Trump Republican loyalists not enough as Trump grip slips in Georgia

Two Trump-backed congressional candidates came up far short in Tuesday’s runoff election, serving as further evidence of the former president’s waning influence in Georgia.
Former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones left the governor’s race to run for Congress in a deep red east Georgia district with former President Donald Trump’s blessing. Jones was a close second place last month but lost in a landslide Tuesday to trucking executive Mike Collins after a bitterly fought runoff.

And closer to Atlanta, Roswell attorney Jake Evans often touted Trump’s endorsement and attempted to paint Rich McCormick as too centrist. McCormick, who is an emergency medicine doctor, clinched the GOP nomination with a resounding win Tuesday.

The Associated Press called both races Tuesday night. McCormick and Collins will face Democratic challengers in November, but the two districts strongly favor Republicans.

“I’m going to put this in perspective: We just went up against – let me be careful, I’m on camera – we just took on the machine and we won,” McCormick said to cheers at his election watch party at the Polo Golf and Country Club in Cumming. “And it feels good.”

McCormick playfully held up one of his opponent’s mailers calling him a “RINO,” for Republican in Name Only, and threw it on the ground before striking a conciliatory tone.

“We just got a call from Kevin McCarthy. He said congratulations,” McCormick said, referring to the U.S. House minority leader. “I expect Donald Trump to call us and Newt Gingrich, because we’re going to be friends and we’re going to win this together and we’re going to move forward together because that’s what the party is about.”

McCormick, a U.S. Marine who competed on “American Gladiators” in the 1990s, built up his name recognition after narrowly losing to Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux in the neighboring district in the north Atlanta suburbs in 2020.

The Suwanee Republican will face Dawsonville Democrat and combat veteran Bob Christian in the fall, but the district was redrawn last year to include conservative turf reaching up into Dawson County.

The incumbent, Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath, opted to run in the neighboring 7th District instead of facing an uphill battle in her current district. McBath soundly beat Bourdeaux last month without a runoff and will face Republican Mark Gonsalves in the fall, though the district was redrawn as a safer Democratic seat.

In the 10th District, Collins handily won after running as a pro-Trump candidate even if he didn’t have his official backing. But he did have the endorsement of Gov. Brian Kemp, whose refusal to help overturn the 2020 election made him one of Trump’s favorite targets.

“I think we got the Trump supporters. I think they were there. Because they knew from the beginning that I was on the Trump team way before he was the nominee,” Collins said Tuesday night in Jackson. “So, I believed in those policies, that America first agenda, and I actually have lived that.

“Everybody knew that the endorsement was not to run for Congress, but to get out of the governor’s race. So, he could have run for dog catcher, and he’d have got that endorsement,” he added.

Trump effect dulled in Georgia

Jones and Evans were part of a slate of 13 Trump-endorsed candidates in Georgia’s GOP primary. Only two of the former president’s picks – former University of Georgia football star Hershel Walker for the U.S. Senate and state Sen. Burt Jones for lieutenant governor – were successful. Others, like former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, lost overwhelmingly last month.

The congressional candidates did not back away from Trump’s support for the runoff. The former president held a brief tele-rally for Evans Monday night, calling him a “MAGA warrior.” Evans, who is the former chairman of the state ethics commission, made clear in the lead-up to Tuesday that he had no plans to “shy away” from Trump’s support.

“It’s bittersweet in some ways. I think it’s the ending of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter,” Evans told supporters Tuesday night in Alpharetta, pledging to “continue to fight for the values that this country is based on.”

McCormick downplayed what Evans’ loss might say about the state of the Republican party.

“I’d like to say the people of Georgia got this right. They saw past the endorsements, which I think endorsements can get you started, but they’ll never finish you,” he told reporters. “And I think if you look at the races, they kind of define themselves.”

Jones stepped into the national spotlight in 2020 as an outspoken supporter of Trump and the lifelong Democrat became a Republican darling among the Trump faithful after the former president demanded Kemp resign for refusing to overturn his narrow 2020 Georgia election loss to President Joe Biden.

With “Trump Endorsed!” emblazoned on campaign banners hanging inside a Covington tavern Tuesday, a few dozen of his supporters found out early after polls closed that he’d lost his bid to become Republican nominee for the 10th Congressional District.

The Associated Press called the race slightly before 8 p.m., an hour after polls closed for the district that spans from northeast of Atlanta toward Augusta.

A subdued crowd became more energetic as Jones joined them for handshakes, hugs, and a brief concession speech inside the downtown Social Goat Tavern. Jones pledged to remain involved in politics.

When asked why the crowd was behind him, Atlanta Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley did not hold back in her response: They were tired of the weak, pandering Republican officials.

