Georgia’s General Assembly opens an election-year session on Monday that could be dominated by Republican primary politics, with Gov. Brian Kemp facing internal challengers and other key Republicans reaching higher office.
Times are good in some ways for lawmakers, with billions in the bank to spend on pay raises and other election year giveaways. Lawmakers are also likely to find broad agreement on mental health reform proposals.
With the University of Georgia playing for a national soccer championship on Monday, the first week of the session could get off to a slow start. But with former President Donald Trump clashing with Kemp and backing an insurgent challenger for lieutenant governor, a GOP race to the right seems likely as Republicans battle their party’s nomination on May 24. .
That momentum has already been on display with Kemp endorsing plans to end gun license requirements, while main opponents David Perdue and Vernon Jones criticized Kemp for dragging his feet on the matter.
Democrats will not be immune to the political needs of the election year, either, with a number of party lawmakers seeking statewide positions.
Tensions may be more evident in the upper house, where Senate Speaker Pro Tem Butch Miller of Gainesville is running as lieutenant governor against Senator Burt Jones of Jackson, a Trump-backed state. Miller launched red meat proposals meant to outflank Jones. These include joining Jones in proposing to abolish the state income tax, which provides roughly half of Georgia’s $ 28 billion in state revenue, and to ban absentee ballot boxes less than a year after Republican lawmakers severely restricted their use.
“We would all be kidding ourselves if we act as if the electoral politics on these races ahead of us are not going to have an impact on the political discussion that we are going to have in the Senate,” said State Senator Jason Anavitarte, a Republican of Dallas.
Senator Jones seems to be banking on Trump’s nod so far and has not come up with any new proposals.
Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has said he hopes to be “a firm hand in the legislative process”, but it is not clear whether he will have much influence, as he is not running for another term after he is in office. broke up with most Republicans. the 2020 elections and other matters.
“You are certainly still concerned about people submitting laws to this body just for political purposes and for the headlines. It’s definitely not a healthy place, ”Duncan said. “I think it creates a rift. But I’m going to focus on making sure we pass legislation that matters and moves the ball forward in a positive way. ”
Things could be different in the House, where President David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, swears he won’t let political needs distract from higher priorities.
“We have important things to do – public safety, mental health, the budget,” said Ralston. “These are things that I think we can make a difference in the lives of Georgians by doing. And, you know, I’m not going to be distracted by what other people are doing in their campaigns.
Democrats are openly hoping they will benefit in November from opponents who cannot pick up the shreds of the Republican Party, particularly with Stacey Abrams facing no internal Democratic opposition in his bid for governor.
“I think they are going to create problems for themselves which will hopefully benefit Democrats over time, as we will have a relevant message that will unify Georgia rather than separate it,” the minority leader told House James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon.
He said Republicans “should decide who their real master is,” whether it be Trump and his supporters or Kemp and the corporate world.
“They’re going to have to decide where they’re going,” Beverly said. “The electorate is going to have to determine which of these two groups they agree with.”
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