Peach State Politics (Sep. 24, 2021)

Welcome back to Peach State Politics! We’ve got quite a bit to catch up on this week.

Well-wishes are pouring in for a powerful Georgia lawmaker after President Biden nominated him to serve as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Plus, we’ll take a look at who will be onstage at former President Trump’s rally on Saturday, and we now have a date for the Georgia Legislature’s special redistricting session. And as always, This Week in Washington. Let’s get started!

Biden names Georgia’s longest-serving legislator as ambassador to Dominican Republic

This week, President Joe Biden announced that he will be nominating Georgia’s longest-serving state legislator as the next ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre was one of the President’s earliest supporters during the 2020 campaign. He is one of the most influential members under the Gold Dome. The Columbus Democrat was first elected to the Georgia House in 1974 at the age of 26 and was the youngest member of the chamber at the time. He has broken several historical barriers over his 47-year tenure, such as becoming the first Black lawmaker to serve as a Governor’s floor leader and the first Black chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Smyre is widely admired for his negotiating skills. As such, he has been at the forefront of several controversial issues, from the removal of the Confederate emblem from the state flag, making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a state holiday and the passage of hate crimes legislation following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Several prominent Georgia politicians — Democrat and Republican — have congratulated Smyre on his nomination. “America could not have a better ambassador,” House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said of Smyre. Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, who worked closely with Smyre during her time as House Minority Leader, said that he will “continue his dedication to public service” in his new role.

Smyre, however, will not take on his new role until early next year. That’s because there is a long list of ambassador nominations awaiting confirmation votes in the Senate, which means it could be several months until Smyre’s nomination is brought up for a vote. In the meantime, he said plans to take part in the upcoming redistricting special session, when congressional and state legislative boundaries are reconfigured to account for population shifts in the most recent census.

Trump to rally in Georgia Saturday

Former President Donald Trump will be holding a rally in Perry, Georgia on Saturday — and a slate of statewide Republican candidates will be on hand.

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Secretary of State candidate Jody Hice and Lieutenant Governor candidate Burt Jones will be joining Trump onstage at the Georgia State Fairgrounds in Perry.

The rally is further evidence of the former President’s fixation with the Peach State. Since his razor-thin defeat to Joe Biden last November, he has made several unsuccessful attempts to overturn the state’s election results, from frantically urging Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” and openly demanding Gov. Brian Kemp to refuse to certify Biden’s win.

Since then, Raffensperger and Kemp have both become pariahs in Trump’s inner circle. But while Trump has gotten involved in Raffensperger’s primary, he has yet to endorse a primary challenger to Kemp.

Redistricting special session set for November

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a proclamation on Thursday ordering the General Assembly to reconvene for a special session starting on November 3. The main item on the agenda: redistricting and reapportionment.

The proclamation means that Georgia lawmakers will have to return to the Gold Dome in November for a three-week special session to redraw Georgia’s political boundaries, a process that takes place every ten years following the completion of the decennial census.

Though Georgia Democrats have triumphed in recent statewide elections, Republicans still maintain control of both chambers of the state legislature and are expected to use the process to cement their grip on state government.

This Week in Washington

As his administration deals with crisis after crisis, President Joe Biden this week addressed the United Nations to reshape the country’s image on the world stage. Plus, health officials are beginning to issue recommendations regarding COVID-19 booster shots, and last Saturday’s pro-Trump rally draws a small crowd as the January 6th commission issues its first subpoena.

ATL Mayor: Federal investigations take center stage at first debate

Candidates for Mayor of Atlanta took part in their first formal debate this week. They were asked about a wide range of issues facing the city: the rise in violent crime, the Buckhead cityhood movement, corruption and transportation. But the topic the saw the most tension: federal investigations into two of the candidates.

City Councilman Antonio Brown is currently awaiting trial on federal fraud charges, and former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration has been the subject of several FBI investigations at City Hall. Those investigations have led to resignations and indictments of some of Reed’s closest associates.

Both candidates were heavily attacked by their rivals during the debate, though they both remained defiant. Brown said that he continues to believe that he will be acquitted, while Reed made it clear that he himself is not under investigation and has not been charged with a crime.

Election day is 39 days away.

Georgia abortion ban argued in federal court

On Friday, a panel of three federal judges in Atlanta heard arguments over the legality of Georgia’s 2019 abortion ban, but a ruling on the case may not come until next year.

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a Mississippi case that could overturn the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Mississippi is seeking to implement a law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The federal judge panel seemed to indicate that they will not rule on the overall legality of Georgia’s 2019 law until after the Supreme Court has weighed in on the Mississippi case. Supreme Court decisions tend to come down in June.

Former Cobb Dem Party chair to run for GA SOS

A former Cobb County Democratic Party chair this week entered the race to be Georgia’s top election official.

Michael Owens, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a cybersecurity officer at Equifax, joined a growing list of Democrats vying to replace embattled Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Owens, who helmed the Cobb Democrats in the aftermath of the 2016 election, argues that his background in military service, cybersecurity and political organizing makes him better-suited to win the general election. He has waged two unsuccessful bids for Congress, losing to U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta) in 2014 and again in 2020.

He joins a Democratic primary that has drawn several other well-known candidates, from State Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) to former Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves. On the Republican side, Raffensperger is facing tough competition from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.

Have a good weekend!