The Jolt: What three standing ovations say about the state of Georgia politics

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined the Georgia Municipal Association and city leaders for the annual Cities United Summit on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined the Georgia Municipal Association and city leaders for the annual Cities United Summit on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

In the span of three hours, a trio of standing ovations at the state Capitol complex showed just how unpredictable Georgia politics can be – and how hard it is to make assumptions about the next few months.

The first took place at the Georgia House when House Speaker Ralston gave newly elected Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens the rare invitation to enter the chamber through the center aisle – an honor normally reserved for celebrities and governors.

As Dickens bounded to the well of the House, legislators of both parties showered him with applause – and Ralston went out of his way to commend Dickens’ willingness to mend strained city-state ties. After, a bipartisan line of lawmakers waiting to take pictures with the new mayor snaked through the anteroom.

Why does this warm reception matter? Dickens has staked his mayorship on defeating a Buckhead cityhood push that seems likely to pass the Georgia Senate, with support from GOP Leader Butch Miller and others, before heading to a more skeptical audience in the House.

So it’s Ralston and his GOP House colleagues who will likely determine the fate of the measure from there. The speaker hasn’t publicly endorsed or critiqued Buckhead cityhood, though his allies predict he won’t let it reach a vote. Dickens’ glowing treatment in the House only reinforced that notion.

The next two ovations took place down the street at the Depot, where hundreds of conservative activists gathered for the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual luncheon.

The group, founded by Ralph Reed, would seem tailor made for the likes of former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, with his endorsement from Donald Trump and his pledge to run to the right of Gov. Brian Kemp.

But Perdue only attracted a smattering of applause when he invoked his campaign agenda. It was the governor who was feted with two standing o’s – upon entering the Depot and as he was introduced before his speech.

And just as Ralston’s kind words about Dickens made a statement, so too did Reed’s gushing praise of Kemp.

“He doesn’t want a majority just for a majority. He wants it in order to get things done,” said Reed.

“When many counseled him to try to move to the middle after a very tough and bitter election in 2018, he rejected the counselors of timidity and the prophets of moderation – those who would ask him to quit his ways and not stand up for what he ran on.”


Ralph Reed also turned heads when he seemed to endorse Herschel Walker a few minutes after the Senate candidate’s top Republican rival, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, addressed the crowd.

Walker and Reed sat side-by-side in two chairs for Reed to interview the former football star– a setup no other candidate enjoyed – as supporters lined up to take pictures and videos of the stage.

“We always hear about this voter integrity. Get out and vote. Quit complaining about voter integrity,” said Walker, taking a jab at the Republican byword for new election overhauls.

He also promised to fight in Washington, but spoke plenty of working with Democrats, at one point saying “we’ve got to have an open hand, not a closed fist.”


Shortly after the packed event where David Perdue hobnobbed with guests, his campaign told your Insiders that the Republican is now in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

The campaign said he had no fever or other symptoms and was fully vaccinated and boosted.

He’s still appearing at campaign events – but remotely, much like he was forced to do during the final days of the January 2021 runoff when he was exposed to the virus.


Ooof. Republican Senate candidate Gary Black took a shot at Herschel Walker on Monday during an appearance on the John Fredericks Show, calling the GOP frontrunner a “wind-up toy.”

He added that Georgians “aren’t interested at all in voting for a staff that has to get up every morning and put their senator together.”

Along those same lines, Latham Saddler, another contender in the GOP primary, told a group of Oconee County Republicans Monday night, “I’m crisscrossing this state and I never see Herschel Walker. We had our first debate in the fall in Pickens County, and he didn’t show up. They had an empty chair for him.”


UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Legislative Day 6:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Committee meetings begin;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The House gavels in;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The Senate convenes.


Democrats and public health advocates were aghast at a proposal introduced Monday by powerful GOP lawmakers designed to block “vaccine passports” – but would go much further.

The proposal, authored by state Sen. Jeff Mullis, said no state agency should require vaccination in order to obtain services, licenses or other types of authorization.

But it was written so vaguely that lawmakers and legal experts said it would abolish vaccine requirements entirely for the state’s public schools. Immunizations for polio, measles, and multiple other diseases are currently required for students.

“Did polio write this bill?” asked state Sen. Michelle Au, a physician and Johns Creek Democrat.

Mullis told us he designed the measure to block state agencies from requiring the Covid-19 vaccine and not to include schools. He said he planned to “adjust the bill.”


