The Jolt: Tributes roll in for a titan of the Georgia Legislature

Newly elected speaker David Ralston (right), a Republican from north Georgia, and Rep. Calvin Smyre, the Democratic nominee for the post, exchange greetings during Ralston's official escort into the chamber.

Credit: Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

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Newly elected speaker David Ralston (right), a Republican from north Georgia, and Rep. Calvin Smyre, the Democratic nominee for the post, exchange greetings during Ralston's official escort into the chamber.

Credit: Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

If you doubted Calvin Smyre’s titanic influence at the Capitol, look no further than the tributes pouring into the dean of the Georgia House after news broke that he was appointed to be the ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Gov. Brian Kemp praised the Columbus Democrat’s “unmatched statesmanship and unique willingness to work across the aisle.” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said he was “so grateful” for his friendship.

And longtime friend, House Speaker David Ralston, said the nation “could not have a better ambassador” than Smyre.

“As a beneficiary of his wisdom and counsel, I consider it an honor to have served with him,” said Ralston. “And while I will miss seeing my friend everyday, our nation will be better for his service as our ambassador.”

Of course, Democrats lavished praise on Smyre, too, noting his advocacy for voting rights, racial justice and equality.

He was the chief sponsor of a measure that made Martin Luther King Jr. a state holiday and later worked to ensure the civil rights leader’s statue was erected on the statehouse grounds.

He helped lead the charge to minimize the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, and he played an instrumental role in ensuring hate crimes legislation was adopted last year.

Smyre is an avid jigsaw puzzle fan, snapping pieces together on 500- and 1,000-piece designs in his spare time. His influence in the Capitol grew so significant that his stamp of approval for a measure, or refusal to go along with a bill, was often the most crucial piece of the legislative puzzle to get something passed.

“Almost every defining governing decision in my lifetime has hinged on Dean Smyre’s input,” said Seth Clark, a Macon-Bibb commissioner. “For Georgians in either party serious about governing first and politics second, he is a titan.”

Smyre, 74, is not packing his bags for Santo Domingo quite yet. There’s a long backlog of ambassadorial nominees awaiting Senate confirmation already, and it might be months until Smyre gets his vote. He told us he plans to take part in the special legislative session later this year to redraw the political maps while he’s waiting.

Once confirmed, he’ll have his work cut out for him. Unlike more tranquil assignments in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic faces a perilous political climate. Its new president has never held elected office before, and its nextdoor neighbor, Haiti, is enduring deep political unrest.

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Then President-elect Donald Trump along with his son Donald, Jr., arrive for a news conference at Trump Tower in New York, as Allen Weisselberg, center, chief financial officer of The Trump Organization, looks on Jan. 11, 2017. Republican candidates are heading to Florida for a fundraising summit and Trump is expected to speak. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Then President-elect Donald Trump along with his son Donald, Jr., arrive for a news conference at Trump Tower in New York, as Allen Weisselberg, center, chief financial officer of The Trump Organization, looks on Jan. 11, 2017. Republican candidates are heading to Florida for a fundraising summit and Trump is expected to speak. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Then President-elect Donald Trump along with his son Donald, Jr., arrive for a news conference at Trump Tower in New York, as Allen Weisselberg, center, chief financial officer of The Trump Organization, looks on Jan. 11, 2017. Republican candidates are heading to Florida for a fundraising summit and Trump is expected to speak. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Donald Trump Jr. headlined a rally late Wednesday just ahead of his father’s weekend mega-event in Perry.

The younger Trump was at the Strand in Marietta to support state Sen. Burt Jones, a candidate for lieutenant governor endorsed by the former president.

He gave a speech bashing President Joe Biden and playing to the audience’s grievances, at once declaring they were being treated as “second class citizens.”

We were more interested in Jones’ speech, which was more polished and energetic than the last time we saw him.

Time and again, he emphasized his support for a special legislative session to “investigate” the election results -- a move that Gov. Brian Kemp and other GOP leaders said would have flouted the state Constitution.

Without naming names, Jones said many of his fellow Republicans have turned their backs on the party’s constituency by refusing to take more drastic action to support Trump.

“It’s people like you in this room that put people like me in elected office. And when you forget about the people, you no longer deserve to be an elected official,” he told the crowd of about 200 packing the theater.

“I’m seeing a movement in this state. People are engaged and ready to push back. And, in a lot of cases, people are angry. They want an investigation of the 2020 election. Just a simple investigation.”

State election officials have said there’s no indication of fraud after three ballot counts and multiple investigations and court challenges. Trump lost Georgia’s presidential election by about 12,000 votes.

As recently as Wednesday, GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reiterated the tally.

“The fact is that President Trump did not carry the state of Georgia,” he said on CNN.

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Acknowledging or denying the results of Georgia’s 2020 elections has fast become a bizarre litmus test for Republicans looking to prove their loyalty to former President Trump and appeal to his portion of the GOP base.

A Jolt tipster sent along an image of a massive double yard sign in Oconee County from state Rep. Timothy Barr’s campaign. Barr is one of several Republicans running to replace U.S. Rep. Jody Hice in the 10th Congressional District.

One side of the sign reads “Timothy Barr, Republican for Congress.” The other side: “TRUMP WON GEORGIA.”

Barr is also distributing the “TRUMP WON GEORGIA” signs digitally for supporters to post to their Facebook feeds.

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The fundraising arm for Senate Democrats is making a major investment to defend incumbent U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a $30 million “Defend the Majority” program this week that pumps money and resources into nine states, including Georgia, where the national party plans to compete.

