The Jolt: Politics unmasked after new COVID restrictions: ‘NO WAY!’ says GOP

News and analysis from the politics team at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Business leaders hoped for a thaw in the tensions between Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after the Democrat announced she wouldn’t seek another term. But developments on Thursday reminded us that’s not happening.

Pressed on Atlanta’s renewed mask mandate on Thursday, the governor went after his favorite target not-named-Stacey-Abrams.

“The city of Atlanta can’t keep up with violent crime right now. I know these officers damn well don’t have time to be writing tickets for not being masked up. I mean that is ridiculous, in my opinion. Georgians don’t need that.”

A few hours later, Bottoms commented on social media for the first time on the mandate.

“What’s ridiculous is that his strategy w/ crime seems to be the same as his strategy w/ COVID, to pick a fight w/ me. Vaccinations are down and crime and COVID are up across GA. He should stop trying to win an election by trashing Atlanta, the capital city of the state he leads.”

Kemp also laid some of the blame on Georgia’s soaring coronavirus rates on “mixed messages” from the Biden administration and a refusal to fast-track federal approval of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, now under emergency authorization.

But his critique of mask mandates is part of a larger GOP rallying cry that’s focused on new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging the use of masks indoors in places, including schools, where the virus is surging.

“My response to the CDC requiring our kids to wear masks: NO WAY! We’re going to fight to take our country back,” tweeted Mike Collins, a congressional candidate running for a conservative east Georgia district, along with a video of him blow-torching a paper mask.

Senate candidate Gary Black sent out a press release rejecting mask mandates in schools “while illegal immigrants with virus are shipped across the country.”

“Politics, not science, guide mask mandates,” he wrote about Democrats, although there are plenty of unmasked politics to go around.

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A new voting bill will soon be introduced by Senate Democrats, and it might attempt to override parts of Georgia’s voting laws, our AJC colleague Mark Niesse reports.

U.S. Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar and Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon featured Georgia during a Zoom call with reporters Thursday on their efforts for revised voting rights legislation.

Senate Republicans used filibuster rules last month to block debate on an earlier measure.

Cannon, who was arrested as she knocked on Gov. Brian Kemp’s door when he was signing Georgia’s voting bill, said it will be difficult to overcome voting restrictions and win elections without federal intervention.

“It may be possible to out-organize some of the voter suppression, but it is labor, and it is an undue burden on already disenfranchised people,” said Cannon, a Democrat from Atlanta. “We need our congressional leaders to instate national protections to the ballot box so that we can exercise our right and our freedom to vote.”

Klobuchar said Georgia is “Exhibit A” for why federal voting protections are needed.

“This is too important. We cannot let this moment pass,” said Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who held a Senate hearing in Atlanta last week.

Klobuchar highlighted parts of Georgia’s voting law such as a reduction in the number of ballot drop boxes, a shortened runoff period that prevents new voter registrations, as well as the ability for state officials to take over county election boards. Republican legislators started the takeover process in Fulton County this week.

It’s unclear what will be in the bill, but Klobuchar mentioned preventing gerrymandering, protecting voting by mail, allowing automatic voter registration and stopping subversion of election results.

Klobuchar said she will work with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has so far resisted changing filibuster rules, to find a way to move a bill forward.

“This isn’t one of those, ‘Oh, maybe we’ll get it done,’” Klobuchar said.

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U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde may have come up with an ingenious way to avoid paying the $15,000 he owes for refusing to pass through metal detectors stationed outside the House floor.

His colleague from Kentucky, Rep. Thomas Massie, told a CNN reporter this week that Clyde changed the federal withholding amounts of his paycheck so that he only receives $1 each pay period. That way, House officials were unable to dock his pay for the fine. And Clyde will get all his money back when he files his taxes via a refund, according to Massie’s telling.

We checked in with Clyde’s office to verify details in the CNN report. His chief of staff, Nicholas Brown, said Massie had gotten a detail wrong to CNN. Clyde received fines for going around the metal detectors, not for refusing to wear a mask on the House floor as Massie said. (Massie has been fined for not wearing a mask.)

But Brown avoided our other questions, including whether Clyde had indeed changed his withholding to avoid paying other fines. And CNN is standing by the meat of its reporting.

Which brings us to another question: If Clyde used this maneuver to avoid paying the fine, does he have standing to sue House officials over the matter? The lawsuit he filed in June says that the fines are unconstitutional and unequally enforced between Republicans and Democrats.

If anyone knows his way around a tax-related kerfuffle, it’s Clyde. The congressman once sued the IRS after the agency froze nearly $1 million of his assets because of his bank deposit patterns.

Clyde successfully lobbied Congress to change the civil asset forfeiture law and later made the episode the focal point of his 2020 campaign.

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We told you earlier this week that U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz cut a press conference short. It had been intended to highlight what they consider unfair treatment of people jailed for participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Greene, Gaetz and other far-right lawmakers took a different approach on Thursday, showing up in the lobby of a federal corrections facility where some of those accused are being held.

They demanded access to inspect the place. Instead supervisors told the lawmakers to leave or risk being charged with trespassing.

The visit was unannounced, but the lawmakers invited cameras from Right Side Broadcasting Network, a website best known for live streaming events hosted by former President Donald Trump, the film the stunt. The video later landed on social media.

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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new policy this week intended to help families that own farmland passed down through generations afford to resolve disputes that arise from “heirs’ property.”

The AJC has reported over the years about the impact on Georgia families from this phenomenon, which occurs after a person dies and leaves land to family members without a will or documents to create a clear ownership structure.

The new USDA program provides low-interest loans to families so they can settle disputes or paperwork issues without losing or giving up their property in the process.

The Department will put $67 million behind the new Heirs’ Property Relending Program.

“While those affected are in all geographic and cultural areas, many Black farmers and other groups who have experienced historic discrimination have inherited heirs’ property,” Vilsack said in a news release.

“USDA is committed to revising policies to be more equitable and examining barriers faced by heirs’ property owners is part of that effort. This helps ensure that we protect the legacy of these family farms for generations to come.”

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We’re sending our best Jolt wishes to WSB-TV anchor Jovita Moore, who has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Moore’s doctors discovered the cancer after she had to undergo brain surgery in April.

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Sad news: Longtime Public Service Commissioner Doug Everett died this week. The Cordele native also represented his Albany-area district in the state House of Representatives for three terms and later served on the Board of Directors of the Georgia AgriRama Development Authority.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.