The Jolt: The new power players in Georgia’s new politics

From left, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock wave after a campaign event with President-elect Joe Biden in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Their wins in runoff elections Tuesday gave Democrats control of the Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
From left, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock wave after a campaign event with President-elect Joe Biden in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Their wins in runoff elections Tuesday gave Democrats control of the Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Credit: wire

Credit: wire

New senators, new chairmen, and a new AJC columnist lead the day

It’s Inauguration Week in Washington and Georgians will play a major role in the new balance of power. But watch closely and you’ll see new power dynamics in motion under the Gold Dome, too.

The state is expected to certify Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock’s runoff victories today, and they could be sworn in on the Senate floor as early as Wednesday afternoon, just hours after Joe Biden takes office.

From there, the Senate will have a 50-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. The man appointed by California’s governor to take her place in the Senate, Alex Padilla, will likely be sworn in at the same time as Warnock and Ossoff.

These three new senators will instantly be thrown into the fire with confirmations for Biden appointees and a second impeachment trial for Trump.

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Speaking of Washington: You’ve seen the pictures and two insiders can confirm it’s just as apocalyptic as you think it is. Fencing, police and National Guard troops everywhere. The tourists who venture to the “red zone” that encompasses the National Mall and U.S. Capitol find an impenetrable perimeter. All they can do is walk empty streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the landmarks blocks away.

And folks are on edge. The entire complex was locked down Monday after a blast nearby. Police ultimately determined the fire and smoke came from a nearby homeless encampment where someone was using propane that ignited. But it shows that law enforcement and security officials are taking no chances after being caught under-staffed and under-prepared for the Jan. 6 mob at the Capitol.

The public won’t be allowed anywhere near the swearing in. The parade has gone virtual, and there will be no jaunting between inaugural balls because ….there are no inaugural balls. The best bet is to view the events aired live on TV or the inauguration committee’s various streaming channels.

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President Donald Trump will take his final flight from Washington on Wednesday morning, likely headed to Florida.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams wants to make sure he never comes back. The Atlanta Democrat has filed a bill that would bar Trump from ever stepping foot inside the U.S. Capitol, saying that is the price he should pay for inciting the protests that turned into riots earlier this month.

“President Trump has shown time and time again that he is a danger to our democracy and a threat to the country,” Williams tells your Insiders. “His actions on January 6 caused a deadly attack on the Capitol and for that reason he should not be allowed into the Capitol.”

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It’s Budget Week in Georgia for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. One-by-one, and sometimes two-by-two, state department heads will appear before the committees to detail their mid-year and proposed budgets and justify every dollar.

Today, look for Gov. Brian Kemp, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, and Ag Commissioner Gary Black, among others, all expected to focus on COVID-19 pandemic needs.

It’s the first full appropriations cycle for Senate Chairman Blake Tillery, the 37-year-old from Vidalia who took over the chairmanship after the late Chairman Jack Hill died unexpectedly last year.

Tillery is decades younger than many of his fellow senators, but he gets high marks from his colleagues who describe him as “solid” and “capable.”

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ROUND TWO. We told you last week about the GOP rift in the state Senate between Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and three senators — after the senators backed attempts to overturn the presidential vote in Georgia and Duncan bounced them from key committee chairmanships or posts.

Now one of those senators, Burt Jones of Jackson, has given a scorching interview to Oconee Radio Group’s Rahul Bali about Duncan’s move. You’ll want to listen to the whole thing, but here’s a bite:

“When we got back in the session, instead of getting behind closed doors and talking through whatever issues he might have had with us, (Duncan) just decided to get his ‘yes men’ on the committee, handpicked people on the committee, and to strip us of our chairmanships, I guess trying to publicly embarrass us maybe. I don’t know. But anyway, that’s a cowardly way and kind of petty politics. But that’s fine. That’s politics. I get it.”

Jones also said he didn’t particularly like his chairmanship anyway, and added that we should all stay tuned. “What comes around goes around in this building.”

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POSTED: You already know Washington is locked down. But over the weekend, the Georgia State Capitol was under heavy protection, too, in the face of domestic terror threats against capital cities across the country.

The AJC visuals team, including Curtis Compton, captured the scene.

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In her final hours in the U.S. Senate, Republican Kelly Loeffler announced she’s giving her last Senate paycheck to the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

Loeffler said the donation is in honor of the two Capitol Police officers killed in the Jan. 6th Capitol siege, including one who died by suicide following the attack.

The wealthy former executive committed to donate her Senate pay when she was appointed to the office by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, and she’s given to about 40 different charities and organizations over the last year. Many of those beneficiaries have been anti-abortion pregnancy centers in Georgia.

The outgoing senator might also be in the last stage of her other venture, co-ownership of the Atlanta Dream WNBA franchise. The Washington Post reported Monday that co-owner Mary Brock, is expected to sell her half-share soon. An NBA spokesman said the sale is “close to being finalized.”

It’s not clear whether Loeffler will sell her ownership stake in the franchise, too, though she’s faced intense pressure to do so since forcefully opposing the league’s plan to honor the Black Lives Matter movement.

After that July decision, she faced a revolt from WNBA superstars and members of her own team, who showed up to practice wearing “Vote Warnock” T-shirts. That protest was credited with assisting in his victory.

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene temporarily lost the ability to make new posts on Twitter, although the company refused to say exactly which of her tweets violated its rules. Was it the ones containing baseless allegations the election was stolen from Donald Trump or the one she later deleted that appeared to encourage her supporters to engage in new protests?

Nevertheless, the Rome Republican’s account was restricted for 12 hours on Sunday.

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A group of 15 Democratic state legislators has called for the resignation of Gwinnett County Board of Elections chair Alice O’Lenick after she said she supports restricting no-excuse absentee voting and a ban of ballot drop boxes in hopes of boosting GOP chances.

The letter on Monday from the county’s legislative delegation accused O’Lenick of causing “irreparable harm” to her impartial duties of administering elections - and suggested it could try to force her decision if she refuses.

“Please be advised that the Gwinnett state House and Senate delegations will take all actions necessary through local legislation to protect the right to vote of every citizen in Gwinnett County.”

The Gwinnett Daily Post reported that O’Lenick told a GOP group that only the “elderly and the infirm” should be allowed to vote by mail without giving a reason for the request.

And she said the “ballot drop boxes have to go” after repeating false claims of abuse of the voting system.

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New around here. You may have noticed a new Insider’s name on the Jolt recently. With the departure of Jim Galloway, Patricia Murphy will now be helming the Jolt, along with Greg Bluestein and Tia Mitchell.

In February, Patricia will also become the AJC’s newest columnist, taking over the Wednesday and Sunday political column that Jim launched and so memorably led. A few words from Patricia:

Good morning, Jolters. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other here from now on. To let you know a little about me, I was born in Atlanta (yes, IN Atlanta) and grew up here.

I moved to Washington, D.C. and New York and worked for three U.S. senators, including Georgia’s Sens. Sam Nunn and Max Cleland. After a master’s degree in journalism, I went from working on Capitol Hill to covering it as a reporter- finally telling the stories behind the people in power.

Before coming to the AJC, I wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Roll Call for eight years. My opinions lean skeptical, but never cynical, and push for accountability to voters over party.

Newspaper columnists have always been my heroes — and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has always had the best.

Jim Galloway, of course, tops all of our lists. And Celestine Sibley and Lewis Grizzard. And Bill Torpy and Gracie Bonds Staples. And now, I’m happy to say, me.

Send me your tips, thoughts, ideas and feedback. Patricia.Murphy@ajc.com.

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