The Jolt: Moving toward a fenced-in state Capitol

A sample of proposed fencing at the state Capitol/WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

We are not done with 2020 yet, but already the visuals for the 2022 election cycle are being readied.

An 8-foot fence will soon encircle the state Capitol as part of a $5 million package of security improvements, according to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. Democrats sharply opposed the idea, accusing the Republican of walling off the statehouse from the public.

Kemp’s office said the tall metal fence was a cost-saving measure to prevent damage to the historic statehouse. He signed an order earlier this year to deploy National Guard troops to the Capitol, the Department of Public Safety and the Governor’s Mansion, and stationing 15 troops at the Capitol overnight has cost the state more than $200,000 a month, Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said.

The three sites became targets of protests over the summer, when police brutality triggered demonstrations demanding racial justice. One group of demonstrators caused about $250,000 in damage to the Department of Public Safety building in southeast Atlanta, Hall said.

“It will give us a long-term solution where the Guard was a short-term solution for us,” state Patrol Capt. Jim Wicker, who leads 42 officers tasked with protecting the downtown buildings, told Channel 2 Action News. “Hopefully this fence will eliminate the use for the Guard.”

The $5 million project was approved Monday by the board of the Georgia Building Authority, a group that includes Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Other Republicans also endorsed the plan, including House Speaker David Ralston.

“It was not a political decision and should not be made into a political issue,” said Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for Ralston. “As with similar measures taken at government facilities all over the nation, its sole objective is the protection of the public and their property.”

Democrats are of another mind. “Republicans can build a fence around the state Capitol,” said state Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, via Twitter. “but it won’t protect them from Georgia voters in 27 days.”

Then there was this from state Rep. Jasmine Clark: “The state Capitol is the People’s House — not some untouchable fortress,” said the Gwinnett Democrat. “It should be open and welcoming, not gated and intimidating.”

And state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, took a historical perspective:

“The Georgia Capitol has been witness to more than 130 years of history and over the years the Capitol has been subject to protests from the people for issues that range from the Three Governors Controversy to the fight for civil rights to the March for Our Lives. Not once has a governor responded with the notion to build a wall around the Capitol.”

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What becomes political and what does not is often beyond the control of any one person or group. Sometimes, it is the image itself that makes the call.

Security around the Capitol has indeed been an issue -- particularly since 9/11. Past law enforcement evaluations, noting the proximity of the building to the street, have warned of the Capitol’s vulnerability to assault via vehicles. And so we have had never-ending discussions between state officials and the city of Atlanta over the closing of surrounding streets.

Sample segments of steel fencing are on display at the Capitol. They appear to be oriented toward pedestrian-based threats of the sort that occurred this summer. Those demonstrations, you’ll recall, were focused on the most prominent statue on the state Capitol campus -- a depiction of Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon, who later became the leader of the KKK in Georgia, astride his steed.

Like it or not, that alone ensures that a fenced-in Capitol becomes a hot political topic.

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Yet another sign that President Donald Trump is nervous about Georgia: The Washington Post reported the Republican was set to hold a call last night with volunteers to exhort them to keep working. From the same story:

A GOP group working to elect Senate Republicans conducted polling over the weekend in four states — Colorado, Georgia, Montana and North Carolina — as Trump was hospitalized. The president’s numbers dropped “significantly” in every state, falling by about five points in all four.

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Take this with the requisite grain of salt: An internal poll conducted for the Georgia Republican House Caucus shows House Minority Leader Bob Trammell trailing Republican David Jenkins, 47 to 39%.

While Republicans are on the defensive across most of the state, Trammell is one of the few vulnerable Democrats under intense pressure from the Georgia GOP. His Luthersville-based House District 132 is territory that President Donald Trump won in 2016.

But if you look at the poll’s innards, the picture becomes slightly different. The margin of error is +/- 4.8 percentage points, which means the two candidates could conceivably be tied. Then there is the weighting. The survey assumes a voting pool that is 60% white and 33% Black.

The reality is that the Black voting age population in HD 132 stands at 40%. Black voters make up 39% of those registered. White registered voters stand at 49%. According to Georgiavotes.com, 45.4% of requests for absentee ballot applications have come from Black voters. And 45.7% have come from White voters. In the June 9 primaries, 52 of House District 132 voters chose a Democratic ballot.

Given all that, other measurements in the House GOP poll take on a different cast. Among the other findings: About 54% of HD 132 voters approve of President Donald Trump’s performance; Trump leads Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, 50 to 44%; and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., leads Democrat Jon Ossoff, 49 to 42%.

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America First Action, a pro-Donald Trump PAC, is out with a new ad that attacks former Vice President Joe Biden’s mental state -- a notable move given President Trump’s recent hospitalization. The title: “Not All There.” The ad will run in the Macon, Albany and Savannah markets.

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A letter signed by 120 health care providers has asked the Medical Association of Georgia, the state’s most prominent advocacy arm for doctors, to rescind its endorsement of Republican Rich McCormick in the Seventh District congressional contest.

The letter accuses McCormick of using his platform as an emergency room physician to spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and downplay its effects, including recent comments about herd immunity and a quick vaccine.

The letter echoes concerns raised by the campaign of McCormick’s opponent, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.

“This is not partisan — it’s about medical misinformation,” Dr. Melanie Thompson wrote on Twitter Tuesday, bringing the letter to light.

McCormick has said that he has always spoken about the coronavirus in good faith and has a unique perspective as a doctor on the front lines. His team says medical knowledge of the virus and its severity has evolved over time, something that he and elected officials at every rung of government and from both parties have navigated.

McCormick’s campaign also points out that Thompson has donated more than $10,000 to Bourdeaux’s campaign over the last two cycles.

The Medical Association of Georgia, which is an advocacy arm for doctors, endorsed McCormick in September 2019, well before COVID-19 took hold. He has long been affiliated with the group and its work on eliminating surprise medical billing.

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Mark your calendars for the next round of Atlanta Press Club debates featuring general election candidates in some of the state’s highest-profile races.

The debates will be aired Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week then continue on Oct. 19. The full schedule is available on the APC website.

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In endorsement news: The Georgia Association of Educators, the state’s second-largest advocacy group for education professionals, endorsed Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Seventh District congressional contest.

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