The Jolt: Prepare for surprises this week in Georgia politics

200302-ATLANTA-Henry Mathis waits to qualify as a Democrat to run for Georgia House district 153 Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special

Credit: Ben@bengray.com

Credit: Ben@bengray.com

200302-ATLANTA-Henry Mathis waits to qualify as a Democrat to run for Georgia House district 153 Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special

It’s going to be a wild week under the Gold Dome.

Over the next five days, hundreds of office-seekers will line up to run for governor, the U.S. Senate, every statewide constitutional office, 14 U.S. House seats and all 236 spots in the General Assembly.

You can find a rundown of what to expect during the qualifying period over here.

Expect some surprises, such as former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall’s announcement late Sunday that he’ll run for lieutenant governor. Hall, a Democrat, also briefly served in the U.S. House.

The hectic qualifying period clashes with a pivotal moment in the legislative session.

Next Tuesday will mark Crossover Day, the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber, and lawmakers will scramble to advance their proposals this week.

Our AJC colleagues Mark Niesse and Maya T. Prabhu outlined a few key measures they’re watching:

Elections: No major voting bills have gained traction yet, but that could change this week. As deadlines approach, legislators may consider proposals to open original paper ballots to public inspection, allow the GBI to take over fraud investigations, ban drop boxes and add identifying serial numbers to ballots.

Medical marijuana: Competing bills in the House aim to end a logjam that has prevented registered patients from being able to buy cannabis oil.

Mental health: A comprehensive bipartisan effort to bolster mental health services is almost certain to advance. House Bill 1013 is a priority of House Speaker David Ralston and other legislative leaders.

Legislator pay: House lawmakers are considering asking voters whether to increase their $17,000-a-year salary. The proposal would amend the Georgia Constitution to boost pay to about $36,000.

Gambling: Two key efforts remain in play. The first would allow Georgia voters to decide if gambling should be expanded to include horse racing. The second, which has been marinating in the House since last year, would ask voters to legalize sports betting.

Social media regulation: A group of GOP senators want to make Georgia the first state in the country to prevent Facebook, Twitter and other big tech companies from what they say is censorship of conservative political views. The bill is scheduled for floor debate on Tuesday.

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Senate candidate Herschel Walker wasn’t the only big name to skip U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s pro-gun rally. Steve Bannon, the far-right strategist, also didn’t make it to the Rome event.

Two other statewide contenders trekked to Greene’s shindig despite the criticism about her speech to a pro-Russia white nationalist group. Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice both spoke to a crowd of a few hundred people at the local fairgrounds.

Perdue gave his usual stump speech with a twist: He argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine should prod Georgia lawmakers to roll back gun restrictions.

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POSTED: A first look at the contest in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, where both Republicans and Democrats are lining up to challenge U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

But with millions in the bank, a national following among conservatives and a deep red district, the Republican incumbent will be tough to knock off.

That hasn’t stopped Greene’s opponents from making the case that her pariah status makes her vulnerable.

This is a race we will be watching closely, and this curtain-raiser will get you up to speed.

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The intrepid Riley Bunch of GPB News highlighted a Republican-backed Senate proposal that would ban local governments from using federal funds to build housing for the homeless.

The measure, known as the “Reducing Street Homelessness Act,” would also penalize cities that have higher homeless populations and make it a misdemeanor crime to take shelter on state property.

Democrats described it as an attempt to criminalize poverty. State Rep. Josh McLaurin called the idea “despicable.”

And state Rep. Bee Nguyen said that if the GOP was interested in combating homelessness then lawmakers should consider “livable wages, investing in public education + transit, expanding Medicaid” and other measures.

02/09/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) speaks in opposition of HB 112 in the House Chambers on day 14 of the Georgia Legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Tuesday, February 9, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

icon to expand image

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Over in the 10th District, former Democrat Vernon Jones stormed out of a GOP event in Jackson County on Saturday after venting his anger about the speaking order.

Jones, who has tried to remake himself as a pro-Trump Republican, accused organizers of “parlor tricks” because he was selected to speak first rather than second.

“Give your stump, let’s go,” said an organizer as Jones complained.

“We all know what you are now,” said an attendee as he stomped off.

“I’m not going to subject myself to this,” Jones huffed.

Republican Mike Collins, the frontrunner in the race, was quick to needle Jones about his tantrum. His campaign tweeted: “We need fighters in Congress. Not Karens.”

In an interview with WDUN, Collins was just as scathing.

”Donald Trump didn’t endorse Vernon Jones to run for Congress. He endorsed Vernon Jones to get out of that governor’s race. He wouldn’t have cared if Vernon Jones ran for dog catcher — he would have endorsed him for that. It was kind of like the “Art of the Deal” — Donald Trump got what he wanted, and [Vernon Jones] negotiated his way out of the race that he was in.”

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This week, federal lawmakers are expected to wrap up a spending plan to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

But to buy enough time for its final passage, Congress may need to pass another stop-gap spending bill because current funding runs out on Friday.

That larger spending bill will likely include emergency aid to Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

President Joe Biden has requested $10 billion that would be used for humanitarian aid as refugees flee to neighboring countries, as well as weapons and economic support within Ukraine.

Biden also wants $22.5 billion in new coronavirus spending for testing, vaccines and treatments, though it doesn’t look like there is much appetite to add that to the package.

Also, look for more debate about whether to enact stiffer sanctions against Russia. That could include banning the import of Russian oil to the U.S., new tariffs and a move to deny Russia access to the World Trade Organization, according to a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Sunday.

Those economic sanctions, of course, will be felt here in the U.S.

With gas prices already nearing record levels, there is concern that additional limits on energy imports could send the price at the pump soaring even higher – and fuel more GOP attacks against Biden’s administration.

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Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has a new gig. The veteran litigator has joined Squire Patton Boggs’ Atlanta office, according to the Daily Report. The law firm also recently hired Randy Evans, the GOP attorney and former ambassador to Luxembourg during the Trump administration.

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Friday updates from the Gold Dome:

  • The Georgia House adopted a bill that Gov. Brian Kemp markets as a way to protect parents’ rights to know what goes on in classrooms, the AJC’s Ty Tagami reported. Every Republican and one Democrat voted in favor of House Bill 1178, and companion legislation already passed in the Senate.
  • The House also passed HB 1084, which limit what type of race discussions can happen in classrooms. Read about the party-line vote here.
  • Meanwhile, the Senate signed off on a bill that would ban any state or local agency, government or school from requiring COVID-19 vaccination, as reported by Maya T. Prabhu.

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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.

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