“I’m going to work hard every day to make sure we elect conservatives who help this country back on the right track,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and I can do as much out of office as in office. They can’t silence me, they can’t bury my passion.”

Georgia Recorder Senior Reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Legal threats fly as lawmakers build momentum for new Georgia voting map

The state Senate passed its new district map with a party-line vote after a three-hour debate Tuesday that offered a preview of the likely legal arguments to come.

The 34-to-21 vote moves the new Senate districts over to the House, but the opposite chamber typically signs off on the other's plan. The House is set to vote on its own new district lines Wednesday. Once the legislative map-making is finished, the work will move on to the contentious process of drawing borders for Georgia's 14 congressional districts.

In the Senate, Republicans have ceded one seat out of the chamber's 56 in hopes of holding on to the whole chamber for another decade under a political map they hope will survive a likely racial discrimination challenge in court.

This is the first redistricting and reapportionment since a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ended the requirement for Justice Department oversight. The high court has barred federal courts from hearing challenges to partisan gerrymandering, but the Voting Rights Act does allow claims of intentional racial discrimination.

Macon Republican Sen. John Kennedy, who chairs the chamber's redistricting committee, says mapmakers turned to legal counsel for consultation on how to draw lines that comply with the Voting Rights Act. He also touted the map's districts as contiguous and compact. No Senate incumbents are paired in the map, which means drawn into the same district.

“Yes, there was a political aspect, and that's okay because that's part of the process," Kennedy said to his colleagues Tuesday.

But critics pressed GOP leaders to draw more majority minority districts to reflect Georgia's increasingly diverse population and divided electorate. They also urged Republicans to allow more time for public input on a proposal unveiled last Tuesday, which was a week before the final vote and shortly before the Atlanta Braves clinched the World Series title for the first time in 26 years.

Georgia's white population decreased over the last decade and the state's growth since the last official headcount is due to more people of color calling Georgia home.

At the time of the 2020 U.S. Census, the state's white residents represented about 52% of the population. Last year, the white lawmakers made up more than two-thirds of the Georgia General Assembly.

“This map takes pains to ensure white minority rule," said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat who had a lead role in developing the Democrats' alternative map. “The Republican party has become more and more enamored of tactics that enable minority rule and these districts are another example."

Specifically, Democrats criticized changes to districts in Henry County creating safer territory for McDonough Republican Sen. Brian Strickland, who was narrowly reelected last year, and changes to a Fulton County seat that set up the Senate's only Asian member, Johns Creek Democrat Sen. Michelle Au, for a tough reelection bid next year.

The district represented by Au, who was elected to the Senate last year, would go from one that voted 59% for President Joe Biden last year to one that went nearly 52% for former President Donald Trump. The makeup of the new district, which would now reach into Forsyth County, would also become nearly half white, up from about 35% now.

In a speech, Au attributed her presence in the Senate chamber to the state's growing diversity.

“The Republican map under consideration does not add even a single majority minority district over the total we've had for the past decade. It's as if the huge population growth we've seen consisting essentially entirely of Georgians of color has been rendered invisible," Au said.

Longtime Sen. David Lucas, a Macon Democrat, also criticized changes made to his district that slightly shrunk the total Black population, which he blamed partly on the ripples from the Henry County districts makeover.

“We cannot afford to allow you to do this to us. It ain't gonna happen. So, you can either work at it and try to get it straight right now, or go ahead down the path you headed and we'll see you in court," Lucas said.

Republicans have shrugged off the criticism, often pointing to a Democratic-drawn map in 2001 that was ruled unconstitutional and reminding Democrats that some of them voted for that map two decades ago.

“The maps were found to be illegal, they were found to be unconstitutional, they were found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. In fact, they're so bad, they're in college textbooks," said Roswell Republican Sen. John Albers.

House vote is up next

The House's state legislative map is poised for a full vote Wednesday after clearing two major hurdles Tuesday.

The plan passed the House redistricting committee and the House Rules Committee largely along party lines, with Democrats asking for more time to analyze the new boundaries and Republicans arguing lawmakers already received feedback via summer meetings, online comments and a marathon public hearing held Monday, the same day the map was introduced.

The latest plan received the same overall B grade from the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project as the one proposed by the Republican caucus last week, but the new map is slightly less competitive and favors incumbents slightly more, said Karen McCown of Fair Districts Georgia, a partner of the Princeton project.

The map slated for a House vote includes seven competitive districts, down from the nine in the original Republican plan, and 45 extreme districts, up from 33, McCown said. Princeton researchers found the new map contains 109 minority districts, which include majority-minority and minority influence districts, one fewer than the previous map and two less than the current map.

A map submitted by the Democratic Caucus received the same grade with analysts pointing out similar concerns.

