Kemp stages bill signing in Perdue country

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House Ways and Means Chairman Shaw Blackmon, a Republican from Bonaire, said that once the measure is fully implemented, it will save a family of four with an income of $75,000 about $650 a year.

The tax cut even drew votes from a majority of Democrats in the General Assembly, but that doesn’t mean everybody likes it.

“Brian Kemp’s shift to a flat income tax is a boon for the wealthy, and stands consistent with his record of serving the well-off and well-connected while leaving behind working Georgians by opposing Medicaid expansion and cutting funding for public schools,” U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Kemp was determined to make the most of the moment by signing the tax cut into law on Perdue’s turf.

It might seem like a cocky move, but Kemp appears to be in strong position. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this past week showed Kemp way ahead of Perdue, 53% to 27%, with less than a month until the May 24 primary.

Kemp added to the spectacle by bringing along a guest for the trip to Middle Georgia to attend an economic development announcement in Perry: David Perdue’s first cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Sonny Perdue, after some maneuvering by Kemp, just became chancellor of the University System of Georgia, which comes with a big desk and an annual salary of $524,000.

The former governor, with the current governor at his side, was asked how he’ll vote in the primary.

“That’s not a question I’m prepared to answer today,” he said.

Something like that might best be discussed at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

State Election Board issues subpoenas to require group to back up allegations

The State Election Board is seeking evidence from a conservative election organization to back up allegations it has raised about ballot harvesting in the 2020 election in Georgia.

Ballot harvesting involves collecting multiple absentee ballots and turning them in to election officials or drop boxes, which is illegal in Georgia. There are exceptions, however, for family members and caregivers.

True the Vote filed a complaint Nov. 30 alleging that unnamed organizations paid unnamed individuals $10 per absentee ballot delivered to drop boxes in metro Atlanta. The group did not provide details supporting its allegations.

The State Election Board voted in March to issue subpoenas to compel True the Vote to turn over documents, recordings and names allegedly connected to ballot harvesting.

“They need to provide us the names of those people that they say harvested the ballots. We’re going to find out who they are and where they live, were they paid, and how much were they paid,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a debate in Ellijay.

True the Vote’s complaint repeated several allegations that the GBI previously reviewed before declining to open an investigation. The organization said it tracked cellphone GPS signals to show illegal ballot collection at ballot drop boxes.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said in September that “an investigation is not justified” because there was no other evidence tying cellphone signals to ballot harvesting.

Investigators in the secretary of state’s office will receive information gathered through the subpoenas. They will then report their findings to the State Election Board, which could levy fines or refer cases to prosecutors, if there are any.

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For Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron said his office tried to notify the secretary of state’s office that he suspected there were problems with Georgia’s automatic voter registrations after spotting a big decline in applications. “We couldn’t get any explanation from the state about why it happened. Whatever was going on, they didn’t want to talk about it,” said Barron, who resigned in March. “I can’t believe the secretary of state didn’t notice unless they were paying no attention.” (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

For Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron said his office tried to notify the secretary of state's office that he suspected there were problems with Georgia's automatic voter registrations after spotting a big decline in applications. “We couldn’t get any explanation from the state about why it happened. Whatever was going on, they didn’t want to talk about it,” said Barron, who resigned in March. “I can’t believe the secretary of state didn’t notice unless they were paying no attention.” (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

caption arrowCaption

For Fulton County Election Director Richard Barron said his office tried to notify the secretary of state’s office that he suspected there were problems with Georgia’s automatic voter registrations after spotting a big decline in applications. “We couldn’t get any explanation from the state about why it happened. Whatever was going on, they didn’t want to talk about it,” said Barron, who resigned in March. “I can’t believe the secretary of state didn’t notice unless they were paying no attention.” (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

Credit: Jenn Finch

Ex-Fulton election chief suspected problems with auto voter registrations

It took more than a year before the state fixed a problem with its automatic voter registrations, but the former elections director for Fulton County suspected something was wrong shortly after the trouble began.

