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State & Regional Govt & Politics
Capitol Recap: Abrams stays in spotlight while waiting to pick a race
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Capitol Recap: Abrams stays in spotlight while waiting to pick a race

Capitol Recap: Abrams stays in spotlight while waiting to pick a race
Democrat Stacey Abrams, riding on a wave of attention following her delivery of her party’s response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, has remained in the spotlight as she waits to announce what race she’ll run in next. Some are even suggesting the presidency, but a writer who analyzed that prospect says it would be a different terrain than the one she faced when she came close to winning Georgia’s race for governor. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Capitol Recap: Abrams stays in spotlight while waiting to pick a race

The state of Stacey Abrams’ calendar is busy.

Still riding high after giving the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Abrams is still more than a month away from the deadline she set to decide what office to seek next.

It could be another run in 2022 against Gov. Brian Kemp, who beat her in the closest race for the state’s top job in more than 50 years. She could opt for something sooner, facing off against Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue next year.

Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight examined her prospects for another job: president.

He found that some of the things that helped her come so close to reaching the Governor’s Mansion won’t be there if she makes a bid for the White House.

“(I)n a national campaign,” Rakich wrote, “Abrams could not necessarily bank on carrying African-Americans, who have been her base in Georgia, since voters may have a dozen candidates to choose from, including at least two other black candidates, one of whom is a woman.

“And despite her fame, Abrams has never won an election for any office higher than state representative; it would be unprecedented for a career politician to earn the party nomination with so little experience.

“Abrams’s most challenging obstacle may not even be specific to her. In such a crowded primary field, even a front-runner is more likely to lose than to win.”

Also on the presidential front, the consulting firm Bold Blue Campaigns included Abrams in a poll of potential Democratic candidates in 2020. Five percent of likely Democratic primary voters backed Abrams.

That put her behind former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Beto O’Rourke, who — like Abrams — gained national attention as a Democrat mounting a serious but unsuccessful challenge in November in a conservative state, in his case a run against Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

She did, however, place ahead of others, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Abrams has shown few signs that she’s seriously considering a run for president. She is, however, maintaining a high profile in Georgia.

Her “thank you” tour recently stopped in Gwinnett County. She used the opportunity to endorse the county’s MARTA referendum and also make a case for bipartisan voting rights legislation. She cited the example of Dan Gasaway, the incumbent in a May GOP primary race for a state House seat in North Georgia that still has not been settled nine months later. A second do-over election, following significant court time, has yet to be scheduled in Gasaway’s race against Chris Erwin, who was sworn in as a legislator and then removed from office by a judge.

“He had to fight his party and the state to get democracy in his election,” Abrams said of Gasaway. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a people issue. This is a democracy issue. This is our issue.”

A new tax problem for Abrams surfaced this past week, although it appears to have been solved. It was reported that a nonprofit Abrams had formed was hit by the state with three liens totaling about $3,500. A spokeswoman attributed them to an error made by a third-party contractor and then produced an email from the state Department of Labor noting that it is working to correct its records to show the liens have been paid.

Abrams, who touted full Medicaid expansion while on the campaign trail last year, also found some gratification in seeing Kemp back a push for “waivers” that could lead to a limited expansion of the state’s health care program for the poor and disabled. She called it a “pale facsimile” of what she had sought but also expressed happiness in seeing the state’s Republicans, many who have long resisted Medicaid expansion, at least take steps in that direction.

“I don’t care why they came to the party,” Abrams said. “I’m glad they finally showed up, and I hope they finally do the right thing now that they’re here.”

On his radar: Watching Abrams with the intensity of an air-traffic controller is state House Speaker David Ralston, who told Fannin County Republicans at a recent dinner that GOP conservatives need to think about their colleagues in metro Atlanta before pushing hard-right positions. Legislation on issues such as abortion, guns and “religious liberty” could put their suburban brethren — that is, those that are left after big Democratic gains in November for legislative seats on the outskirts of Atlanta — in a difficult spot come election time.

“Stacey Abrams is coming,” Ralston said. “I don’t know whether she’s running against Senator Perdue or Governor Kemp. But she is a serious opponent. They have other serious people out there.

“We have to approach this challenge as if our future depends on it,” he said. “Because it does.”

Kemp may feel the same way.

Since becoming governor, he has made no public push for legislation that would allow Georgians to carry concealed weapons without a permit, even though he made it a central subject during the early days of his campaign.

Asked by Chelsea Beimfohr of 13MAZ in Macon whether he would support such a bill, Kemp said:

“I’m not really commenting on that. There’s all kinds of pieces of legislation that are in. I’ve said and I’ll continue to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I hunt and I shoot and I carry. I won’t just support, but I’ll advocate. We’ll see what the Legislature wants to roll out this year. My positions from the campaign have not changed.”