The House is set to convene Wednesday at 11 a.m. for a vote, and debate will be limited to two hours.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia’s strict anti-abortion law remains on hold after federal court order

A federal court has postponed a decision on Georgia's stalled anti-abortion law until after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on a Mississippi ban on procedures after 15 weeks into a pregnancy.

The decision was not unexpected. Chief Judge William Pryor suggested several times during a hearing Friday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit should hold off until the nation's highest court settles a case that could have implications for Georgia's 2019 law.

The three-judge panel is handling an appeal from the state after a federal judge last year ruled the law unconstitutional and blocked it from taking effect.

“We STAY this appeal pending a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization," the three-judge panel wrote in a one-sentence order Monday.

The states' laws vary significantly so it remains to be seen what impact the outcome of the Mississippi case will have here. Georgia's law would outlaw most abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments in the Mississippi case on Dec. 1, with a decision expected next summer.

Abortion rights advocates celebrated the decision late Monday.

“The court's stay means that Georgia's abortion ban remains blocked until further notice from the court," said Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, which is representing the plaintiffs. “Meanwhile, women will continue to be able to make their own healthcare decisions as U.S. Supreme Court precedent requires."

Georgia's law has never taken effect. Abortion services are legal in Georgia until 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

“Georgia's HB481 law is blatantly unconstitutional, which is why it was previously blocked by the federal courts," Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement. “The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals appropriately acted on the binding 50-year precedent that says abortion is constitutionally protected health care, and our doors will continue to remain open."

Anti-abortion advocates had said they hoped other portions of Georgia's law – such as a tax break available to expecting parents – would be allowed to take effect while the direct ban on abortion was hashed out in the courts.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

State lawmakers urged to take action as 'rural Georgia falls into ruins'

The population shift from Georgia's small towns to its cities has accelerated over the last decade, frustrating the state's rural lawmakers and others who have worked for years to buck the trend.

Rural Georgia continues to represent the bulk of the state's land mass, but it is now only home to 21% of the state's population. A decade ago, one quarter of Georgians lived in the state's countryside.

This has likely implications for the upcoming redistricting process when lawmakers will use the new headcount to redraw district lines for legislative and congressional seats and reshuffle the state's growing population. It could mean fewer rural districts as the state's urban districts swell.

But the population trend is also an alarm bell for lawmakers and those advocating for rural communities, though the problems – workforce availability, educational attainment, health care access – are thorny.

“I hear people all over state government – all the way to the highest level – say we're the No. 1 state in which to do business," said David Bridges, who leads the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation.

“I have one question for the people that continue to say that over and over: How much time do you spend in rural Georgia? And how do you define the state? The state is not limited to 12 counties around Atlanta," he added. “While we may be in an aggregate way, the number one state in the union in which to do business, I can assure you that there are 125, 130 counties that don't see it that way."

Bridges called on lawmakers to act with urgency as “rural Georgia falls into ruins."

“I want to say that, in terms of urgency, time is running out. It really is. And the COVID pandemic has thrown a great deal of gas on this fire," Bridges said.

State lawmakers have spent years studying the forces working against Georgia's smallest communities and brainstorming potential solutions. Much of the sustained focus has been driven by the House Rural Development Council, which began meeting again Wednesday virtually after a break during the pandemic.

The legislative panel has been the source for many of the bills targeting rural communities, such as one empowering electric cooperatives to provide broadband service.

Much of Wednesday was spent digesting the population trends revealed by the 2020 Census numbers.

Some rural counties did grow over the last decade, said David Tanner, associate director of state services and decision support with Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Those counties are found in the north Georgia mountains, along the border of metro Atlanta and Bryan County, which touches Savannah's Chatham County and is the fastest growing county in the state.

“If we take those out of the mix, our rural population actually declined 38,000 people," Tanner said.

Dooly County in south Georgia lost the largest percentage of its population, with a 25% drop. Telfair and McIntosh counties were not far behind. Dougherty County, home to Albany, is the county with the sharpest decline in the number of residents, with nearly 9,000 fewer people counted.

But some state officials also see an opportunity as the pandemic likely has a lasting impact on how people work. Other states have seen remote workers resettle in rural communities without the worry of a regular commute.

“If we've learned nothing else from this pandemic, it's how important broadband is with more and more people working from home," said Rep. John Corbett, a Lake Park Republican. “As we continue to take a bite out of that elephant and get high-speed broadband out into rural Georgia, can we help reverse that trend and more people will want to work from home and in Moultrie instead of being up here in Buckhead?"

“That's an opportunity for many communities in Georgia," Tanner replied. “If they have great broadband, they can attract that remote worker."

Communities in Georgia, though, are still struggling to provide a quality internet connection. Several state and federal initiatives in the works are designed to help remedy that, but the progress has been slow. The number of locations in Georgia considered unserved has shrunk slightly from last year, yet about 482,000 remain.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.