The Jolt: State House Republicans to pick Ralston successor

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

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

The race for governor is over and voters on Dec. 6 will choose between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker for the U.S. Senate. But a third powerful position in Georgia will be decided this morning.

The race to succeed outgoing state House Speaker David Ralston appears to be a two-way competition between Majority Leader Jon Burns and state Rep. Barry Fleming that could dramatically shift the direction of the chamber.

Burns is running with support from Ralston’s coalition and other key legislators who opted against a run of their own. They include Jan Jones, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican; Matt Hatchett, another high-ranking Republican; and Alan Powell, a legislative veteran.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

Fleming, long a Ralston rival, has his own base of support from the chamber’s more conservative flank, including members of the House’s far-right freedom caucus and Sam Watson, the leader of the powerful House Rural Caucus.

At stake is the consensus-driven politics in the House that Ralston cultivated during his tenure. Over more than a decade in leadership, Ralston shepherded his share of controversial conservative policies through the Legislature, but also worked across party lines to boost mental health programs, overhaul criminal justice laws and tap the brakes on some of the GOP’s more polarizing policies.

Fleming, who was the architect of Georgia’s new voting law, is likely to promise a more assertive — and, sometimes, combative — approach to conservative priorities in the House.

Whoever wins will join Gov. Brian Kemp and incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones on a new three-legged stool of state leadership in the Capitol.

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

BURNS FAN. The Savannah Morning News has more on state Rep. Jon Burns this morning. The House speaker hopeful from Effingham County got high marks from state Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from nearby Savannah.

“There is nobody else qualified to work with both sides,” said Stephens. “When you are speaker of the House, you are speaker of the whole House, not just your party. He is not extremely partisan and I think that might be his best quality.”

Stephens said Fleming is “very knowledgeable as far as maneuvering bills and basically getting the caucus to go along with major issues and usually there’s one or two a year. His strength is in his former whip position.”

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Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

OTHER SHAKEUPS. House Republicans aren’t the only ones picking new leaders.

Senate Republicans tapped John Kennedy of Macon to be the chamber’s next pro tem, Steve Gooch of Dahlonega as majority leader; Randy Robertson of Cataula as majority whip; state Sen. Jason Anavitarte of Dallas as caucus chairman; and state Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan as vice caucus chairman.

Our colleague Maya T. Prabhu also reports that lawmakers opted against paring back any of incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones’ powers.

It puts the Senate on a more conservative — and less predictable — path. Jones, Brass and Robertson are among the more hard-right legislators in the chamber, while Kennedy is a more consensus-driven attorney.

House Democrats will decide their next slate of officers on Nov. 22 . State Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a veteran Columbus lawmaker who was Stacey Abrams’ top deputy in the House, told us she’s planning to challenge House Minority Leader James Beverly.

We’re also told that Billy Mitchell and David Wilkerson — two other members of the House Democratic leadership team — are expecting challengers.

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Credit: Jason Getz /AJC

Credit: Jason Getz /AJC

FULL SPEED AHEAD. The news that Georgia won’t be the deciding vote for control of the chamber didn’t keep U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock or GOP nominee Herschel Walker from hitting the campaign trail this weekend.

Warnock was in Atlanta, while Walker headed to Peachtree City. Greg Bluestein and Shannon McCaffrey have the details:

Warnock said his message would remain the same: Walker is a liar who isn't equipped for the job.

“This election is about who's ready and who's fit to serve the people in Georgia in the U.S. Senate," Warnock said. “It's a race about competence and character. And on both of those scores there is a world of difference between me and Herschel Walker, and so I look forward to prosecuting that case over the next two weeks."

In Peachtree City, Walker delivered the same stump speech he deployed before the midterm…The Republican knocked Warnock and other Democrats for transgender policies and blamed Biden for decades-high inflation.

“You've got to remember that a house divided cannot stand. And that's what Sen. Warnock wants to do. He wants to divide you because he can get your vote," said Walker, adding: “But let me tell you what: He represents himself. That's all he does."

- Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Nicole Craine/The New York Times

Credit: Nicole Craine/The New York Times

TODAY ON THE TRAIL:

  • Herschel Walker kicks off a weeklong statewide bus tour in Augusta this morning with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott;
  • Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis will lead a Democratic event in Augusta to be counter-programming to Walker’s event.

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DEBATE DATE: The Atlanta Press Club has invited U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker to debate each other on Nov. 21.

The Press Club hosted a general election Senate debate in October, but Walker was a no-show. Instead, he and Warnock faced off in a one-on-one debate in Savannah, while Warnock debated Libertarian’s Chase Oliver (and an empty lectern) in Atlanta.

We’ll keep you posted as candidates do — or do not — respond to the invitation to debate next week. But Warnock said Sunday he wasn’t sure whether he’d participate.

“We got three weeks,” Warnock said following an appearance at Morehouse College. “So everything you commit to is some more time. You know, I didn’t do the math (but) someone told me that every day is 4% of the time we’ve got. I don’t know if that’s true or not. You can do the math. But every day is a big commitment.”

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Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

NO SATURDAY VOTING. Because of state holidays during the window available for counties to offer in-person early voting, there will be no early voting on Saturday ahead of the U.S. Senate runoff.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse reports that state law prohibits in-person early voting on Saturdays if a holiday falls within two days before voting begins. And the only Saturday available for early voting comes the day after the state holiday formerly known as Robert E. Lee’s birthday and two days after Thanksgiving.

Counties will be mandated to offer five days of early voting the weekdays prior to the Dec. 6 runoff. They also have the option of offering three additional days, potentially on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward.

Interim Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling had this to say about the schedule: “It’s not our choice. It’s literally in black-letter law that the Saturday following a state holiday cannot be used for early voting. We all thought there was going to be Saturday voting until we looked at the law really closely.”

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Credit: Vino Wong/AJC

Credit: Vino Wong/AJC

TURNOUT TROUBLES. Although Republicans in Georgia were quite successful on Election Day with Gov. Brian Kemp at the top of the ticket, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott still sees room for improvement.

In a recent interview with Newsmax cable network, Scott said that GOP turnout was not as strong as he hoped. He said the number of people who voted on election day fell short of predictions by about 500,000 people, representing likely votes for Republican candidates.

Scott, a Tifton Republican, said Kemp could have won by a higher margin. The implication is these voters also might have supported Herschel Walker, giving him enough of a boost to win outright and avoid a runoff against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“On election day, our get-out-the-vote fell short statewide,” Scott said. “And so, we had hoped that Kemp would be 54-and-a-half (percent of the vote) not 53-and-a-half and potentially hit 55.”

The key in the Senate runoff will again be focusing on turnout, Scott said, particularly in reaching voters who voted when Donald Trump was on the ballot but may not have returned the the polls in the midterms.

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Credit: Erika P. Rodriguez/The New York Times

Credit: Erika P. Rodriguez/The New York Times

MONEY MAYHEM. The weekend headlines have been full of news about the downfall of Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire.

The crypto exchange he founded, FTX, was worth $32 billion earlier this year, but headed for bankruptcy by last week after it was unable to fulfill customer withdrawals.

Bankman-Fried’s name is familiar to many in Washington for the massive lobbying effort he undertook recently to get more favorable regulatory treatment for the crypto industry.

He also spent heavily in the midterm elections, including $1.9 million to support U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in the 7th District Congressional Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux. Voters in the Gwinnett-based district saw reams of ads for McBath from “Protect Our Future PAC”, all paid for by the fallen crypto king.

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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.