Peach State Politics (June 4, 2021)

GA GOP convention kicks off Friday, why Ralston won't run for Senate, the race to replace Jody Hice, Atlanta-based media giant targeted in ransomware attack, This week in Washington, and more

Good Friday morning, everyone! I hope you all had a peaceful and relaxing Memorial Day Weekend. I’m glad to be back with this week’s biggest stories in Georgia politics! For better or for worse, the news is not taking the summer off.

The Georgia Republican Party state convention kicks off on Friday. Delegates will travel to Jekyll Island on the Georgia coast to re-elect Chairman David Shafer and establish the party’s 2022 platform. Plus, I examine why Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is unlikely to run for U.S. Senate, and we explore the wide-open race for Congress in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District.

Also, an Atlanta-based media giant now joins a growing number of major U.S. companies that have been targeted by ransomware attacks in recent weeks, and we’ve got your weekly Washington rundown. Let’s get started!

GA GOP state convention kicks off Friday

Georgia Republicans are set to kick off their state convention on Friday. Delegates will descend on the Georgia coast to choose party leaders and outline their platform heading into the 2022 campaign.

Chairman David Shafer is expected to easily win a second term, and he has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Though he is facing a spirited but longshot challenge from Jason Shepherd, the former chair of the Cobb County Republican Party who argues that it’s time for new leadership.

The big meeting of course comes months after a string of bruising statewide losses for the party, from losing the presidential contest for the first time since 1992 and losing both U.S. Senate seats in star-studded runoff elections. But rather than figure out what led to these defeats in the first place, the party is expected to double down on their pro-Trump rhetoric.

I would keep my eye on how the crowd reacts to Gov. Brian Kemp’s remarks on Saturday. We all know by now that he has become a pariah among Trump supporters for refusing to overturn the results of Georgia’s election. As GPB’s Stephen Fowler notes:

“Perhaps the biggest test will be the reception that Kemp receives during his Saturday speech to convention-goers. The first-term governor has weathered both extremes of the former president's attention, from decisively winning the gubernatorial primary runoff on the strength of a Trump tweet to facing a growing chorus of animosity for not attempting to overturn the election in Trump's favor.”

Why Ralston (probably) won’t run for Senate

The talk of the town lately has been a rumor that Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R) is mulling a challenge to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D). The moment these reports began to surface, I started to believe that it sounded too good to be true for quite a few reasons:

  1. He has little charisma

  2. He loves his current job as Speaker

  3. He has quite a bit of baggage

I go into more detail here, but long story short: I find it incredibly hard to believe that Ralston would want to give up the speakership to run statewide in a competitive state. He has often quipped about how he could hold the speakership until he dies. And to his credit, his caucus has not shown any signs of wanting to get rid of him. Why give up a 100% secure job to run in a 50/50 statewide election?

Inside the race to replace Jody Hice

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro), a conservative firebrand who voted to overturn the electoral college results in several key states, launched a primary challenge to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His statewide campaign set off a free-for-all Republican primary in his ruby red 10th district, and we are beginning to get a look at who might run to succeed him.

On Tuesday, Georgia Revenue Commissioner David Curry launched his campaign for the sprawling eastern Georgia district, and slammed national Democrats in his launch video. “President Trump not only showed us outsiders that we can stand up to the left, but that the American people support it and want representatives who will fight for them,” the Henry County Republican said.

More candidates are sure to join Curry in the Republican primary. Mike Collins, who Hice defeated in the 2014 Republican primary, is expected to launch his campaign in a matter of days. Former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun could also run for his old seat. And State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) is reportedly considering a run.

Report: Atlanta-based media giant targeted in ransomware attack

BREAKING OVERNIGHT: Not even a month after the ransomware attack at Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, there are now reports of yet another Georgia-based company falling victim to a similar attack.