Richard Barron — often the target of criticism over Fulton’s difficulties in managing elections, problems that prompted a performance review that could lead to a state takeover of the county’s election board — noticed a problem with the county’s registration applications in February 2021. The county had seen fewer than 6,000 applications that month, a huge drop from the 35,000 that came the same month a year earlier.

The same problem was playing out in county election offices across the state.

The rate of Georgians submitting registration information at the driver’s license offices fell from 79% in 2020 to 39% in 2021, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Barron suspected that fault lied with the state’s automatic registration program, which was supposed to sign up eligible voters at driver’s licenses offices unless they opted out.

Barron said his staff called and emailed the secretary of state’s office several times.

“We couldn’t get any explanation from the state about why it happened. Whatever was going on, they didn’t want to talk about it,” said Barron, who resigned in March. “I can’t believe the secretary of state didn’t notice unless they were paying no attention.”

It turned out the Georgia Department of Driver Services had shut off automatic voter registration when it redesigned its website in January 2021. Instead of registering drivers by default, the new website required drivers to click “Yes” or “No” when asked whether they wanted to sign up.

The discovery wasn’t made until — in response to the AJC’s reporting — pictures of the department’s website surfaced, showing that it had altered its online voter registration form last year.

The problem wasn’t fixed until last month, after Barron contacted the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, a nonprofit organization focused on automatic registration, which then alerted the Department of Driver Services.

The secretary of state’s office refused to answer questions about whether it investigated the decline in registrations or communicated with the Department of Driver Services about the issue.

A spokesman said the secretary of state’s office worked with the Department of Driver Services and confirmed automatic registration is now working correctly, although data is not yet available to determine whether the fix will restore registrations to their previous levels.

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Democrat Stacey Abrams shakes hands with Republican Brian Kemp at the beginning of a debate during their 2018 campaign for governor. Kemp, who won that race, recently named one of his frequent donors to serve on the ethics commission while it investigates Abrams’ campaign. Abrams and Kemp could face each other again in November’s general election. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Democrat Stacey Abrams shakes hands with Republican Brian Kemp at the beginning of a debate during their 2018 campaign for governor. Kemp, who won that race, recently named one of his frequent donors to serve on the ethics commission while it investigates Abrams' campaign. Abrams and Kemp could face each other again in November's general election. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption

Democrat Stacey Abrams shakes hands with Republican Brian Kemp at the beginning of a debate during their 2018 campaign for governor. Kemp, who won that race, recently named one of his frequent donors to serve on the ethics commission while it investigates Abrams’ campaign. Abrams and Kemp could face each other again in November’s general election. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Kemp donor joins ethics panel while it investigates Abrams campaign

Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed one of his frequent campaign donors to the state ethics commission as it continues to investigate the 2018 campaign of Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom he could face in November’s general election.

Kemp picked Atlanta attorney David Burge to replace Eric Barnum, whose term expired. Barnum had the distinction of being the only member of the ethics panel to make campaign contributions to Abrams.

Burge served as a GOP member of the Fulton County Board of Elections and was a delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of campaign reports shows Burge has contributed to Kemp more than three dozen times, going back to his 2006 bid for agriculture commissioner. Most of the contributions were relatively small.

Burge has also contributed to some Democrats, including state Sens. Elena Parent of Atlanta and Kim Jackson of Stone Mountain; Jason Carter when he ran for governor in 2014; and then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

In 2019, the ethics commission began issuing subpoenas seeking bank records and other documents from Abrams’ campaign and affiliated groups as part of an investigation into whether they illegally coordinated their efforts to support her bid for governor.

Abrams’ camp says it has provided thousands of documents to the commission and that the panel was seeking records that either didn’t exist or should have no bearing on its case.

One of the groups, Gente4Abrams (People for Abrams), was fined $50,000 by the state ethics commission in 2020 for failing to report what it spent to help her win the Democratic primary.