It doesn’t sound like the governor would object if legislators decide to keep such a bill in their holster.

A 7th District sweepstakes: The dominoes are beginning to fall now that U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, has chosen not to seek re-election in 2020.

Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat who lost to Woodall in November by 433 votes once all the ballots were counted and recounted in the 7th Congressional District, is ready for another campaign.

Now that she’s gone through the process once already, Bourdeaux has a lot of things going for her. They include name recognition, money in the bank and endorsements from former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, and U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis.

Former state Rep. Buzz Brockway, another Lawrenceville Republican, is out.

Brockway said on Facebook that it “is not the right time for me to run for Congress.”

“There are a couple of good candidates considering running — friends whom I would be proud to support,” he wrote.

Whether that means Narender Reddy is anybody’s guess. Reddy, an Indian-American businessman and board member for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, says he’s thinking about running as a Republican to replace Woodall.

John Eaves’ plans are vague. But the former Fulton County Commission chairman, who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Atlanta, announced on Facebook that he is moving to Gwinnett County. That would put him in the 7th District. Eaves, however, has said nothing about whether this move to the suburbs includes making a run for Congress.

Plenty of other names are being thrown around as potential candidates for Woodall’s seat. On the Democratic side, there’s state Reps. Brenda LopezPete Marin and Sam Park, as well as Marquis Cole and Nabilah Islam. On the Republican side, there’s state Sens. P.K. Martin and Renee Unterman, state Rep. David Clark, former state Sen. David Shafer, former state Rep. Scott Hilton, as well as Rick Desai, Shane Hazel and Mike Royal.

A payday pop? State legislators would be in for an increase in salary if Senate Bill 81 wins passage. But this pay raise would come with a bonus: Additional bumps in compensation in the future could come without one of those votes that always appear inconvenient at election time.

Doug Richards of 11Alive brought attention to the legislation, which he says would raise the lawmakers’ $17,000-a-year salaries by 300 percent.

State Sen. Valencia Seay of Riverdale is the the sponsor. She’s a Democrat in a GOP-controlled chamber, so prospects for the bill and subsequent raises would seem dim.

That is until you look down the list of co-sponsors. The fourth signature is that of Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, whose clout always makes him a good guy to have in your corner.

The bill is set up to tie salaries to the state’s median annual household income, so raises would go up automatically.

In 2017, the most recent year available, the U.S. Census Bureau listed Georgia’s median household income at $52,977. That’s some upward mobility.

Capitol Recap

Here’s a look at some of the political and government stories that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s staff broke online during the past week. To see more of them, go to https://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

