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The Jolt: On Independence Day, a new fight over Stone Mountain ‘extremists’ 


 The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP plans a July 4 march on Stone Mountain to protest the carving that memorializes the Confederate war dead, ratcheting up the long-running political fight over the monument’s fate.

Their protest echoes a policy staked out last year by Democrat Stacey Abrams, the party’s nominee for governor, who called for the removal of the trio of Rebel leaders carved into the mountain’s granite face nearly a year ago. 

It also gave the two Republicans running for governor a fresh opening to seize on the issue. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the effort to “sandblast” Stone Mountain won’t happen if he’s elected. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, his opponent in the July 24 runoff, had a similar stance.

The political clash over the sprawling state-owned site is a snapshot of the polarizing debate in Georgia over Confederate monuments.

Georgia leaders have embraced some recent efforts to distance the state from its Rebel history, including the removal of a statue of a segregationist leader from the grounds of the state Capitol and the unveiling of a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. nearby. 

But Stone Mountain is a particularly fraught topic, partly due to state laws that enshrine the sprawling state-owned site as a “tribute to the bravery and heroism” of the Civil War’s casualties. And efforts to build a monument to civil rights atop the sprawling state-owned monument have gained little traction

Abrams waded into the debate in August 2017, shortly after the deadly violence sparked by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Va. Saying that “we must never celebrate those who defended slavery and tried to destroy the union,” she said she’d remove the “blight on our state.” 

Her rivals from both parties have criticized her proposal, and the NAACP rally gave them another chance to try to energize voters who want to keep the carvings intact. Cagle said he’ll preserve Stone Mountain as a cultural attraction that brings in visitors from around the globe. 

“I will work on behalf of all Georgians, but I will also stand up to the extremists who think we have to sandblast the past to move into the future,” said Cagle, who claimed he was the only Republican who can stop Abrams from doing so. 

And Kemp invoked a quote from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said it’s best to “keep your history before you.”

“I will protect Stone Mountain – and the carvings on it – because we should learn from the past, not attempt to rewrite it,” he said.

More: After Charlottesville, a fresh look at Atlanta’s Confederate symbols 

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The two Republicans clashed sharply over another issue: A change to credit monitoring rules. 

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s campaign sent a celebratory note trumpeting new legislation that took effect Sunday that restricts credit monitoring agencies from charging residents who lock their credit. 

And Cagle campaign manager Scott Binkley used the occasion to bring up Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s mishap, releasing millions of records of confidential voting data to media outlets and political parties. 

“The people of our state shouldn’t have to worry that registering to vote will leave them vulnerable to identity theft, but under Brian Kemp’s incompetent command, that’s exactly what happened,” said Binkley. 

Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney fired back, saying no identity theft was reported and no Social Security numbers were compromised. He then pounced on calls for criminal investigation into Cagle after he was taped on a secret recording saying he backed “bad public policy” to hurt a rival.

“Casey Cagle did confess to committing a felony – on tape,” said Mahoney. “Guess they forgot to mention that undeniable fact on their rambling press release.”

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Secretary of State candidate Brad Raffensperger is increasingly chipping into his personal fortune to finance his race. The Republican state legislator loaned himself another $400,000 ahead of his runoff against ex-Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, raising his total investment in the race to roughly $1.2 million. Raffensperger has enough cash to dip even deeper: He’s worth more than $26 million, according to financial disclosures. 

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The battle for Donald Trump’s heart in the GOP race for governor is heating up. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle just signed on Brandon Phillips, the president’s former state director, to advise his campaign. He’s also locked up several other early Trump supporters, including state Sen. Burt Jones, one of the first state elected officials to back Trump, and Rayna Casey, the GOP mega-fundraiser who co-chaired his state campaign. Secretary of State Brian Kemp has his own gaggle of early Trump backers, including support from state Sen. Michael Williams, who modeled his last-place campaign for governor around Trump. Read more about the fight over Trump in the July 24 runoff here. 

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Happy Fourth, dear readers. We hope you have a restful and meaningful holiday. 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.