The group spent $240,000 for canvassing, social media posts, and print and radio advertising to help Abrams win the primary but didn’t report what it spent or where it got the money to pay for those efforts, the commission said.

It later registered with the state and reported spending about $685,000 more to help the Democrat in her unsuccessful general election campaign against Kemp.

Abrams’ former House district becomes a hotbed for Democratic interest

Stacey Abrams’ former state House district has gained big attention from some prominent Democrats and political groups.

Fair Fight, the voting rights group Abrams founded after she lost the 2018 governor’s race, announced last month that it was endorsing Bentley Hudgins, a Democratic candidate in House District 90.

The group called Hudgins “the clear choice in the election for any Georgian concerned about protecting voting rights.”

That praise seemed highly specific, considering that another candidate in the Democratic primary is Saira Draper, the former head of the voter protection initiative at the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Now some high-profile Democrats are getting behind Draper’s effort to succeed state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is giving up the House District 90 seat to run for secretary of state.

Draper’s new backers include state Sen. Elena Parent, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, state House Minority Whip Dave Wilkerson and DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston.

Politically expedient

  • Ferguson makes his mark in party fundraising: U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson of West Point, already the highest-ranking Georgia lawmaker in the House Republican Conference as chief deputy to GOP Whip Steve Scalise, is showing promise for a promotion if the party takes control of the chamber in this year’s midterms through his fundraising. He has collected $1.6 million, so far, for the GOP’s campaign arm for House races.
  • NRA sides with Kemp: Gov. Brian Kemp won’t have to wait this time: He got the National Rifle Association’s endorsement ahead of the GOP primary. In 2018, the NRA backed then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in advance of the gubernatorial primary. It then switched to Kemp after he bested Cagle in a runoff.
  • Carr gets big hand from group he once led: Peachtree Values, a group with ties to the Republican Attorney Generals Association, is spending $400,000 on an ad buy in support of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr in his GOP primary race. Carr faces John Gordon, a businessman who holds an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Carr was chairman of RAGA but resigned after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the organization had paid for robocalls to tell Trump supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to “stop the steal.” Carr said he had no knowledge of the robocalls, but he did not resign from the group altogether.
  • Law enforcement officers line up behind AG: Republican Chris Carr, seeking reelection as attorney general, announced he has support from a group of more than 100 Georgia sheriffs, district attorneys and local solicitors.
  • Democratic secretaries of state group takes side in primary: State Rep. Bee Nguyen picked up the support of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State in her bid against four other hopefuls in the Democratic primary for secretary of state.
  • Public Service Commission hopeful exits race: Russell Edwards announced that he is suspending his campaign for the District 2 seat on the Public Service Commission and added that he is backing his opponent in the Democratic primary, Patty Durand. Edwards’ name will still appear on ballots in the May 24 primary.
  • Farley gains endorsements in PSC race: Democrat Chandra Farley has picked up endorsements in her bid for Seat 3 on the Public Service Commission from the Committee for a New Georgia, a political arm of the New Georgia Project voter registration group, as well as the left-leaning Georgia Conservation Voters.
  • Labor giant hands out endorsements: The Georgia AFL-CIO endorsed Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in the 7th Congressional District primary. The group also announced it’s supporting Democratic state Rep. William Boddie in the race for labor commissioner and Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen in the secretary of state’s race and Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan in the contest for attorney general.
  • African American group offers its support: The Collective PAC, a political committee dedicated to helping more Black people get elected to office, is backing Democratic U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop of Albany and Nikema Williams of Atlanta in their reelection bids.
  • Local officials get behind U.S. House hopeful: Marc McMain, who is running in the 10th Congressional District’s crowded GOP primary, has gained endorsements from Walton County Commissioners Bo Warren, Mark Banks and Timmy Shelnutt, and Barrow County Commissioners Billy Parks and Ben Hendricks.

More can be found online

Here’s a sample of other stories about Georgia government and politics that can be found at www.ajc.com/politics/:



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