The Jolt: Kemp mounts campaign against Democratic lawmakers ahead of 2024

Gov. Brian Kemp’s political machinery is revving up its attacks on vulnerable Democratic state legislators in swing suburban districts, with mailers and texts to residents that accuse the lawmakers of “standing with criminals over us.”

The six-figure campaign, funded by Kemp’s Georgians First Leadership Committee, targets incumbents who voted against a pair of GOP-backed initiatives passed earlier this year.

The first involves House Bill 147, which requires students, school administrators and teachers to conduct safety drills that include preparedness against armed intruders. The second, Senate Bill 44, increases penalties against gang offenders.

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Opponents said the school safety law was a half-measure that highlights the GOP’s refusal to enact firearms restrictions. On the gang offenders measure, Democrats argue that imposing mandatory minimum sentences undercuts an overhaul of the criminal justice system under then-Gov. Nathan Deal.

Among the Democratic lawmakers taking heat from Kemp’s leadership committee is state Sen. Nabilah Islam. The first-term legislator from Lawrenceville bested her Republican rival by roughly 3,500 votes last year and seems likely to draw another tough challenge in 2024.

She said the mailers haven’t made an impact: “I had only one person call my office. One single person.”

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

HEADS UP. Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson plans a news conference today to discuss an internal audit that he said found $105 million in “unremitted funds” dating to 2014 and the tenure of his predecessor, Mark Butler.

Thompson said investigators “uncovered” the account amid an ongoing probe of the department’s fraud and unemployment insurance system. Since winning the office last year, Thompson has leveled scathing criticism at Butler, a fellow Republican who served three terms. Butler chose not to run for reelection in 2022.

Butler says the account is most likely composed of penalties and interest from business tax accounts and that his administration handled the funds appropriately. According to Butler, Labor Department staff disclosed the account’s existence to Thompson.

“The money wasn’t a secret. This is political theater. Bad theater,” said Butler. “And I don’t really appreciate him dragging my former staff through the mud.”

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Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

FIGHTING WORDS. Former President Donald Trump lashed out against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis during a Tuesday campaign event in New Hampshire, our colleague Tamar Hallerman writes. Trump spread a lewd, false rumor about Willis, which his campaign then spliced into a digital campaign ad.

In response, Willis warned her staff in an email not to respond, either to Trump’s moves Tuesday or “any of the negativity that may be expressed against me, your colleagues, this office in the coming days, weeks or months.”

Willis added, “We have no personal feelings against those we investigate or prosecute and we should not express any.”

The District Attorney’s office is expected to issue criminal indictments against Trump and several associates in the weeks ahead.

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Credit: Nicole Craine/The New York Times

Credit: Nicole Craine/The New York Times

ON MESSAGE. In person and over the air, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has focused this week on pushing health care proposals he has championed in Washington.

We recapped in Wednesday’s Jolt his Gainesville roundtable focused on maternal mortality. In addition to the health of new mothers, Warnock also spent time lobbying on behalf of diabetics.

During a Tuesday interview with WDUN’s Martha Zoller, Warnock talked up his efforts to expand caps on insulin costs for people on private insurance or are uninsured.

Warnock took legislative action on health care issues this week as well.

On Monday, Warnock and four other senators asked federal regulators to ensure that tax-exempt nonprofit hospitals are complying with their community benefit requirements.

The Atlanta Democrat was also among the 50 senators from both sides of the aisle who signed onto a letter this week urging the chamber’s leadership to postpone cuts to the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital program. Those reductions are scheduled to be enacted later this year.

His counterpart, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, also signed onto this effort.

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

FINALLY. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s appearance on the Martha Zoller Show this week was years in the making. Warnock had declined invitations to join Zoller for her conservative talk radio program for three years as he faced elections in 2020 and 2022.

Now that his seat is secure through the 2028 election, and with no campaign events cluttering his schedule, Warnock agreed to appear in studio with Zoller in conjunction with a visit to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

“It was a long time coming, but I’m so happy you’re here,” Zoller said.

A friendly conversation followed, with Zoller, Warnock, and Pastor Rod Hughey talking about health care costs, maternal mortality and immigration. The trio even found common ground on some of those issues.

Zoller wrapped up with a piece of high praise for the senator: “You had the best commercials ever. You say ‘Christmas lights’ and ‘puppies’ and everyone knows who you’re talking about,” she said.

After a laugh, the senator agreed to return for a Zoller town hall in the future.

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Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP

Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP

MONEY TROUBLE. Disgraced former cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried made international headlines last month as he appeared to skirt campaign finance charges against him after an extradition dispute between the Bahamian government and the United States.

But ABC News reports that New York prosecutors said Tuesday they’ll file a superseding indictment to include Bankman-Fried’s alleged illegal campaign donation scheme in the charges against him.

Why do we care about a former cryptocurrency king’s legal woes? Because a political action committee financed by Bankman-Fried spent a cool $2 million in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District Democratic primary in 2022. The super PAC supported U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath over then-U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux. McBath is not accused of wrongdoing.

Washington insiders are now watching the case carefully to see if anyone else is implicated as the case goes forward.

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Credit: Kenny Holston/The New York Times

Credit: Kenny Holston/The New York Times

TODAY IN WASHINGTON

  • President Joe Biden will deliver remarks from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City on the one-year anniversary of a law that expanded benefits and services for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals.
  • The House and Senate are at recess through the end of August.

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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

WE’RE FULL. The places in metro Atlanta with the fastest growth rates are the city of Atlanta and Cherokee, Forsyth and Henry counties, according to the latest report from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The AJC’s Zachary Hansen and Wilborn Nobles write that the region added 66,730 residents between April 2022 and April 2023. The metro area now boasts a record-high 5.16 million residents.

The report also noted metro Atlanta has the fifth highest employment base in the nation behind Austin and Dallas, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Orlando, Florida.

The Atlanta region’s housing supply and job growth drove the population gains. Expect the population boom to result in continued political realignment in metro Atlanta.

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Credit: Courtesy Rob Daugherty

Credit: Courtesy Rob Daugherty

DOG OF THE DAY. One of the most wonderful qualities about the dogs in our lives is they give so much and require so little in return.

That’s certainly the case for Elly Daugherty, who lives in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward and calls longtime AJC subscribers, the Daugherty family, her people.

A reliable source tells us that Elly just wants her picture in The Jolt. Elly, in return for making us smile before sunrise today, we’re happy to comply. You are definitely our Dog of the Day.

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and cats on a cat-by-cat basis to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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