The Jolt: The Republican who loved EVs before Rivian made them (GOP) cool

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

Georgia Republican leaders squeezed in for a photo op last week announcing Georgia’s electric vehicle future as Rivian confirmed it will build a massive EV plant an hour east of Atlanta.

But cheering for alternative energy technology hasn’t always been so popular among the GOP in Georgia.

Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols would know.

For the last decade, the affable Republican has been perhaps the greatest evangelist among office-holders in his party for green energy.

And he doesn’t just talk the talk. He drives the drive.

His current car is an aging Nissan Leaf that gets 67 miles per charge – even fewer with the heat on. That’s hardly enough juice to get from his home in Hoschton, Ga. to the state Capitol in Atlanta.

He had to meticulously plan his route to a Tuesday morning meeting with your Insiders for coffee, where he talked about last week’s announcement of the $5 billion Rivian plant, and his sense – our word, not his – of redemption.

“It felt so satisfying,” he said. “Having the Republican power structure embrace electric vehicles is not only fulfilling but it’s critical for us to move forward.”

It’s a total transformation from the days of his 2016 campaign, when two GOP primary opponents mocked his enthusiasm for electric vehicles. A caricature of a bowtie-clad Echols plugging in his ride showed up in campaign mailers. In the halls of the Capitol, some whispered he was infatuated with a “Democratic toy.” Echols easily prevailed in his race, but the sting of the attacks stayed with him.

Around that time, the GOP opposition to electric vehicles also had reached a crescendo. State legislators in 2015 slashed Georgia’s generous $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle and replaced it with a $200 registration fee. Sales of the cars fell off a cliff.

If 2015 was the year Republicans went to war on electric vehicles, then Echols told us 2021 marked the opposite: A lovefest with plug-ins.

He credits the transformation partly to the recognition that the growing industry could be an economic development powerhouse for the state, with the potential for 10,000 jobs related to the Rivian plant once it’s built out. The SK Innovation battery facility in Commerce will generate thousands more, as will the spinoff suppliers for both firms.

“We don’t need one political party feeling like the other guys own the issue,” he said. “With Rivian, Republicans now they feel they have skin in the game. And it’s going to make all the difference.”

At last week’s Rivian announcement, Echols wasn’t in the lineup of state officials crowding in for the photo op and getting credit. But he should have been.

He swears he didn’t mind. He’s glad to see the industry is now in the GOP mainstream.

“It’s not some trend,” he said. “It’s a huge revenue generator for the state.”




Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer held an unusual 8:00 p.m. phone call with Democratic senators Tuesday night.

Ahead of the call, Georgia’s Sen. Raphael Warnock Tweeted, “When we get back in January, the Senate is going to take up efforts to clear a path to pass voting rights legislation that will ensure every eligible voter’s voice is heard. I’m committed to making sure it happens.”

Sure enough, Schumer told senators they will return to work in January and will take votes on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, as well as voting rights legislation.

According to Punchbowl News, Schumer said if Republicans block voting rights, the Senate “will consider and vote on rules reform.”


As you wrap up your 2021, House Speaker David Ralston’s office has a few keys dates for your 2022 calendar:

  • Jan. 10: 2022 Legislative session begins;
  • Jan. 12: Eggs & Issues breakfast;
  • Jan. 13: Gov. Brian Kemp’s State of the State address

Ralston’s office also announced that most of the safety protocols from the 2021 session will remain, including a mask requirement for the House floor and committee meeting rooms, a suspension of the page program, and limited access to the House chamber.


With news of the omicron variant spreading through Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reinstated a citywide indoor mask mandate Tuesday.

Asked at an event Monday if he’ll change any safety measures in the state, Gov. Brian Kemp said, “Not at this point. I think from looking where we are, we’re still holding our own.”


Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is conducting a series of regional teletown halls to reassure Georgia voters about election security.

The Rome News-Tribune reports on Raff’s call with voters in the 14th Congressional District, where voting fell off significantly for the U.S. Senate runoffs after Donald Trump called his loss in Georgia rigged against him.


“A few voters in the very red Northwest Georgia congressional district gained confidence in election security Tuesday.

That's according to results of a poll taken during a tele-townhall question-and-answer session with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His communications manager for voter education, Walter Jones, said it mirrors their results from similar calls in Georgia's other districts.

“It's moving the needle a little bit," Jones said. “What we have found is if a district is represented by a Democrat, voters tend to be a little less skeptical than those represented by Republicans. But we've seen a little movement after these calls."

- Rome News Tribune


Second District Republican Wayne Johnson has become the second Georgia candidate to launch a campaign ad this season aiming to bring a little Christmas cheer to voters.

The former Trump administration official uses cue cards to introduce himself to voters as he sits in front of a Christmas tree, with “Silent Night” playing in the background. The cards include a map of the southwest Georgia district and another saying he will “stop stupid” in Washington.

Johnson announced his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop in November. He’s one of a handful of Republicans in the race for the revamped territory, which has become slightly more competitive but still favors the incumbent.

Senate candidate Herschel Walker had a more impromptu holiday message for members of the military and first responders.

In a video he said he recorded at 4 am Tuesday, Walker said, “During this special time, let’s just try to be friends.” He then posted it and wrote, “If we can be friends NOW... We make find out we have more in common then..OUR friends across the ocean.”


Camden County officials’ celebration for the Federal Aviation Administration granting it permission to build a new spaceport was short lived. The AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu reports that a judge has put a temporary halt on the county’s plans.


A judge has dismissed a misdemeanor charge against state Rep. Trey Kelley, ruling that his failure to call 911 in response to a fatal crash wasn’t reckless conduct, according to the AJC’s Mark Niesse.

Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster dismissed the indictment involving the Cedartown Republican. It stemmed from how he responded to a car crash two years ago after a friend struck a bicyclist in Polk County, but did not immediately call authorities or first responders.


Victoria Huynh, senior vice president of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services has been appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as a commissioner on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

Her metro Atlanta-based organization, known as CPACS, is the largest nonprofit in the Southeast focusing on the Pan Asian community.


In this holiday season, don’t forget to give yourself a little something special. May we suggest a totally free subscription to the Politically Georgia podcast?

So far this week, we’ve recorded shows about the life and legacy of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and a closer look at what’s next for outgoing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. And we’ll soon be up with our year-end review of the incredible year in Georgia politics.


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