Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: Why Gwinnett may have delayed transit vote until 2019


If you’re a metro Atlanta commuter, our AJC colleague Tyler Estep has the most important bulletin of the morning:

Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners made two historic decisions Wednesday morning, approving a once-unthinkable contract with MARTA and calling for a public referendum on the matter.

The referendum being called for March 19, 2019, not this November, was a surprise.

Transit-supporting Democrats, anticipating an anti-Trump, mid-term surge, had been pushing for a November vote. The March date shows the level of caution with which Gwinnett Republicans are approaching the issue. Some quick points:

-- A March referendum allows more time for pro-transit forces to raise money and plot strategy. But that applies to opponents as well, and in this dark money era, both sides can be expected to be well-funded;

-- It would also remove the issue from the cauldron of a very hot race for governor, never mind a Seventh District congressional campaign -- which pro-transit forces had argued would be an advantage, especially given the upcoming, Gwinnett-centered contest of Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux against U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, the GOP incumbent. On the upside, absent the noise of competing races, cost of a transit campaign goes down.

-- A spring referendum would likely result in a smaller turnout. Older voters would be the ones most likely to show up. Fewer voters can put more control in the hands of those pushing for approval -- it’s the same strategy that local governments apply to SPLOST votes. But older voters are also more resistant to change, and are less likely to be daily commuters. Turnout is likely to be more Republican.

-- More than a few blanks will have been filled in by March. Such as who the next governor will be, and the nature of his/her attitude toward transit. A Brian Kemp administration would arguably be more resistant to the expansion of commuter rail than one headed up by Stacey Abrams.  On the other hand, a post-November vote could give campaign strategists a better feel for the political dynamics of a Gwinnett County that’s undergoing rapid demographic change.

On a side note, the Marietta Daily Journal reports this morning that Cobb County is slowly girding itself for a vote that could come next June:

The Cobb County government is eyeing late September to early October for a telephone survey intended to gauge the support of residents for expanding its transit system.

Eric Meyer, planning division manager for the Cobb Department of Transportation, said he hopes to select a firm to conduct that survey this week. A sample of registered Cobb voters will be the ones who get the call. They will be asked such questions as, do they support a countywide sales tax referendum for transit or one that taxes a certain part of the county. Another question [probe whether] support of funding transit differs dramatically between a full 1 percent sales tax or a fraction of 1 percent.

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The Wednesday print column on CEO Tom Fanning’s outline of how Southern Co. intends to survive a digital Apocalypse is getting some attention. Tricia Pridemore, an incumbent Republican member of the state Public Service Commission, pointed to a missing element.

“There is a military component operated by the Army that allows them to produce energy off-grid for more than two weeks,” she wrote in a morning email. “Let’s hope we never have to test it, but it’s good to know it’s there.”

Specifically, Pridemore was referencing the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives.

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David Shafer isn’t planning on conceding the race for lieutenant governor quite yet.

The Gwinnett Republican’s campaign said it appeared to have picked up 100 ballots from the counting of provisional ballots over the weekend. 

That’s still short of the overall gap of about 1,700 votes between him and former state Rep. Geoff Duncan. Even so, Shafer’s camp indicated it could ask for a recount once the vote is certified. 

***

Ask Gov. Nathan Deal what he’s told business leaders who are concerned about Brian Kemp’s “religious liberty” stance, and he has a curt response: “No one has asked me that yet.” 

Supposing they do, here’s his answer. He’d tell them that Kemp has signaled he would sign a measure modeled after the 1993 federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act that Deal voted for as a member of the U.S. House. And he’d say that sticking to that language -- and not adding any other provisions seen as discriminatory -- can be a compromise. 

“I never had the option to decide on that, because every one of those versions went beyond what that said,” added Deal.

***

A photo op today at Hartsfield-Jackson was slated to be U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ first public appearance since being hospitalized over the weekend. But airport organizers alerted the media yesterday afternoon that the event would be rescheduled “due to a change in plans.” 

The Atlanta Democrat was slated to have his picture taken next to the airport’s Martin Luther King Jr. art display for a campaign highlighting “well-known Georgians who frequently fly through the world’s busiest and most efficient airport.” 

Lewis’ office insisted that the change in plans had nothing to do with the congressman’s health. 

Lewis, 78, was admitted to an Atlanta hospital Saturday after feeling dizzy on a flight. He was released a day later after his doctor had given him a “clean bill of health,” according to his office. 

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The Georgia GOP filed an ethics complaint Tuesday questioning Democrat Stacey Abrams’ ties to the BLUE Institute training program for party operatives and candidates.

The complaint alleges that Abrams violated state law by improperly working with the institute, partly by making “excessive in-kind contributions” in the form of coordinated expenditures. 

Abrams was a founder of the institute and one of her campaign aides, Ashley Robinson, now leads the group. 

In a statement, Abrams spokeswoman Abigail Collazo didn’t specifically address the complaint but said the GOP “has nothing to offer Georgia voters except frivolous attacks and negativity.”

***

We’ve been keeping an eye on news reports that President Donald Trump might replace Chief of Staff John Kelly with former Georgia political operative Nick Ayers. It looks like Kelly will be staying put in the White House for now.

Kelly recently told White House staff that Trump had asked him to remain on the job through the 2020 election, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s an unusually long tenure for a gig that’s long been considered among Washington’s toughest, but it undoubtedly squelched rumors that Kelly was planning to leave the West Wing this summer.

Trump had reportedly been asking around about Ayers, a former Sonny Perdue hand who is currently Vice President Mike Pence’s top aide, and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney.

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