Peach State Politics (May 14, 2021)

Colonial Pipeline restarted, GA to end unemployment benefits, Kemp issues only veto of 2021, this week in Washington, and more

This is been a jam-packed week in Georgia politics. But I’m here to get you up to speed on this week’s biggest stories! We are all still feeling the effects of last week’s cyberattack at Colonial Pipeline, but relief is in sight: officials announced this week that the pipeline has resumed normal operations. Plus, Georgia is joining several other Republican-led states in ending additional unemployment benefits, and Gov. Brian Kemp has issued his only veto of the 2021 legislative session. And I’ve got your weekly rundown of news from Washington. Let’s get started!

Colonial resumes operations as gas stations run dry

Frantic drivers got some much-needed good news regarding the dilemma at Colonial Pipeline: the Georgia-based pipeline announced this week that they have resumed normal operations. The pipeline had been shut down for several days following a massive ransomware attack. Federal investigators have signaled that a Russian gang known as “DarkSide” was behind the attack.

But gas stations across metro Atlanta and north Georgia are continuing to run dry amid shortage fears. Patrick De Haan, an oil and gasoline expert, said that nearly 70% of Atlanta’s gas stations have run out of gas as of Thursday night. Gov. Brian Kemp attempted to alleviate shortage fears by temporarily halting the collection of the state’s gas tax. The executive order runs through Saturday.

The rush to get gas has also raised concerns about price gouging. Attorney General Chris Carr said that his office is investigating about 300 reports of unusually high gas prices. Drivers are being asked to dial 800-869-1123 if they would like to submit a complaint about price gouging.

Georgia joins 15 other GOP-led states in ending unemployment payments

Georgia is joining a growing list of states with Republican governors in opting out of federal unemployment benefits.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced that the last $300 unemployment check from the federal government will be sent out at the end of June. The Governor believes that this is a necessary step in order to get unemployed Georgians back to work. “As we emerge from this pandemic, Georgians deserve to get back to normal – and today’s announced economic recovery plan will help more employees and businesses across our state do so,” he said Thursday.

Under the American Rescue Plan, which was narrowly passed by Congress, the current round of unemployment payments were set to expire in September. But Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, also a Republican, believes that unemployed Georgians won’t want to go back to work if they keep receiving benefits from the federal government. “By [September], the damage will be irreversible,” Butler says.

While federal unemployment benefits will soon come to end, the state will continue to offer benefits.

Kemp vetoes bill targeting embattled Labor Commish

Speaking of unemployment benefits, Kemp’s only veto of 2021 has to do with this very issue.

The Governor this week announced that he had vetoed S.B. 156, a bill that would have effectively weakened the office of the Georgia Labor Commissioner by creating a new position called the “Chief Labor Officer.” They would have the same powers as the Labor Commissioner, with the only big difference being the method by which they are chosen: the Labor Commissioner is a statewide elected position, but the new Chief Labor Officer would have been chosen by the state legislature.

State lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly frustrated with Labor Commissioner Mark Butler over his handling of the state’s unemployment claims. Some say they have received countless complaints from constituents about delays in receiving their benefits.

In a statement announcing the veto, Kemp suggested that the bill runs afoul of the state constitution. He said that he understands the frustration over the delayed response to unemployment claims, but S.B. 156 proposes what he calls “serious infringements” on the separation of powers guaranteed under the Georgia Constitution.

As for Butler, he has not yet announced whether or not he will seek re-election in 2022. But he has already drawn opposition in both parties. Not only are two Democratic state lawmakers running against him, but State Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) plans to challenge him for the Republican nomination.

This Week in Washington

Leading off this week’s edition of This Week in Washington: Liz Cheney. Plus, the Biden Administration responds to April’s lackluster jobs report, and the President announced new guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans.

ATL Mayor 2021: Who’s in, who’s considering and who’s out

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ announcement last week that she will not run for re-election instantly set off a crowded race for the city’s top job. This week, we’re getting our first real glimpse of just how crowded that race will be.

