The Jolt: Two steps forward at the Capitol for Buckhead City proposal

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
January 26, 2021 Buckhead - Aerial photography shows Buckhead Skyline on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. The quest for cityhood in Buckhead has several hurdles to clear before it becomes reality, but leaders behind a new group exploring the issue say they are confident they have a chance.(Hyosub Shin /

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

January 26, 2021 Buckhead - Aerial photography shows Buckhead Skyline on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. The quest for cityhood in Buckhead has several hurdles to clear before it becomes reality, but leaders behind a new group exploring the issue say they are confident they have a chance.(Hyosub Shin /

The movement to carve out a new city from Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood took two steps forward last week- one publicly touted, and one less obvious.

First, the news shared far and wide over the weekend, when secessionist frontman Bill White reported on Facebook that state Sen. Clint Dixon co-sponsored the legislation to allow a referendum next year to ask Buckhead residents whether they want their independence.

Normally, the endorsement from a first-term Gwinnett Republican wouldn’t merit much news.

But Dixon is an unusually important ally, since he serves as Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leader, something that White put front and center in his social media posts about the endorsement.

Dixon also serves on the Georgia State and Local Government Operations Committee, which oversees questions of local impact around the state. White said Dixon’s approval means that four of the seven members have indicated they’ll support the legislation.

So does this mean Kemp endorses the idea? His office issued a standard “we don’t comment on pending legislation” when we asked. But he didn’t deny it, either.

If Kemp puts his office’s clout behind it, or even threatens to do so, it could trigger an enormous fight in an election-year session and a tense new era in city-state relations.

A second, potentially more important development took place in a little-noticed committee hearing Tuesday, when the House Governmental Affairs Committee moved to tweak the rules related to cityhood proposals.

Committee chairwoman Darlene Taylor moved to expand the approved sources for viability studies related to cityhood.

Committee rules had previously limited the sources of those studies to the highly respected Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia and the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

The new rule, which was approved by the committee, expanded the sources of viability studies to “a public institution with the University System of Georgia,” or, “in the event of an unresolved conflict of interest, a private entity may provide such study at the discretion of the chair.”

Taylor said the committee received inquiries about “why some of our other higher education schools were not allowed to participate in this,” adding, “So that’s why this is included.”

Democratic state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver asked for more specifics on what might constitute a conflict of interest that would open the process up to private groups. Taylor responded that doing significant work with the state might conflict some public institutions out of consideration.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen asked for language to ban lobbyists from authoring the studies. Another Democratic inquiry came asking if the GOP-aligned ALEC or other group would be allowed to be involved.

Chairwoman Taylor said she envisioned an accounting firm or other non-affiliated group might author a study, but said the specifics would be up to the discretion of the committee chair. She also said she would not approve a lobbying group for a feasibility study.

A feasibility study is currently underway for a new Buckhead City, with the results expected sometime this fall, but the Buckhead City Committee has declined to say who is conducting the study.

With the change in rules by the committee, the universe of who can decide if Buckhead is feasible just opened up.


U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux took incoming fire from local progressives last week for pushing for a vote on the $1.3 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure plan before agreeing to the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget blueprint.

This week, Bourdeaux will hear from Republican activists hammering her for ultimately voting to advance that budget.

The D.C.-based American Action Network says they’ve hired a mobile billboard to circle the location of Bourdeaux’s coffee with constituents this morning “slamming her vote for Biden’s $3.T trillion tax increase and spending plan.”

AAN has ties to House Republicans and is chaired by former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman. It’s just one of several partisan groups on both sides already spending big money to win the Seventh Congressional District.

Bourdeaux flipped the seat from Republican to Democrat in 2020 and it’s at the top of Republicans’ target list to flip back to their column in 2022.

Democrats are also wary of what state Capitol Republicans will do with the Seventh District as they redraw the boundaries in this year’s special redistricting session.

With tens of thousands of new voters in the district, the lines are expected to change considerably- and mostly likely to the benefit of the GOP.

Read more about the crossfire over Bourdeaux’s stance here.


Speaking of redistricting, look for the process to enter a new phase today as the House and Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committees hold a day of hearings at the Capitol, starting at 9 am.

The purpose of the Monday hearings is an “educational day” for committee members now that the committees have wrapped up a series of field hearings around the state, when they received public input on the process.


U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock was in Valdosta Saturday at Moody Air Force Base, where he spoke to a group of airmen and women who have been called up to provide security for Afghans recently evacuated from Kabul.

The group was heading for New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base, where evacuees will stay for the time being.

Warnock met with the group on an HC-130J aircraft, manufactured in Georgia. According to a spokesman, the senator, “Expressed his extreme gratitude to the airmen for their courage in serving their country and this specific mission, and prayed for the airmen’s safety during their travels and in completing their mission.”


Kelvin King, one of the Republicans looking to replace U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in Washington, finished up his 159-county tour of the state, which we can call this year’s Full Kelvin, since he’s the first candidate that we know of to have made it to every one of the state’s many, many counties so far this cycle.

Last week, the Air Force Academy graduate also weighed in on the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan as he wrapped up his tour.

“Just like many of you, I have been struggling with equal parts anger and heartbreak as the catastrophic events unfold in Afghanistan,” he said in a statement. “As I wrestle to find words that can adequately do justice to the emotions of many and the ultimate sacrifice of a few, I find myself landing on this simple statement. We are America.”

Ultimately, King said President Joe Biden and his administration have failed. “They MUST resign, because they have either forgotten or chosen to ignore that we are America.”


Former Alpharetta mayor and current GOP Secretary of State hopeful David Belle Isle apparently cannot get enough of old country music mash-ups mocking Brad Raffensperger.

Belle Isle’s latest video takes the Alan Jackson classic “Chattahoochee” and sets it in Fulton County’s 2020 ballot counting operation, where Belle Isle says, “There’s something fishy going on.”

We’ll add our constant reminder here that there has been no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud found in the state’s many recounts and audits.


By now, you’ve probably seen the viral story of 84-year-old UGA professor Irwin Bernstein and his standoff with a student over masking.

Here’s the lede from The Red & Black:

A University of Georgia retiree-rehire professor resigned on Tuesday after one of his students refused to properly wear a mask in an upper division psychology seminar class held at the psychology building.

During Irwin Bernstein's second class of the semester, the student, who was not present on the first day of class, arrived at the 25-person class unmasked and was asked by Bernstein to retrieve one from the advising office. The student was given a spare disposable mask from a peer but did not wear it over her nose.

Bernstein asked the student to pull her mask up to wear it correctly, but she said she “couldn't breathe" and “had a really hard time breathing" with the cloth over her mouth and nose.

- The Red and Black

A nearly identical scenario unfolded at Georgia College and State University earlier this month, too, which our colleague Maureen Downey covered last week.

Dr. Meredith Styer also resigned her position after a student refused to wear a mask in her class.

When it became clear that the university was going to seek ‘both sides' instead of supporting me, I decided my chosen side was to resign," said Styer. Her message to the leaders of Georgia's higher education system: “We cannot be preeminent institutions if our first concern is the governor's politics."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Although many private colleges in the state require mask wearing indoors, the University System of Georgia does not. Gov. Brian Kemp has also signed an executive order allowing local businesses to refuse to implement local mask mandates.


Funeral services will be held today for Bettye Chambers, a retired DeKalb county computer science school teacher who became a force in local GOP politics. Local Republicans looked to Chambers not just to build their websites, but also for the massive lists of GOP voters she amassed.

Our condolences to Bettye Chambers’ family and friends.


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