Capitol Recap: Ballots have positions open, so hunt on for candidates

Capitol Recap: Ballots have positions open, so hunt on for candidates

Help wanted: Republican legislative candidates in Gwinnett County.

Normally, they shouldn’t be that hard to find. Gwinnett, like other suburban Atlanta counties, is traditionally a GOP stronghold.

But this time around, Democrats sense an opportunity in the ‘burbs, thanks to a combination of President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings in some of those areas and changing demographics.

That could be why the Republicans have some openings to fill.

State Rep. David Casas, R-Lilburn, recently announced he will not seek re-election, and Gwinnett GOP Chairman Mike Seigle has dropped hints that a second Republican legislator from the county could soon call it quits.

So Seigle, in the form of a recent email, has essentially put out an ad seeking replacements.

Right away, Seigle gets to the perks of the job: You’d be better off than the competitors.

For example, he said, Democratic state Reps. Brenda Lopez of Norcross, Pedro Marin of Duluth and Sam Park of Lawrenceville are short on campaign cash.

Seigle then went big picture, saying Democrats as a whole have no power in Atlanta (meaning inside the Capitol) or in Washington.

At that point, Seigle started discussing what he sees as Republican advantages, specifically in Gwinnett.

“Gwinnett is a great place to live and work. We have low taxes, great schools, and compared to Democrat controlled counties low crime,” he wrote. “That would all change if we do not work against the Democrats this year.”

Applications must be submitted by March 5-9, the state’s qualifying period.

Democrats need help, too: Democrats have put up their own Help Wanted sign. It being the age of social media, it was posted as a tweet.

From Hollywood.

Actress Patricia Arquette took aim at the district of state Rep. Deborah Silcox straddling the line between Buckhead and Sandy Springs.

She wrote: “Do you want to run for state seat in NorthAtlanta, Georgia ? Sandy Springs area HD52 . We need a democrat to run!”

Naturally, it caught attention from Republicans.

Gabe Sterling, a former Sandy Springs councilman, wrote that Silcox “absolutely reflects the district.” He also took a slap at the tactics of enthusiastic out-of-towners by urging them to “please, keep expending effort in the wrong places.”

Box and bail: Democrat Stacey Abrams targeted the cash bond system for poor defendants as part of a rollout of criminal justice proposals.

The candidate for governor called for eliminating cash bond requirements for offenders that require them to sit in jail only because they cannot afford bail.

“Keeping people in jail because they are poor is wealth-based discrimination,” said Abrams, a former state House minority leader.

She also proposed reducing penalties for Georgians charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana, increasing funding for accountability courts and making a “ban the box” policy apply statewide.

“Ban the box” has been a part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice agenda. It outlaws a requirement for people with criminal histories to disclose that information on a job form. Abrams would make the same requirement for local governments and private employers.

Seeking medical marijuana expansion: Abrams’ opponent in the Democratic primary for governor, Stacey Evans, quickly responded to the governor’s announcement this past week that essentially killed any expansion this year of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Evans said she would push for in-state cultivation of medical marijuana sought in House Bill 645 and give doctors greater range to prescribe cannabis oil.

The state’s medical marijuana program, created in 2015, makes it legal for people suffering from cancer and more than a dozen other illnesses and conditions to possess small amounts of cannabis oil if a physician approves. Another bill under consideration during the current legislative session, House Bill 764, would add post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain to the list of treatable conditions.

But the program makes no accommodations for the some 3,5000 Georgians who have signed up on the state’s registry to obtain the oil. Medical marijuana cannot be grown in Georgia, and federal law outlaws its possession and thus its transport across state lines.

The oil has shown promise in treating children who suffer severe seizures, but their families have had to rely on benefactors to obtain the drug. Some, instead, have chosen to move their families to Colorado, where the oil is legal.

“It’s time to expand the use of medical cannabis in Georgia,” Evans said. “We cannot let the fear of change stop us from helping Georgia families.”

In rejecting HB 645, Deal took aim at the federal law and suggested pressuring Congress to do something about prohibitions on the cultivation and transport of medical marijuana.

National exposure for Bottoms: Still new to the job, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is beginning to raise her national profile.

Bottoms used Politico’s “Off Message” podcast to make a case her predecessor, Kasim Reed, often did: If national Democrats invest in Georgia, they’ll see positive results.

The mayor said Georgia would “absolutely” be a competitive state in elections if the national party upped the cash flow in the Peach State.

Black women play a big role in Bottoms’ argument, as they do among the state’s Democratic voters.

“I do think we are recognizing and exercising our power in a way that we’ve never done before, and that’s exciting,” Bottoms said. “…We are becoming engaged, and we realize the danger of staying home.”

Hands off on Netflix:Your entertainment dollar is important to state Sen. Michael Williams, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Williams wants to pull the plug on a bill that would tax online streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Spotify to pay for the expansion of broadband access in rural Georgia. The tax, he said, “will not generate enough money” for rural broadband. He added, “The same lawmakers will come back in two years demanding even more taxes.”

The senator from Cumming then sent a reminder that he opposes offering huge incentives to attract the second headquarters of a certain online retailer based in Seattle, even if it promises $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs.

“The same lawmakers keen on handing over billions of your money to Amazon are also supporting a new tax on your Netflix subscription,” Williams said. “Simply ridiculous.”

A little brass under the Gold Dome: Politics ain’t beanbag, the axiom goes. Sometimes it’s "bill-swiping."

GeorgiaPol.com has reported what it says is the first documented case of what in more polite circles is called legislation appropriation, which is not to be confused with appropriation legislation.

Last month, Democratic state Rep. Scott Holcomb introduced House Bill 745, a bipartisan measure that would allow some victims of domestic violence to break leases for apartments and other housing without incurring financial penalties.

The second signer on the bill was state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton. Now, GeorgiaPol.com reports, Ballinger has “filed the exact same bill with the exact same language,” with one addition that would, in the event that a victim had become incapacitated, allow family members to terminate a lease agreement.

There’s one other exception: Ballinger’s bill, House Bill 834, is not bipartisan. All her co-sponsors are Republicans.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.

— Democrat Richard Keatley, an educator and U.S. Navy veteran, has announced that he is running against Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. Keatley had previously planned to make another run at the 6th Congressional District. He was one of 17 candidates in last year’s special election, attracting about one-tenth of 1 percent of support.

— Peanut Politics is reporting that G. Bardin Hooks, the son of former state Sen. George Hooks, is planning to run as a Democrat for House District 138, now held by state Rep. Bill McGowan, D-Americus. McGowan is reportedly retiring.

— More than 100 local officials this past week endorsed Abrams’ bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Abrams’ list of supporters is filled with the names of mayors, but the leaders of some of Georgia’s biggest cities have yet to get in the endorsement game. That includes Bottoms, although she has contributed money to Evans’ campaign.

Capitol Recap

Here’s a look at some of the news that broke this past week at Georgia’s General Assembly, with a side of other political news. Find more by subscribing to Politically Georgia.

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Raymond Dean