Cox Media Group is one of the largest media conglomerates in the United States, owning 57 television and radio stations across 20 media markets, including Atlanta, Orlando, Seattle, Charlotte and Boston. Reports from overnight say that online and mobile livestreams for multiple Cox stations went dark on Thursday. Users seeking to watch or listen to a Cox station on their phone or computer were greeted with error messages. In addition, some of the company’s TV stations were unable to go on the air for their afternoon and evening newscasts on Thursday, with some instead airing rebroadcasts of daytime talk shows.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Cox is the owner of WSB-TV, Atlanta’s ABC-affiliated station. They also own some of the most popular radio stations in the Atlanta market, including news/talk station WSB Radio and adult R&B station KISS 104.1. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest newspaper in Georgia, is also a property of Cox. As of Thursday evening, the company has not confirmed or denied reports of the cyberattack. But several of the company’s livestreams remain offline, and there is no timetable as to when service will be fully resorted.

The news of the attack comes as American companies grapple with the growing threat of cyberattacks. Last month’s attack at Colonial Pipeline sent gas prices through the roof, and one of the country’s largest meat processors recently went back online following a cyberattack. Hackers also infiltrated New York’s transit systems earlier this year, though city officials say that the impact was minimal.

This Week in Washington

This week, President Joe Biden continued hashing out the details of his sweeping infrastructure plan. Despite ongoing discussions with Republican Senators, the party still remains largely united against the President’s plan. Plus, the President traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma this week to mark the centennial anniversary of the city’s deadly race massacre, where he promised that his administration will continue to fight systemic racism head on.

Kemp suspends embattled Clayton Sheriff

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has suspended Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill from office indefinitely as the controversial sheriff faces federal charges for civil rights violations.

The Governor appointed a commission last month to examine whether the charges would impact his ability to carry out his duties as sheriff. Hill is being accused by prosecutors of ordering officers to strap inmates in restraint chairs inside the Clayton County Jail.

Hill’s suspension will last until either the end of his term or the conclusion of his trial, “whichever comes first.” His attorneys say they were disappointed by the governor’s decision, though they remain confident that their client will be acquitted and reinstated as sheriff.

An interim sheriff has not yet been named.

Ex-Fulton commish chair to run for GA SOS

A former Fulton County Commission chairman is throwing his name into the race to be Georgia’s top elections official.

John Eaves served over a decade as chair of the Fulton County Commission, stepping down in 2017 to mount an unsuccessful campaign for Mayor of Atlanta. In 2020, he competed for the Democratic nomination in Georgia’s 7th District, but finished at a distant 5th place in the primary.

In a statement, Eaves appeared to take aim at the recent election restriction bills passed in Georgia and in other states. “Georgia has been a battleground for partisan bickering surrounding voter access and claims of fraud,” said Eaves. “I am prepared to fight to make our state a model of democracy, where we honor everyone's right to vote, and we have systems in place to encourage greater voter access and election integrity. We have come to far to go back now.”

Eaves must first make it out of the Democratic primary before he can advance to the general election. The only other announced Democrat in the race so far is State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a member of the Georgia Democratic Party’s leadership team who holds Stacey Abrams’ former DeKalb County House district.

Alarm goes off at Fulton election warehouse

Fulton County’s top law enforcement officials are confident that ballots at an election warehouse remain secure after a motion sensor alarm went off last weekend. Sheriff Pat Labat said at a press conference that he would consider the incident to be a “false alarm.”

This comes as the county prepares to undergo an examination of thousands of absentee ballots. A judge agreed to unseal nearly 150,000 mail in ballots from Fulton, which is the largest county in the state. Though the examination will not overturn Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, opponents have pointed to similar audits in highly-populated counties across the country that are being pushed by supporters of former President Donald Trump, who continue to claim that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

The former President himself weighed in on the false alarm at the Fulton County warehouse, warning in an email to supporters that the ballots could be compromised by “ANYONE” if the building is left unsecured.

GA NAACP President to step down in July

In closing, I would like to send my best wishes to Georgia NAACP President Rev. James “Major” Woodall, who announced this week that he will be stepping down as the leader of the civil rights organization’s Georgia chapter at the end of July.

Woodall became President of the Georgia NAACP in 2019. In a statement on Tuesday, Woodall listed some of the organization’s accomplishments during his tenure, from distributing COVID-19 tests and vaccines to underserved communities and suing to block the implementation of recent election restrictions.

Rev. Woodall has not outlined his future plans, but he pledged his full support to the organization during the transition period. He will also continue to serve on a panel that is advising U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on federal nominations.

Thank you, Reverend, for leading the charge to make our state a better place. I know that your fight will not end here. If anything, it’s just getting started.