The Jolt: Why the GOP needs Jon Ossoff

State House maneuvers, state-wide rumblings, and a book in the works lead the day

The last time Georgia had a Democratic president and Republican state leadership, the unique partnership between then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and then-Gov. Nathan Deal paid off.

During much of his eight years in office, Reed served as an informal bridge between GOP leaders and the Obama administration, while the governor gave the mayor instant cachet in the statehouse.

That relationship is kaput and their two successors - Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms - aren’t exactly following in their footsteps. Despite occasional flashes of compromise, they feuded sharply throughout 2020.

Bottoms might have more access to President Joe Biden than any other Georgian. But we’re not betting on the tense relationship with state GOP leaders easing soon, particularly given the mayor’s role as a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee -- and Kemp ramping up for a 2022 re-election bid.

Which brings us to this question: Who can serve as that conduit between Republicans in the statehouse and Joe Biden’s White House?

With a Democratic White House calling the shots on everything from regional agency heads to localized federal funding - the GOP needs a friend with benefits.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, the dean of the Georgia Legislature and another key Biden supporter, comes to mind. But he’s already serving a similar role in the state Legislature, liaising between Republican elders and his party’s leaders.

We polled a few senior Republicans on the question and they came up with an interesting option: U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.

Unlike his BFF, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, he doesn’t have to worry about re-election in two years. He’s already working to establish ties to Republicans in the chamber. And he’s close with both Biden and the ascendant group of Georgia Democrats in Congress.

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GOP leaders looking to get in front of Sen. Ossoff may have to wait in line behind the 4 million Tik Tok users who have watched a video of the senator winking at his wife, Dr. Alisha Kramer, in the Senate visitors gallery after he was sworn in Wednesday.

It’s tempting to dismiss Ossoff’s appeal to the kids as Tiger Beat stuff for the 21st century. But consider that the video of him winking had higher ratings than CNN, MSNBC and Fox News...combined. And since young people are young voters, Ossoff’s appeal to them makes him an instantly powerful force inside the Democratic party.

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We told you yesterday about the House committee shakeup that sent state Rep. Barry Fleming from chairing a key Judiciary committee to overseeing a panel devoted to vetting elections law. We have a little more intel on the decision.

The Harlem Republican has long been seen as a potential rival to House Speaker David Ralston. He’s also an outspoken supporter of implementing new restrictions on absentee ballots vigorously opposed by Democrats - and some fellow Republicans.

As one Capitol insider related to us, the move might either sideline him or embolden him. Either way, his new role is one to watch.

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Speaking of Capitol insiders, we’ve heard rumblings that former state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, the Powder Springs Republican who long chaired the powerful Rules Committee, may have designs on a statewide run -- perhaps joining what is likely to be a crowded field against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

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POSTED and noted: The AJC’s Mark Niesse details the latest audit of votes in Georgia, this time a hand count of ballots cast in Bartow County for the January runoff elections. The result: just a five-vote difference of more than 40,000 votes cast.

County officials said they ran the audit “to counter ‘a mountain of misinformation’ about the state’s election equipment manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems.”

But look for the results to also be used by state House Democrats as proof that the changes to voting that some Republicans are planning this session are not needed.

The argument: Why reform a system that is free of fraud or error by Republicans’ own measure?

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This shouldn’t go unnoticed: Gov. Brian Kemp tapped former Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap to the state pardons and paroles board.

Heap has been a vocal critic of the pardons board, calling for more transparency in its decisions for victims. She told The Savannah Morning News that she won’t push for sweeping changes but will undertake smaller steps.

“If a person is sentenced to either prison or probation, I think (victims) have a right to be heard and notified of any hearing. I think they should have a meaningful voice in the system.”

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On a similar note, Gov. Brian Kemp addressed a group of metro Atlanta law enforcement officials on Thursday. In a tweet, he said they spoke of cracking down on gangs, “stopping dangerous street racing, and streamlining communication to protect every community.”

One person reading that “street racing” reference with interest will be Mayor Bottoms, who has struggled to curtail the dangerous activity on Atlanta’s streets over the last year.

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Rome) has made a name for herself as a loyal Trump supporter in Congress, spreading election misinformation and vowing to file articles of impeachment against President Biden.

Now, the Dalton Daily Citizen-News, a major daily her 14th Congressional District, has written a scathing editorial highlighting concerns about whether Greene, is paying enough attention to the actual folks back home.

An excerpt:

While Greene wastes her time peddling false narratives and outright lies, we pose this question to her: What are your plans to help the 732,133 residents of the 14th Congressional District, which includes 11 counties and part of Pickens County?

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the country. We've yet to see Greene's plans to help our nation, our state and our district battle the pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and infected more than 24 million.

A search of her congressional website for “COVID-19" or “coronavirus" yields no results. A click on “Health" under the “Issues" menu leads to this: “For more information concerning work and views related to Health, please contact our office." We have not heard her on NewsMax or OANN — two conservative networks sympathetic to Greene — outlining her response to the pandemic.

- Dalton Daily Citizen-News

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Very sad news. Bill Winkle, the former mayor of Maxeys, Ga. in Oglethorpe County, died over the weekend as he tried to put out a fire that destroyed his wife’s business, the Athens Banner-Herald reports. We send our deepest condolences to the Winkle family and the town of Maxeys today.

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In the personnel department: Former U.S. Attorney BJay Pak, who resigned suddenly this month, will rejoin the Alston & Bird law firm.

And Rebecca Howell has started her own firm: 36th Street Strategies is offering opposition research, strategic communications help and consulting services. Howell previously worked as a senior director at America Rising.

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More moves to report in D.C.: Sen. Raphael Warnock is staffing up quickly. Mark Libell, deputy chief of staff to Alabama’s former Sen. Doug Jones, will helm Warnock’s office as Chief of Staff; Lawrence Bell moves from campaign chief of staff to the Senate office’s deputy chief of staff; and Michael Brewer takes over the comms shop as Senate communications director, after playing a similar role on the campaign.

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Time for a shameless plug: One of your Insiders is knee-deep in writing a book for an imprint of Penguin Books USA on the 2020 (and 2021) Georgia elections. Here’s the dispatch from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein’s HOW THE PEACH STATE TURNED PURPLE, an account of how Georgia transformed from one of the staunchest Republican strongholds to the nation’s most captivating swing state, ground zero for the disinformation wars, and bellwether for the future of both political parties, culminating with the story of the epic Senate runoff flips, to Rick Kot at Viking, at auction, by Justin Brouckaert at Aevitas Creative Management (world).

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Finally, if you’ve read to the end of the Jolt, we know you’re a Jolt aficionado. So we’re looking for your expert feedback.

What do you like about the Jolt? What should we tweak to keep making it your essential a.m. read?

More state scoop? More from D.C.? Longer? Shorter? Taller? Tell us at patricia.murphy@ajc.com.

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