Political Insider

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The Jolt: Be careful with those rocks hurled at Stacey Abrams’ finances


So you know that Brian Kemp and his Republican allies have begun attacking his Democratic rival for her personal financial decisions. From a Wednesday post:

“Stacey Abrams made over $1 million in the last few years,” Kemp said. “Instead of paying more than $50,000 in back taxes, she gave $50,000 to her campaign. If that’s not criminal, it should be.”

The Republican Governors Association picked up the cudgel this morning with a missive that included this line:

“Abrams clearly had the means to pay her fair share as a taxpayer, but chose instead to fund her own political ambitions.”

And Thursday Georgia GOP chair John Watson added his voice:

"Thousands of Georgians struggle with personal debt and make tough decisions everyday to keep their families afloat - but that's not what Abrams is doing. She wrote a $50,000 check to her campaign while still owing $54,000 to the IRS. Abrams needs to put her tax obligations to national defense, border security, and education above her personal political ambitions." 

The criticism isn’t unexpected. Even Abrams’ allies were surprised when she revealed in March that she had worked out a $54,000 payment plan with the IRS.

But neither is the situation unique, and Kemp needs to be careful with the stones he hurls, lest he hit a few people on his own side.

By law, members of the state Legislature are required to swear that they aren’t tax evaders when they qualify for election. This has been so for decades.

But every year, the state revenue commissioner sends to the chairmen of the House and Senate ethics committee the names of elected lawmakers who haven’t filed their state income taxes. On average, this may be half a dozen (out of 236) each year. Fewer now than during the Great Recession.

State lawmakers are also required to be up-to-date on their federal taxes, but the IRS won’t provide information on lawmaker delinquencies to the Legislature. Only if the debts enter into the public record – as property liens, say – are they taken into account.

Offenders are dealt with under a cloak of secrecy, but have been Republican and Democrat, black and white.

It has been well-established that, if a legislator has reached a payment agreement with the tax collector, whether state or federal, then that lawmaker has met his or her obligation and is ballot-qualified.

Now, presumably, some of those state lawmakers have spent their own money on their own re-election campaigns while they were also patching things up with the tax man. One can question their priorities, even their judgment – but it’s doubtful that Kemp would label those friends of his as criminals.

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Democrat Stacey Abrams on Wednesday reiterated her position that “dream kids” -- children whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally -- should be eligible for HOPE scholarships. 

At an education press conference, she said her policy would live up to the “legal obligation” under the state constitution to provide an education for every child. 

“My point is simply this: I want to follow the lead of Texas and other states that have said if you graduate from our high schools, if you’re part of our community, you should continue to get education and continue to be a productive citizen.”

Her opponent, Brian Kemp, said he wouldn’t “reward illegal behavior with handouts, perks and scholarships” and warned that expanding the program could bankrupt the lottery-funded program. 

Abrams said that’s fooey. 

“We’re not talking about a number of students who will bankrupt the system. We’re talking about students who will invest in our state. My position is this: Dreamers are part of our community and I want them to be lifted up.”

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A former adviser to Casey Cagle has taken exception to a column written by Dick Yarborough of the Marietta Daily Journal, which posited that the GOP gubernatorial candidate was done in by the Clay Tippins recording and the lieutenant governor’s own loose lips. The reply from Brian Robinson, published in today’s MDJ, includes this:

The tape wounded Casey’s campaign seriously, but not fatally. The team around Casey had no control over the recording but did spring effectively into action when the tape came out. Casey’s poll numbers held pretty steady.

Where the tape hurt was that undecideds began to break toward Brian Kemp, and Kemp’s poll numbers grew. A few weeks out, Kemp surpassed Cagle in the polling and maintained a healthy lead for a while. Then momentum began to shift back. Casey had three rallies with Col. Oliver North with big crowds, a fantastic debate performance and then the endorsement of the extraordinarily popular Gov. Nathan Deal.

In our internal numbers, we saw a tie a week out with Casey trending in the right direction. Then six days out, Trump endorsed Kemp. It was over at that moment. Overnight, Casey’s numbers fell off a cliff and Kemp’s skyrocketed.

We’d add this bit of context: Cagle’s campaign did, indeed, show signs of life before Trump’s endorsement.

But he was already on the ropes, and a scathing no-holds-barred attack ad in the race’s final week suggest that the lieutenant governor was playing from behind.

Catch up on that final stretch here.

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Something similar has happened in Kansas. As of Wednesday afternoon, incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer trailed Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a fellow Republican who received a late endorsement from President Donald Trump, by a mere 191 votes. From Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

If the final outcome is similar to the current vote, Colyer’s defeat would make history: His present margin of defeat stands as the narrowest ever for an incumbent governor in a primary. Conversely, if Colyer wins based on the counting of outstanding votes and/or a recount, he could claim the record for narrowest primary win among incumbent governors.

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How should the razor-thin results of the special elections in Ohio and elsewhere be viewed? The New Yorker caught up with Jon Ossoff, who knows something about nationally-watched U.S. House races. 

Ossoff, who lost to Republican Karen Handel in that epic contest, was cautious not to read too much into the race. Still, he noted the odds stacked against some Democrats regardless of the enthusiasm generated by Donald Trump’s presidency. From The New Yorker piece: 

“This Presidency has put a huge number of districts in play. Democratic enthusiasm is sky-high. That’s made these races competitive. But in heavily gerrymandered districts, where Democratic candidates are still running uphill, that’s not always quite enough. In a way, it’s not that complicated.”

A year removed from his own special election, Ossoff argued that people underestimate the long-term effects of these races. “There’s real party-building that happens when competitive campaigns unfold in districts that haven’t recently been so,” he said. In the Georgia Sixth, he said, there is now “an army of battle hardened volunteers and activists.” 

In that contest, Democrat Lucy McBath won a July runoff for the right to face Handel. And Ossoff has endorsed McBath along with a range of legislative candidates in the suburban district. 

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On his Facebook page, state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, recently made an ironic observation: The Showtime “Who Is America?” series with Sacha Baron Cohen, which torpedoed the career of state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, featured a Georgia peach at the end of the program.

That’s a sign that the program benefited from tax credits the state offers to the film and TV industry for locating their operations here. Which means that, to a certain extent, Georgia taxpayers had a hand in Spencer’s humiliation.

Wrote McKoon: “I hope as long as Georgia is subsidizing film and television production anyway, that we can get conservative voices to take advantage of the program.”

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What with all this talk of the coming blue wave, we think that U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, can breathe easy. From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Steven Lamar Foster, who is running as a Democrat for Congress, was convicted of driving under the influence in Whitfield County Superior Court this week.

Foster is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Graves for the 14th congressional district seat, which covers northwest Georgia. After his conviction in court Monday, Foster was booked into the Whitfield County Jail, where he remains. He is scheduled to go before a judge for a sentencing hearing next Monday.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is headed to Macon today to meet with law enforcement officials to talk about anti-gang initiatives. As might be expected, the former U.S. senator from Alabama will be met with protesters who will gather outside the local federal courthouse. 

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In other Macon news, keep an eye on this situation. The Macon-Bibb County Commission’s impasse over a new property tax rate could lead to a partial government shutdown. From Georgia Public Broadcasting: 

Local libraries were already within a week of running out of money when commissioners went at each other in a debate over a substantial increase in property taxes Tuesday night. Ultimately, commissioners could find no middle ground and tabled the issue.

That means the county has no tax rate or revenue stream. 

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