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Call seeks end to Georgia’s open primaries

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If crossover voters helped anyone, it may have been Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He avoided a runoff when he topped the 50% threshold needed to elude a second round by about 55,000 votes in his victory over U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.

Other contests weren’t as close: For example, Gov. Brian Kemp, in his bid for reelection, received 74% of the vote against four challengers, including former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

Georgia is one of 15 states with open primaries, which allow voters to choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot without having to register with a political party, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The rules differ in other states, such as Florida, where closed primaries deter crossover voting by requiring voters to first register as a party member.

Closing Georgia’s primaries would require the General Assembly’s approval, which means state House Speaker David Ralston could help determine its fate. Right now, he doesn’t seem to be on board.

“There’s no need to change the current primary system,” said Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for Ralston.

Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock say they will honor the request by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, to wait patiently while talks continue on a bipartisan effort to produce gun control legislation. Warnock said Democrats won’t get everything they want, but it’s important that something gets done following last month’s mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock say they will honor the request by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, to wait patiently while talks continue on a bipartisan effort to produce gun control legislation. Warnock said Democrats won't get everything they want, but it's important that something gets done following last month's mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock say they will honor the request by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, to wait patiently while talks continue on a bipartisan effort to produce gun control legislation. Warnock said Democrats won’t get everything they want, but it’s important that something gets done following last month’s mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Ossoff, Warnock willing to wait if it helps gun control talks proceed

Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock want to give their fellow U.S. senators a chance to reach a bipartisan deal on new gun control measures following a series of mass shootings.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who’s heading up the Democratic side in negotiations, asked members of the caucus to give him more time to formalize an agreement and not put pressure on senators on either side of the issue.

Ossoff was amenable.

“It sounds like some bipartisan progress is being made,” he said. “So I’m going to decline to negotiate via the press and in public and give that bipartisan negotiation the space that it needs to produce some result that I will consider.”

Warnock said Democrats will not get everything they want in a deal but it would be a “moral failure” if nothing gets done following May’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers.

The senator has not said publicly what he thinks the agreement should include.

“I don’t know that it’s helpful at this moment to draw red lines,” Warnock said. “I want to see us get something done. I want to see us break the logjam.”

U.S. House Democrats, with the help of a few Republicans, passed legislation this past week that would raise the minimum age for purchasing a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21 years old, ban large-capacity magazines, further restrict bump stocks that allow guns to be fired rapidly, and further regulate “ghost guns,” which are untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home.

In addition, the House passed a “red flag” measure proposed by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, that would allow guns to be temporarily taken from people deemed by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others. That bill would provide incentives to states to create their own “red flag” legislation. Georgia is not among the 19 states that already have such a law.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also said the House will at some point vote on whether to reinstate an assault weapons ban.

Any Senate deal would not be as far-reaching but would have a better chance of avoiding a filibuster in that chamber to become law. The proposals that appear to have the best chance of making it into the final deal include expanded background checks, red flag laws, improvements to school safety and a waiting period for 18- to 21-year-olds buying certain guns.

Gov. Brian Kemp this past week touted steps the state has taken to improve school security in light of the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, but he made no mention of guns. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Brian Kemp this past week touted steps the state has taken to improve school security in light of the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, but he made no mention of guns. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Brian Kemp this past week touted steps the state has taken to improve school security in light of the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, but he made no mention of guns. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kemp school safety plan makes no mention of guns

Gov. Brian Kemp supports boosting security in schools but sees no need to bring guns into the discussion.

Speaking this past week at a Georgia Alliance of School Resource Officers and Educators conference in Athens, Kemp asked for a moment of silence for the 19 elementary school students and two teachers who were killed last month in Uvalde, Texas.

“The thought of something similar happening in one of our places of learning is one of my heaviest concerns, one that I ask God to guard against every day,” Kemp told the school officers.

Kemp, who’s up for reelection, pointed to steps the state has already taken to prevent similar incidents. They include $69 million in school security grants created shortly after he took office, new funding for mental health resources at public schools and other efforts to treat mental illness.

But the governor, who recently signed legislation to eliminate the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the state, made no mention of limiting access to firearms.

A “School Safety Update” his office recently released focuses instead on training sessions and site assessments.

Kemp’s opponent in November, Democrat Stacey Abrams, told a crowd of new high school graduates that the governor’s refusal to support new limits on guns makes their lives more dangerous.

“I don’t believe we should have guns everywhere,” she said. “And while I don’t have an issue with responsible gun owners, we can’t figure out who they are if we don’t have background checks.”

Federal law still requires a background check for most gun purchases, although there’s an exclusion for weapons sold at gun shows or through private transfers.

“It’s about making sure that we can protect the Second Amendment and protect second-graders in the state of Georgia,” Abrams said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called on Gov. Brian Kemp to extend the suspension of the state’s motor fuel tax through the end of the year.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called on Gov. Brian Kemp to extend the suspension of the state's motor fuel tax through the end of the year.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called on Gov. Brian Kemp to extend the suspension of the state’s motor fuel tax through the end of the year.