Prior to Bottoms’ announcement, the only other candidates in the race were attorney Sharon Gay and City Council President Felicia Moore. Two more candidates threw their hat in the ring this week: City councilmen Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens both kicked off their campaigns this week.

The candidate that everyone is keeping an eye on is former Mayor Kasim Reed. In an interview on Thursday, Reed was asked about the city’s growing crime problem and the ongoing federal investigation into his administration. When asked if he was considering another run, the former mayor said: “I felt like there are things happening in Atlanta that I’d never seen in my life, and I’ve been here all my life.”

Another candidate who seems to be kicking the tires: former interim Congressman Kwanza Hall. A longtime member of the Atlanta City Council, Hall unsuccessfully ran for Mayor in 2017 and was elected to serve the final weeks of the late Rep. John Lewis’ term in a November 2020 special election. In a Facebook post, Hall said that he will give it “serious consideration and prayer” over the weekend and that a decision will be made soon.

One candidate also took her name out of the running this week: former City Council President Cathy Woolard. A native of East Atlanta, Woolard finished third in the 2017 race for Mayor. She said on Facebook that her best move is to “weigh in from the sidelines and continue working to make Atlanta and Georgia a better place.”

Carr kicks off re-election campaign

This week, Attorney General Chris Carr (R) announced that he will forgo a bid for U.S. Senate and run for a second full term as Georgia’s top law enforcement official. A protégé of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, Carr was widely seen as a leading candidate to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in a race that has remained largely frozen.

Instead, Carr will run for re-election to a second full term as AG. He is already facing two well-funded Democratic challengers: 2018 nominee Charlie Bailey is back for a rematch, and State Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) is vying to become the state’s first female AG.

My story on Carr’s announcement can be read here.

Citizen’s arrest overhaul signed into law

This week, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill overhauling the state’s citizen’s arrest laws over a year after Ahmaud Arbery was chased down and killed by a group of three white men.

H.B. 479 was seen as one of the Governor’s biggest legislative priorities in the 2021 session. The bill, which passed on near-unanimous votes, overturns Georgia’s civil war-era citizen’s arrest statute. “After the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery, we knew that action was needed to ensure an antiquated, Civil-War era statute could not be used to justify rogue vigilantism in the Peach State,” Gov. Kemp said at the signing ceremony.

Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, attended the ceremony. She said that she saw the signing of the bill as a birthday present to her slain son, who would have celebrated his 27th birthday this month. Gov. Kemp gifted Cooper-Jones with one of the pens he used to sign the bill.

The men accused of killing Arbery are now facing federal hate crimes charges. Defense attorneys are currently asking the judge to allow Arbery’s past encounters with police to be used as evidence in the trial.

Fulton DA to seek death penalty against spa shooter

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced this week that her office will pursue the death penalty against Robert Aaron Long, the 22-year-old accused shooter in the March shooting rampage at Atlanta area spas. The shootings claimed the lives of 8 people, most of whom were Asian-American women.

Willis said in her announcement that she never imagined a scenario where she would seek the death penalty, but said that this case warrants “the ultimate penalty.” She also plans to charge Long with hate crimes and domestic terrorism.

Willis’ decision was not met without criticism. Some of the state’s most prominent Asian leaders argued that the shooting was horrific but that the death penalty remains “fundamentally wrong.”

More on Willis’ decision can be read here.

Georgia’s Clyde downplays insurrection

This week, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Athens) attempted to downplay the horrific events that unfolded on January 6.

At a hearing on the Capitol riot, Clyde said that no insurrection took place on January 6 and compared the rioters to tourists.

I try to keep my weekly newsletter free of my own political opinions, so please click here to read my thoughts on Clyde’s comments.

This weekend: GA GOP to hold cong. district conventions

Finally, the Georgia Republican Party is set to hold their congressional district conventions this weekend. Delegates will gather in all 14 districts to elect district chairs and members of the party state committee.

The CD conventions will precede the party’s state convention, which is set to be held early next month. GA GOP chairman David Shafer is set to be easily re-elected with the endorsement of President Trump as the party gears up to play defense yet again in 2022 after a series of bruising statewide losses in the last year.

Details on the time and locations of the CD conventions can be found here.