It’s the largest investment in on-the-ground field organizing in the organization’s history at this point in the campaign cycle, and the funds will go to hire field staff, open campaign offices and expand volunteering training.

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Georgia Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock speaks at his Labor Canvass Launch at IBEW Local 613 on Jan. 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Georgia Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock speaks at his Labor Canvass Launch at IBEW Local 613 on Jan. 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Georgia Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock speaks at his Labor Canvass Launch at IBEW Local 613 on Jan. 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The American Action Network, a political committee connected to U.S. House Republican leadership, is out with a new ad for Atlanta area TV stations pressuring Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux to vote against Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social services and climate change package.

The ad wants viewers to, “Tell Carolyn Bourdeaux: Oppose Nancy Pelosi’s socialist spending.”

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Our colleague James Salzer spotted a new ranking that would not make former Gov. Sonny Perdue happy days ahead of National Hunting and Fishing Day on Saturday.

In the mid-2000s, Perdue persuaded Georgia lawmakers to approve $30 million for boat ramps and a fishing education center down the road from his home in Bonaire. He called his program “Go Fish Georgia,” an effort to make the state a mecca for both fishing tourism and fishing tournaments.

GOP state Rep. Alan Powell called it “a boondoggle” and, once opened, Salzer reported it was attracting about one-tenth of the annual visitors that had been projected.

As for the goal of making Georgia a top fishing destination, this week Lawn Love, a tech company for lawn care businesses, ranked the best and worst states for fishing. Alaska wound up #1 (no surprise there). Florida was #5. Georgia? #24.

Georgia was also in the bottom half of states in the categories of “community” (fishing licenses per capita, fishing competitions, charter fishing opportunities and guides) and “supplies” (fishing gear stories and bait-and-tackle shops per capita).

Now fifteen years after “Go Fish” was created, Lawn Love puts Georgia in the middle of the pack, even behind Alabama, which made the top 10.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Former President Donald Trump has sent a letter to Raffensperger again criticizing the Georgia vote count and calling President Joe Biden an illegitimate president. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Former President Donald Trump has sent a letter to Raffensperger again criticizing the Georgia vote count and calling President Joe Biden an illegitimate president. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger makes remarks during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Former President Donald Trump has sent a letter to Raffensperger again criticizing the Georgia vote count and calling President Joe Biden an illegitimate president. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is facing backlash for hosting Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at an event this week.

Raffensperger plans to speak at a Friday seminar dubbed: “Election Subversion: Is American Democracy in Danger?”

More than two dozen Georgia Democratic legislators and a coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter this morning to the school’s chancellor, Howard Gillman, citing Raffensperger’s support for the state’s new voting restrictions and his calls to remove the elections board of Fulton County.

“Yes, Chancellor Gillman, American democracy is in danger; and Mr. Raffensperger’s actions may add to this risk. His threat to dissolve the Fulton County Board of Elections raised serious legal concerns; simply put, he lacks the authority to carry out his threat under Georgia Code.”

Read the letter here.

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AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports that unlike a state House panel that focused on recent spikes in violence in the City of Atlanta, the Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday noted the trend of increased violence across the state.

A notable exchange followed between committee Chairman John Albers, a Roswell Republican, who asked law enforcement officers to discuss the benefits of “broken window” policing – a policy popularized in the 1990s that encourages police to target minor crimes, like vandalism and jaywalking, to create an atmosphere of lawfulness.

“Minimizing the enforcement and prosecution of lower level crimes is not a solution,” said Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Butch Ayers Ayers.

State Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat, cited studies that found “tough on crime” policies that were popular in the 1990s often overly targeted people in poor communities and communities of color.

“If we return to these old policies, then we will also return to an attack on Black and brown and poor citizens in our state,” Jackson said.

Albers said the state made strides in overhauling the criminal justice system under Gov. Nanthan Deal, and now Gov. Brian Kemp, and believed any changes in policing should target violent criminals and repeat offenders.

“I do find it rather ironic...that the current occupant of the White House was the one that passed all that stuff through Congress to have those people incarcerated to begin with,” Albers said, referring to President Joe Biden. “So we’re a little bit of reaping what we sowed over the years.”

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POSTED: Add another Democrat to the list of candidates for Secretary of State. More from fellow Insider Greg Bluestein:

A veteran Democratic insider with a background in cybersecurity launched a bid Tuesday to become Georgia's top election official, promising to transform the secretary of state's office into a force that can help businesses and county staffers counter new threats.

Michael Owens, a former Cobb County Democratic chair, framed himself as the only candidate with the mix of experience and political knowhow to flip the seat held by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is helping relaunch the annual bipartisan barbecue lunch that was a hallmark of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s time in office.

Isakson told Roll Call in 2019 that he had the idea of inviting Democrats to the usually Republicans-only Thursday lunch after an immigration reform deal had collapsed and the Senate was mired in gridlock.

Naturally, leaders of both parties hated the idea.

“They thought I had a secret idea that I was going to campaign for leader,” he told Roll Call at the time. “Usually, leadership is always scared you’re gonna run against ‘em...I had no desire to do that.”

The lunch, of course, became a yearly hit.

Like Isakson, Warnock is bringing up South 40 Smokehouse in Marietta to cater the lunch in the Russell Senate Office Building. His co-hosts for today’s meal are Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, along with Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Said Warnock: “As my colleagues and I enjoy some barbecue—brought to the Capitol from the great state of Georgia—we celebrate Senator Isakson, my predecessor in the Senate, and his tireless commitment to bipartisanship in an effort to move legislation through this body that helps people, despite party and policy differences.”

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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.