More than 250 supporters of the Buckhead cityhood movement sipped on cocktails and wine Monday night at the upscale Bistro Niko on Peachtree Road for a fundraiser to help fuel the secession push.

Our colleague, AJC City Hall reporter J.D. Capelouto, was at the event, which offered “Buckhead City” merch for sale including hats, t-shirts and even monogrammed napkins.

On hand were the Buckhead City Committee leadership, including CEO Bill White, and Republican state senators who are backing legislation to allow residents to vote on cityhood. Other local figures like gubernatorial candidate Vernon Jones and WSB Radio personality MalaniKai also mingled with the donors in the crowd.

White announced the event had raised $250,000, bringing the committee’s fundraising total to almost $2 million. He also said he plans to form a Buckhead City political action committee to back pro-cityhood Buckhead residents to represent the area under the Gold Dome.

Many of the speeches were centered around fears of crime and the city’s “water boys.” White and the senators said they were confident in the bill’s future.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chicamauga told the crowd, “I’m Jeff Mullis and I’m from nowhere near here. But I support you. I think you should have the right to vote.”

The voting rights argument from Mullis strikes us, since he was also the champion of Republican efforts last year to ban no-excuse absentee voting and drop boxes. He also called the 2020 election “an egregious attempted election theft by radical socialists.”


Former state Rep. Scott Hilton is making a comeback.

The Republican, who served in the Georgia House from 2017 to 2019, is challenging Democratic state Rep. Mary Robichaux for a newly designed district that stretches from Peachtree Corners to Roswell.

“At this critical juncture in our state’s history, we need qualified leaders who will restore the rights of parents in their child’s education, fight to keep our communities safe and give citizens a greater voice in their government,” he said.


After MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker died by suicide earlier this month, members of his family implored the state’s leadership to do something to address mental health.

In response, State Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, announced the creation of a mental health caucus to study legislation introduced by their colleagues, the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu tells us. The two will co-chair the caucus.

Jackson, an episcopal priest, presided over Parker’s memorial service and said Parker’s wife urged her to address mental health as a key issue.

“She made it clear that she didn’t want Jeff’s death to go in vain,” Jackson said. “She wanted to make sure that lawmakers who have the power to make change around issues of mental health, that they heard that call.”

Leadership in both chambers have already said addressing mental health will be a priority this legislative session and the creation of the bipartisan, bicameral caucus could serve as a way to prioritize and streamline efforts to address mental health.


POSTED: Judges in Fulton County have signed off on District Attorney Fani Willis’ request for a special grand jury to be used during her investigation of former President Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

The AJC’s Tamar Hallerman broke the news last week that Willis had written a letter to the county’s 20 superior court judges making the ask. Chief Judge Christopher S. Brasher notified Willis Monday that a majority had agreed.

The special grand jury will be impaneled May 2 and can continue for a period “not to exceed 12 months,” Brasher wrote in his order.


Club for Growth PAC, the D.C.-based political action committee, is sticking with Rich McCormick for his 6th Congressional District run after endorsing the ER doctor in his previous race for the 7th District.

McCormick narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2020 and initially signed up for a rematch in the 7th. But when that seat was drawn heavily Democratic and the 6th District became more conservative, McCormick decided to switch instead.

He’ll now face a crowded GOP primary field, including former state Rep. Meagan Hanson and former state ethics commission chairman Jake Evans, among others.

Along with the endorsement could come some serious cash. The PAC spent heavily on McCormick’s behalf during his 2020 primary and general elections.


Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn became the most prominent Democrat to back U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in her 7th District primary against fellow incumbent Rep. Lucy McBath.

Nunn, who served for 24 years in the Senate, frequently sought bipartisan deals during his time in Washington, as Bourdeaux has done as well.

“Washington needs leaders with both fresh ideas and a fresh approach to governance,” he said in a statement endorsing the congresswoman.


Cobb County school board member Jaha Howard has entered the race for statewide school superintendent. Everton Blair, the Gwinnett school board chair, recently announced he’ll run in the Democratic primary, too.

Howard told the AJC’s Ty Tagami he decided to run after watching how schools struggled to address safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic and also because of opposition to Republican-led efforts to limit the teaching of “critical race theory.”

The incumbent is Republican Richard Wood, who has a primary opponent in John Barge, the previous state superintendent. Former state Rep. Ken Pullin is running for the post as a Libertarian.


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