Capitol Recap: Georgia governor concerned but on fence about drilling

Gov. Nathan Deal’s oil pressure is running high.

The governor has yet to say whether he will back or oppose the Trump administration’s plan to open nearly all the nation's coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling.

That makes Deal the lone governor of a coastal state who is still on the fence. He has said the proposal concerns him.

Others feel more strongly.

The Atlanta City Council backed a resolution opposing oil and gas development off Georgia’s coast.

A bipartisan group of state legislators, many from southeast Georgia, has introduced resolutions raising concerns that drilling could harm the state’s fishing and tourism industries. One of the resolutions, Senate Resolution 706, notes that more than 140 Georgia towns and cities have passed resolutions opposing oil drilling.

Deal has expressed a view that the problem will solve itself.

“You’re not going to have drilling unless there’s something worth drilling for,” the governor said. “And my understanding is that preliminary tests in the past have indicated there probably is not a resource worth drilling off the Georgia coast for.”

A few rays from the national spotlight: For years, Georgia Democrats have implored the leadership of the national party to invest in the Peach State to make it less of a Republican stronghold.

It looks like somebody is now listening.

The New York Times reported that a Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama plans to spend millions of dollars on elections in a dozen states.

The goal is to loosen Republicans’ grip on the redistricting process when congressional maps are redrawn after the 2020 census.

The Times said Obama could hit the road to support the effort in some states. Battlegrounds such as Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin are likely stops.

But the group, which former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder leads, is also thinking outside that box.

“Mr. Holder,” the Times wrote, “said his group is eyeing some more daunting targets, including Georgia’s open governorship and the Texas Legislature, where Democrats hope to chip away at huge Republican majorities. And the group is monitoring a number of state-level ballot initiatives that could put anti-gerrymandering laws up for a vote this year.”

Drawing the lines in Georgia:Gerrymandering was also on the mind of Georgia voters who urged the state House Reapportionment Committee to remove partisanship from the state’s redistricting process.

At issue is House Resolution 2, which would prohibit bias toward political parties or incumbents when the General Assembly redraws the legislative and congressional maps in 2022.

Republicans control nearly two-thirds of the General Assembly and 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats, both much larger majorities than the state’s actual breakdown of voters, HR 2’s supporters say. They pointed to the results of statewide elections in 2016, when Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson won re-election with 55 percent of the vote, and the GOP’s Donald Trump took the state in the presidential election with 51 percent.

State Rep. Pat Gardner, a Democrat from Atlanta and the sponsor of HR 2, said the measure could shift the state’s political climate to more moderate levels.

That, she said, would “restore public trust in the government and hopefully expand civic participation.”

State Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, a Republican from Thomaston and chairman of the Reapportionment Committee, said the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming months on gerrymandering cases involving Maryland and Wisconsin. He didn’t want to act on HR 2 until after those decisions come in.

But it’s unlikely the Republican majority would do anything to risk its dominance.

Taking the fight to Dunwoody: Georgia Democrats hope to turn Atlanta's suburbs into a political battleground this fall. It looks like the north end of DeKalb County will be in the middle of the action.

Former state Rep. Sally Harrell said this past week that she has raised more than $115,000, which would put her on level ground in a contest in state Senate District 40 against the Republican incumbent, Fran Millar of Dunwoody.

The contest appears more striking in House District 79, where Democratic newcomer Michael Wilensky reports raising $110,000 for the seat state Rep. Tom Taylor has decided to vacate. The only Republican candidate so far, former Dunwoody Mayor Ken Wright, has raised about $30,000.

The two Dunwoody seats have been in Republican hands for more than a decade, but that red has taken on a purple hue in recent elections. Democrat Hillary Clinton carried both districts in her bid for the presidency, and so did Democrat Jon Ossoff in last year’s special election in the 6th Congressional District.

Meanwhile, in Smyrna: Two Republicans, The Marietta Daily Journal reports, have jumped into the fight to keep state House District 40 in the Republican column.

One of them, attorney Matt Bentley, also ran in last year’s special election in state Senate District 6, a race Democrat Jen Jordan won. The seat opened when Hunter Hill resigned to concentrate on his campaign for governor.

The other District 40 candidate, Taryn Bowman, is the daughter of Nick Chilivis, who served as revenue commissioner under Gov. George Busbee.

State Rep. Rich Golick announced early in the legislative session that he would not seek re-election this year.

Two Democrats are also running to replace Golick.

Not even for a cookie: The effort to place Girl Scouts founder Juliet Gordon Low’s name on a Savannah span: That’s a bridge Gov. Nathan Deal doesn't care to cross.

It’s in the Legislature’s hands, he said. He’s not going there.

The hang-up is that the bridge has long borne the moniker of Eugene Talmadge, a segregationist governor from the ’30s and ’40s whose name was on the bridge across the Savannah River that this one replaced.

State Rep. Ron Stephens has proposed House Resolution 1054which calls for naming the bridge after Low, a Savannah native. The key, to Stephens, is that according to his research this particular bridge was never officially named. If HR 1054 were calling for renaming the bridge, he told The New York Times, it would be “dead in the water.”

Stephens says he has 50 legislators supporting the resolution, so far. He expects more if the naming is cleared up.

But back to Deal. He said Tuesday, the same day Girl Scouts stormed the Capitol in a lobbying push heavily armed with cookies, that he told scout leadership that this was a matter for lawmakers, not him.

“They don’t need my permission or consent to do that,” Deal said.

That was apparently good enough for the scouts. In addition to whatever taste treats he may have enjoyed, he received a hat. It reads, “Man enough to be a Girl Scout.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.

— Charles Bailey, who recently stepped down as an assistant district attorney in Fulton County, is running as a Democrat for attorney general. He is the first known challenger to Chris Carr, whom Deal named to the post in October 2016.

— Democrat Bobby Kaple is starting to pick up some strong party support in his quest in the 6th Congressional District. U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer recently headlined a fundraiser for Kaple, a former Atlanta news anchor. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany was also there. Kaple is one of three Democrats, so far, who are bidding for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell.

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