Read More

News

  • In the Book of Genesis, Noah’s ark survived a flood in the Middle East. A replica of the biblical boat was not as lucky, and its owners are suing -- for damages caused by heavy rains in northern Kentucky. >> Read more trending news  The owners of Ark Encounter are suing their five insurance carriers for refusing to cover nearly $1 million in damages after flooding in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its access road, the Louisville Courier Journal reported. In a 77-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kentucky, Crosswater Canyon Inc. and the Ark Encounter sued the business’ insurance underwriters, WLWT reported. The ark’s owners are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, the Courier Journal reported. The ark, located in Williamstown, was not damaged.  According to the lawsuit, 'A significant landslide occurred along portions of the slope,” which caused “significant damage” to the road surface, making portions of the road “unsafe and unfit for use.” The road was fixed by engineers at a cost of $1 million, WLEX reported. But when the Ark Encounter asked its insurance underwriters to cover the cost of repairs, they were rebuffed, the television station reported. The Allied World Assurance Co. is named as a defendant, along with three other carriers, according to The Washington Post. Initially, the suit alleges, defendants cited faulty craftsmanship as the reason for the property damage and claimed they were not liable, WLEX reported. After an appeal, the defendants admitted that only a small amount was covered by the policy. The Ark Encounter, built at a cost of $120 million, opened in July 2016 with a zoo, zip lines and a restaurant in addition to the five-story replica of the ark, the Post reported. It was founded by Ken Ham and his ministry, Answers in Genesis, the newspaper reported. Ark Encounter spokeswoman Melany Ethridge distributed a statement that said “the lawsuit speaks for itself,” noting the park remained open. 'You got to get to the boat to be on the boat,' Ethridge told the Courier Journal.
  • Amanda Eller, who went missing more than two weeks ago in Maui has reportedly been found alive according to KHNL in Hawaii. >> Read more trending news The the 35-year-old woman was spotted by a helicopter in a wooded area sources told KHNL. Eller hadn’t been seen since May 8, when she disappeared after a hike in a Maui Forest Reserve, known for its steep and rugged terrain. Her vehicle was found with her cellphone and wallet inside in a parking lot at the reserve. WSOC-TV confirmed the news with Eller's aunt, Lynn Eller Ansley, by phone Friday night. Ansley is one of several relatives who live in North Carolina. Eller’s parents had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to her safe return. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Officers found snakes, alligators and talking birds inside a Marion, Arkansas, home. >> Read more trending news William Hale, 47, is charged with 60 counts of aggravated animal cruelty after investigators found the exotic animals inside his home. One neighbor took pictures of the snakes he saw investigators taking out of the home. WHBQ-TV received a tip yesterday from a source who said the conditions were so unbearable that even the hazmat team could not handle it. He said the birds they found in that home were having full conversations with the investigators. “Tropical birds, I seen a parrot. Actually he had, like, seven of those, different type of birds, and I seen, like, 30 snakes,” Terrence Blackburn, a neighbor, said. “The bulldog was one of the first animals to come out, and there were five of those. I seen a poodle,” Blackburn said. Yellow caution tape surrounds the home. “I seen the alligator, which they had, it was a small baby alligator and I heard it was like nine of them,” Blackburn said. Investigators with the Marion Police Department told WHBQ-TV Animal Control officers responded to the home after complaints about barking dogs. “And you had no idea this was going on, no idea,” Blackburn said. Hale was not home at the time. He did not show up after officers spoke with him over the phone requesting his return. According to officers, that is when they conducted a search warrant and found several exotic animals that were not being properly cared for. “I would let him know that was kind of wrong. You know, we have kids over here, and them are dangerous animals,” Blackburn said. A source gave confirmation that there were several alligators inside that home yesterday.
  • Officials at Muskogee War Memorial Park said the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the National Guard took over the site Friday due to severe flooding. >> Read more trending news The park is home to the USS Batfish, a World War II-era submarine that now serves as a museum. Park staff and volunteers are being used to support emergency officials in managing the scene. Officials said at least one line on the Batfish has broken and they are working to keep it from floating away. Crews are filling the ballast tanks on board the USS Batfish to keep it inside the park's bowl. The National Guard also tied a new line to the boat to add leverage. Those interested in helping support the memorial and any potential repair costs can visit this link for more information.
  • A Walt Disney World employee from Clermont, Florida, was arrested on charges of trying to have sex with an 8-year-old girl. >> Read more trending news Investigators said Frederick Pohl Jr., 40, thought he was chatting with the father of the victim, but he was chatting with an undercover agent. The two arranged to meet at an Orlando hotel Tuesday and that's where Pohl was arrested. Investigators said Pohl was in possession of condoms and a child-sized pink dress. Authorities said Pohl was charged with transferring obscene materials to a minor and attempting to entice a minor. If convicted, Pohl faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison. Disney said Pohl was placed on unpaid leave of absence.
  • A Gwinnett County, Georgia, police K-9 died Thursday after pursuing a man in 90-degree heat, authorities said. >> Read more trending news Eli, a 9-year-old police dog, had been tracking a man in Grayson, Georgia, for about 30 minutes when he began to show signs of distress believed to be related to the heat, Gwinnett police said in a news release. Eli and his handler, Officer Matthew Bonanno, were assisting Snellville police in a pursuit after a man fled from officers near North Crestview Drive and Grayson Parkway, police said. After showing signs of distress, the dog was removed from the chase, according to police. As Eli and officers walked back to their patrol vehicles, the dog fell to the ground and began to act abnormally, police said.  In an effort to cool him down, officers covered Eli’s body with water. He was taken to a nearby veterinarian for treatment, where he stopped breathing. Vets performed CPR for about 30 minutes before he was pronounced dead just before 5 p.m. “We mourn the loss of this courageous K-9 and will provide more details at a later time,” Gwinnett police said, calling the situation tragic. “Please keep Officer Bonnano and his family in your thoughts.” Eli had been with the department for eight years. His body was taken to the University of Georgia, where a necropsy is being conducted to determine a cause of death, Gwinnett police said Friday. Snellville police said the pursuit began when a woman called 911 to report that her ex-boyfriend was following her in his car. At one point, the man reportedly struck the woman from behind in traffic, authorities said. The altercation began on U.S. 78 in DeKalb County before continuing into Gwinnett, police said. Snellville officers pursued the man into a neighborhood, where he abandoned his vehicle and ran away, prompting officers to call for a K-9. The man, whose name was not released, has still not been found.