As the weekend began, news broke that a sexual harassment complaint had been lodged against state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, the Senate’s former No. 2 leader and the presumed frontrunner in the Republican race for lieutenant governor.
Shafer has denied as “ridiculous” the allegations made by the longtime lobbyist at the state Capitol, a fellow Republican who says Shafer once demanded she show him her breasts in return for his help in passage of a bill. The AJC report by James Salzer says the lobbyist has hired Atlanta attorney Bruce Harvey.
So far as we can tell, Shafer’s GOP rivals for the job of lieutenant governor, former state lawmakers Geoff Duncan of Cumming and Rick Jeffares of McDonough, remained silent on the allegations over the weekend. But a handful of Republicans have popped up as character witnesses for Shafer.
From Julianne Thompson, a Republican activist with Gwinnett ties, in a Facebook post:
“There is a national hysteria…a witch hunt. Anyone can accuse anyone of anything and people are publicly shamed for not automatically believing the accuser. I don’t believe this for one minute! If you have spent any time in Georgia politics you know how ridiculous this is.
“First of all, filed the day after he qualified. Then the accuser hired Georgia’s male version of Gloria Allred to handle her…on a complaint, not even a court case. What does that tell you? This reeks of dirty politics.”
From Mark Rountree of Landmark Communications, a polling firm, also on Facebook:
“I don’t believe this for one second. Not for one second. This sounds like an attempt to just smear him as qualifying week closes, preying upon people who do not know Shafer personally.”
And from Kay Godwin, co-chairman of Georgia Conservatives in Action:
"I have been an activist at the Capitol for over 25 years. As a woman, it is easy to notice how men treat women. I know who the players are. I know who has wandering eyes and who flirts. I have never, EVER seen or heard anything inappropriate from Senator Shafer. Not ever toward anyone. He goes home every night. Anyone who knows him knows that is not who he is."
To quote the great Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Five years ago, the state approved a $3.3 million contract to tear down an aging parking deck east of the Capitol building and turn it into Liberty Plaza, a spot where upwards of 4,500 people could gather for rallies during and between sessions of the Legislature.
A large protest aimed at gun violence is scheduled for March 24. “March for Our Lives” organizers have requested the use of Liberty Plaza, and have been denied. In a letter, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, has warned the state of expensive legal consequences.
You’ll recall that, in February, state officials turned off the electricity to the Liberty Plaza sound system as more than 1,500 people gathered for an anti-gun violence rally. A lack of proper permitting was alleged.
This time, the Georgia Building Authority has a different excuse. From a post filed earlier this morning:
Oliver is zeroing in on a newer building authority requirement that a state constitutional officer sponsor a permit application to use the plaza during events held outside normal business hours. Oliver said she asked Gov. Nathan Deal’s office for permission to host the event, which is set for a Saturday, and it was denied.
So let us review: A plaza bearing the name of “Liberty,” built with taxpayer money as a place for First Amendment expression, now requires the approval of a constitutional officer, whether governor or labor commissioner or school superintendent, before free expression can take place on a weekend. (Needless to say, all constitutional officers are currently Republican.)
Something will have to give: Either that policy, or that name.
The burst of candidates seeking statewide and legislative office didn’t trickle down to the depths of the ballot, where judicial contenders quietly reside.
Not a single Georgia Supreme Court candidate faced an opponent. That includes Court of Appeals Judge John Ellington, who was the only candidate to qualify for an open seat on the top court’s bench.
That means Ellington, who was appointed by Democrat Roy Barnes to the bench, will glide into a 6-year term for the Supreme Court in November -- an unprecedented event, so far as we can tell.
Incumbent Justices Michael Boggs, Britt Grant, Harold Melton and Nels Peterson also went without a challenge, meaning they’re set for another stint at the court’s highest level.
The judges on the newly-enlarged Court of Appeals also faced little opposition Charlie Bethel, Stephen Dillard, Yvette Miller, Brian Rickman and Clyde Reese faced no challenger.
The only contest was for the open seat vacated by Ellington, which pits former prosecutor Ken Hodges against attorney Ken Shigley
Most judicial incumbents sail to easy reelection victories, but it’s not always a given. Justice David Nahmias was forced into a runoff in 2010 by little-known challenger Tammy Lynn Adkins. He wound up capturing two-thirds of the vote.
We’ve written that one of the issues our state Legislature will have to deal with in the future is the regulation of autonomous vehicles. That future arrives this week. Waymo, a firm developing AV trucks, will launch a pilot program in Atlanta this week, using self-driving trucks to carry freight bound for Google’s local data centers. From the company website:
Atlanta is one of the biggest logistics hubs in the country, making it a natural home for Google’s logistical operations and the perfect environment for our next phase of testing Waymo’s self-driving trucks.
This pilot, in partnership with Google’s logistics team, will let us further develop our technology and integrate it into the operations of shippers and carriers, with their network of factories, distribution centers, ports and terminals. As our self-driving trucks hit the highways in the region, we’ll have highly-trained drivers in the cabs to monitor systems and take control if needed.
The White House on Sunday formally released its proposed response to the Feb. 14 mass shootings at a Florida high school. As our Cox colleague Jamie Dupree reports on his blog, the list does not include raising the minimum age for some gun purchases, something President Donald Trump backed after the Parkland, Fla., school massacre. But one of the key components is training certain teachers and “specially qualified school personnel” who volunteer on how to use firearms.
Georgia law already gives local school districts the authority to decide whether teachers and other staff can carry firearms at schools. As our colleague Marlon Walker reported last month, no school district has taken the state up on the offer. But Bleckley County Schools, about 90 minutes southeast of Atlanta, did announce on Twitter last month that it would consider changing its policy. Most metro Atlanta school districts, however, have indicated they’re still vehemently opposed to arming teachers.