House and Senate as different members and leadership have brought forth ideas about how to ensure our elections are kept safe, accessible and fair,” she said.

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On a similar note, Gov. Brian Kemp has kept up his blitz of TV appearances targeting the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which he and other GOP governors say they oppose because the formula that dictates direct aid to state and local governments puts a greater emphasis on jobless rates that tend to hurt states with stronger economies.

Kemp called it a “blue state bailout” and called on U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock -- who both support the measure -- to demand a recalculation of the formula.

And the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber have each sent letters pushing for an overhaul of the funding formula.

Democrats see it as a flawed pretext from Republicans who have already vowed to vote in lockstep against the package. They highlight the $4.6 billion that would go to the state’s coffers and more than $3.5 billion for local governments.

“This robust relief is what Georgians have long needed, but wasn’t possible before,” said Warnock. “And now the Senate needs to get it over the finish line so we can finally get these federal investments out the door and into the hands of Georgians who’ve waited too long for help.”

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Amping up the pressure: Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue used his first TV interview since his election defeat to rail against sweeping nationwide standards for voter access that House Democrats are poised to pass Wednesday.

“It will absolutely clear the field for all these Democratic-leaning imbalances that we saw in Georgia,” Perdue told Fox News on Tuesday, adding that there was an “absolute un-level playing field” in the state.

Here’s where we offer our standard reminder that there was no evidence of widespread voting fraud in Georgia and that multiple counts and audits upheld the election results.

As for Perdue’s decision not to mount a comeback bid, he offered this take: “I think I can be more effective outside of the fight than I could be in the U.S. Senate.”

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Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, who won the Nov. 3 election to represent the 5th Congressional District in the 117th Congress, sat recently for her member portrait. (Courtesy of Nikema Williams)
Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, who won the Nov. 3 election to represent the 5th Congressional District in the 117th Congress, sat recently for her member portrait. (Courtesy of Nikema Williams)

Credit: Courtesy of Nikema Williams

Credit: Courtesy of Nikema Williams

A fight over the next leader of the Illinois Democratic Party has caught the attention of Georgia politicos.

That’s because a law firm that represents the Democratic National Committee issued a memo Monday suggesting that U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly couldn’t lead the party while also serving in Congress.

A partner with the firm asserted that Kelly would “need to resign from federal office” or roll back her duties to avoid a conflict with federal campaign finance law, according to the memo.

The chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Nikema Williams, was elected to Congress in November. But party leaders indicated there’s no issue with Williams staying at the group’s helm.

Sachin Varghese, the party’s counsel, said the organization is “aware of the federal statutes discussed in the memo and is complying with all applicable law.”

Williams isn’t the only member of Congress to also lead her state party. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck is the chairman of the Colorado GOP, and was in federal office when he ran for the post.

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Republican Rich McCormick continues to prepare for a rematch against Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux — long before he knows what the Gwinnett-based district will look like after the political maps are redrawn.

The physician tells us he’s raising money and speaking at local gatherings to prime himself for a run, and to expect a more experienced and better-connected candidate for the 7th District this time around.

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A quartet of Georgia mayors are speaking out in favor of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, which is currently in the hands of the U.S. Senate.

Augusta’s Hardie Davis, South Fulton’s Bill Edwards, Brookhaven’s John Ernst and Union City’s Vince Williams will participate in a virtual press conference sponsored by Protect Our Care, a left-leaning healthcare advocacy group. They are the highest profile Georgia mayors to actively campaign for the new $1.9 trillion relief bill, called the American Rescue Plan.

Democrats have played up support from city and state leaders across the country who stand to receive billions of dollars. Georgia’s slated for about $8.2 billion under the proposal. But the group of mayors will also talk about how the bill includes money for small businesses, healthcare coverage and vaccinations.

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Fantasy Football bet payoff at Waffle House
Fantasy Football bet payoff at Waffle House

Waffle House executives are dipping their toes into the debate over increasing the federal minimum wage.

A company spokesman tells us that the Atlanta-based food chain supports increasing the hourly wage to $12.25 over five years “to allow time for businesses to prepare and give consumers time to absorb the increased costs of their everyday goods.”

Waffle House also wants to index the minimum wage to inflation after that, allowing for automatic increases in the future. The company’s proposal keeps a separate wage for tipped employees intact, increasing it over several years to 50% of the other hourly rate. And a separate wage would be set for teenagers and young adults who work hourly jobs under this proposal.

We are told that Waffle House’s proposals have been reviewed by Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, who may have shared it with others, such as moderate Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

Although a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour over four years is currently in the coronavirus relief package under Senate review, the parliamentarian said it does not adhere to the rules being used to approve the measure and needs to be removed. We expect that to happen, which will put the issue on the back-burner, at least temporarily.

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