Abrams presses to extend suspension on state’s gas tax

Gov. Brian Kemp should have gone further when he recently suspended Georgia’s motor fuel tax, said the Democrat trying to unseat him.

Stacey Abrams has called on the governor to extend the break on the state’s gas tax of 29.1 cents per gallon through the end of the year.

“Suspend the state gas tax through the end of the year and give hardworking Georgians the stability they deserve,” Abrams said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers passed legislation in mid-March to temporarily halt the collection of the state sales tax until May 31, saving drivers more than $300 million in taxes. Just before Memorial Day travelers hit the road, Kemp pushed the end of the tax break to July 14.

An aide said Abrams would dip into the state’s surplus to finance the extension of the gas tax break, which amounts to roughly $170 million a month in tax revenue vital to transportation projects.

That’s how Kemp’s office filled the gap for the first few weeks of the tax break, drawing from the $3.7 billion surplus the state achieved during the past fiscal year thanks largely to federal COVID-19 relief spending on programs such as enhancing unemployment checks and funding child tax credits.

Kemp also used the surplus to pay for other proposals, such as $1.1 billion in income tax refunds.

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell said Abrams has opposed the governor’s efforts to stem inflation.

“She now suddenly backs a proposal which she has no plan to pay for,” Mitchell said.

Georgia Democrats have looked to tax breaks to counter GOP attacks blaming them for higher fuel prices. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who’s up for reelection, has proposed suspending the the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon until 2023.

Georgia gas prices hit new highs this past week, according to AAA, with an average statewide cost of $4.33 for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel. The national average is $4.92 per gallon.

A tale of two campaigns: It’s the best of states, the worst of states

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t take long to capitalize on comments made by his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, that Georgia is the “worst state in the country to live.”

The sound bite was repeated several times in his first television ad of the general election cycle.

Naturally, the ad advances a counterposition, beginning with a standard phrase of icy condemnation as Southern as sweet tea.

“Bless her heart,” a narrator says, “Georgia leads the nation because Brian Kemp is the governor.”

It closes by saying, “Brian Kemp’s kept Georgia the best place to live.”

The 30-second spot highlights a speech Abrams gave last month to Gwinnett County Democrats to great applause that made note of Georgia’s poor rankings involving health indicators and incarceration rates.

“I am tired of hearing about being the best state in the country to do business when we are the worst state in the country to live,” she told a crowd of hundreds.

Abrams immediately tried to add context by pointing to declining wages and the state’s high maternal mortality rates. Days later, she called the remark “inelegant,” but she stood by its sentiments.

Brian Kemp is a failed governor who doesn’t care about the people of Georgia,” she said. “If you look at his record, if you look at the results under his four years of leadership, there has been failure after failure.”

Kemp’s campaign responded quickly.

“Stacey Abrams may have missed this while courting liberal billionaires in New York and California,” Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell said, “but Georgia is the best place in the country to live, work and raise a family — and Gov. Kemp is fighting to keep it that way.”

Abrams’ team then came out with a digital ad declaring that “Georgia is where dreams are made.”

“The problem, it said, “is that Brian Kemp is the governor only for those who are doing well already.”

Political expedience

  • Ossoff seeks honor for Isakson: Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is working with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, to name the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ administrative offices in Decatur after former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who died in December. Isakson served as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
  • Greene adds controversial figure to her team: British commentator Milo Yiannopoulos has joined the staff of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as an unpaid intern. Yiannopoulos’ new position gained the attention of national media, which pointed to numerous controversies involving the provocateur. They include his resignation as an editor at the conservative media outlet Breitbart News when remarks he made appearing to support pedophilia surfaced. Yiannopoulos has also said he was a victim of child abuse and called it a “disgusting crime.”
  • Warnock memoir set to be published: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has a memoir coming out. Later this month, he will attend events to promote “A Way Out of No Way” at the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the bookstore at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he’s the senior pastor.
  • Georgia Republicans given roles at Faith & Freedom conference: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker and U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, will both speak at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Policy Conference later this month in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Nguyen gains backing of state senator: State Rep. Bee Nguyen, running in this month’s Democratic runoff for secretary of state, picked up an endorsement from state Sen. Tonya Anderson.
  • Wade throws support behind McCormick: State Rep. Will Wade, whose district includes Dawson County, now part of the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, is backing Rich McCormick’s U.S. House campaign in the GOP runoff.
  • NRA backs Jones: The National Rifle Association awarded its endorsement to Vernon Jones in the Republican runoff in the 10th Congressional District.
  • Group backs two U.S. House hopefuls: The conservative group Frontline Policy Action handed out endorsements to a pair of Republican candidates running in U.S. House runoffs: Rich McCormick in the 6th Congressional District and Mike Collins in the 10th Congressional District.
  • PAC gives its nod to three candidates: The Collective PAC, which supports building “Black political power,” is siding with three candidates in their Democrtic runoff races: Kwanza Hall, who’s running for lieutenant governor; state Rep. William Boddie, a candidate for labor commissioner; and Imani Barnes, a hopeful in state House District 86.

More top stories 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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