The Jolt: The GOP bigwigs schooling Herschel Walker on federal policy
News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: Steve Schaefer
Herschel Walker speaks to journalists after filling out his paperwork to qualify to run for the U.S. Senate at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, Mar. 7, 2022. Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Herschel Walker ‘s campaign has been restricting access to their candidate with mostly closed GOP events and friendly Fox News and sports interviews ahead of his May 24 GOP primary for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat.
But they’re also working to get the first-time candidate quickly up to speed on an array of federal and state issues with conversations and sit down sessions with GOP heavyweights during what the campaign blocks out on his schedule as “policy time.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has traveled to Georgia for policy time with Walker, as has former House Speaker (and notorious policy wonk) Newt Gingrich, who headed to Walker’s campaign headquarters for a sit down session.
Walker also speaks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at least once a week to pepper the Kentucky Republican with policy questions. A recent visit to Mar-a-Lago included a session with Texas U.S. Ted Cruz on constitutional issues and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Had a fantastic time visiting today with the great @HerschelWalker and then interviewing him in front of hundreds of supporters & patriots at Mar-A-Lago.
He is also in touch with other GOP senators who have endorsed him, including Iowa’s Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, on various policy issues.
“And of course he speaks regularly with the former president,” a source close to Walker said, including Donald Trump as a person with input on Walker’s policy portfolio.
Along with never having run for office before, Walker has also spent the majority of his adult life outside of the state he wants to represent in Congress.
So along with the policy downloads from lawmakers and former elected officials, Walker’s schedule includes “listening sessions” around the state to get up to speed on how federal issues are affecting Georgia interests.
Those listening sessions have included hospital leaders, businesses, mental health care providers, educators, and others who can inform Walker’s thinking on issues.
Although Walker has mostly avoided discussing policy details in the interviews and appearances he’s done so far, the gaffes he has made resulted in national headlines.
He referred to Georgia’s late U.S. Rep. John Lewis as a senator and said the voting rights icon would have opposed the Democratic voting rights bill named in his honor. He has also said NATO hadn’t been supporting Ukraine and, at a recent Trump rally, referred to Critical Race Theory as “CTR.”
Voters may soon see the results of “policy time” as the May primary approaches and, if Walker wins, he is pressed to speak in more detail on federal issues and, eventually, debate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s support for “permit-less carry” legislation helped him emerge from a crowded Republican primary in 2018.
But it took more than three years for Kemp to sign the legislation, a fact that David Perdue and Kemp’s other GOP critics are quick to point out.
That was no outlier. Gov. Nathan Deal never forcefully embraced the legislation during his eight years in office, despite efforts from pro-gun groups to push it forward. Ditto for Sonny Perdue, who assiduously courted the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment groups.
We talked with a number of key legislators and GOP officials to piece together how the legislation, which lets Georgians carry concealed handguns without a permit, crossed the finish line.
House leaders had blocked similar legislation in 2021 after a spate of deadly shootings at metro Atlanta spas. But Kemp’s office decided to make it a priority months later, and the governor began talking up the issue in interviews and at events in the fall.
When House Speaker David Ralston indicated to a grassroots group in December that he was open to the legislation, Kemp was “off to the races,” one official said.
State Rep. Rick Jasperse, long a proponent of the measure, remembers a meeting in early January with the governor and legislative leaders.
“This is one of his campaign promises. It was time for it to happen,” said Jasperse. “But we needed his support. It couldn’t have happened without him. It’s just the right moment.”
State Sen. Jason Anavitarte, a freshman legislator who sponsored the measure, spent weeks lobbying his GOP colleagues to back the bill.
“We all knew we wanted to get it done. It was a matter of putting our egos aside and we knew for our caucuses and to the governor it was important, and that preempted anything else that could get in the way.”
Kemp said two other developments helped win over reluctant GOP legislators, who backed the measure on a party-line vote. The protests for social justice that rocked Atlanta and other cities in 2020 galvanized conservatives, who started framing the measure as a public safety proposal. And pandemic-related delays for permits added fuel to their demands.
“When you have local probate judges that are taking a year or for 16 months to issue concealed weapons permits, people can’t wait that long when people are shooting your neighborhoods up,” Kemp said.
He added: “The votes hadn’t been there, but a lot changed during Covid.”
State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, sat down for a candid look back at the 2022 legislative session of the General Assembly with the Savannah Morning News this week. Among other things, he said he was “nauseated” by last-minute opposition to the Mental Health Parity Act. More:
“Speaking specifically about the opposition to the mental health bill, this is one of the things that honestly makes me nauseated. The idea that people who claim to be Republicans would connect dots that don't exist makes me pretty ashamed. Unfortunately, you've got extremists on both sides, and we've got our share.
“Some long-timers say the extremists are noisy but they can never win on a long-term basis. But unfortunately, the extremists have taken over in certain parts of our state. I suspect some of this stuff, this embrace of more partisan positions and legislation, is going to continue."
- State Rep. Ron Stevens, The Savannah Morning News
The Low Country Republican also praised recently elected state Rep. Edna Jackson, a Democrat, for bringing “a sense of calm” to the Savannah delegation, calling her “a rock, quite honestly.”
Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign will release two new ads today, both focused on the governor’s April 2020 decision to lift pandemic lockdown measures in Georgia ahead of any other state. The move left even then-president Donald Trump criticizing Kemp for reopening too soon.
The first ad features Kemp saying, “We chose freedom over government lockdowns...and you know what? We were right.”
The second ad includes both Stacey Abrams and Dr. Anthony Fauci calling Kemp’s decision premature, along with Georgia business owners praising the choice. “I think it took a lot of backbone,” says one.
The battle is on over the proposed City of East Cobb, with cityhood proponents accusing the Cobb County government of breaking state law with an “awareness campaign” they say advocates against cityhood.
The East Cobb Cityhood Committee sent the county a letter Monday night alleging it has violated state law by advocating against the May 24 referendum, under the guise of education. While county officials have insisted they're neutral on the issue, the letter charges its efforts to date have contained “implicit and explicit bias."
The committee proceeds to outline more than a dozen instances in which it says county commissioners and staff stepped over the line of neutrality. The county's statement that the formation of all four new cities — East Cobb, Vinings, Lost Mountain and Mableton — would cost it $45 million in revenue appears to have particularly rankled the pro-cityhood group.
- Marietta Daily Journal
The Democratic Party’s campaignarm for U.S. Senate races announced digital ads planned for Black-focused media in five battleground states, including Georgia. The ads blast Republicans for voting against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to join the Supreme Court.
“Senate Republicans tried to stop her,” the ad reads. “We must defend the Democratic Senate.”
The ad doesn’t mention any candidates by name. But here in Georgia it is meant to help U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock defend a challenge from several Republican challengers, including Herschel Walker.
The ad is running on the homepages of the Atlanta Voice and Black publications in Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Durham, N.C..
Tax Day is upon us on Monday. And the Democratic National Committee is launching a digital ad buy in Georgia targeting people Googling tax services.