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Greg BluesteinTamar Hallerman
Jim Galloway

A most impolitic bill presumes Johnny Isakson won’t serve out a third term

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U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson speaks Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January. Jonathan Phillips/Special

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson speaks Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January. Jonathan Phillips/Special

We are down to the last two days of the session. Much attention will be paid to the bills still alive: the MARTA rail measure, the bill to reduce police privileges before grand juries, the effort to “fix” campus-carry legislation – and the budget, of course.

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But it is also worth looking at one of the bills that didn’t scratch: SB 399. This legislation was filed on Feb. 18 and bears the names of six Republican senators: Josh McKoon of Columbus, Mike Crane of Newnan, Michael Williams of Cumming, Judson Hill of Marietta, Bill Heath of Bremen, and John Albers of Roswell.

SB 399 would remove the right of the governor to name a replacement should a sitting U.S. senator fail to serve out his term. An immediate special election would be required. Read the bill here — it’s a short one:

SB 399 could easily qualify as one of the most impolitic bills of the session. Within it is a presumption that U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who last year acknowledged his battle with Parkinson’s disease, won’t serve out a third six-year term – should he win re-election in November.

Or perhaps, the bill should be seen as a Republican attempt to curtail the powers of a sitting Republican governor.

Sometimes such bills aren’t intended to move, but serve as messengers. The timing of the bill’s introduction is interesting – one day before the Senate sent HB 757, the religious liberty bill, back to the House with stronger language protecting those who object to same-sex marriage. The bill — with much of that stronger Senate language removed — now sits on the governor’s desk.

There is also a practical, political reason SB 399 might not have moved out of the Senate Ethics Committee, chaired by Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge: The required special election would give Democrats a leg up, by providing them with immediate access to a statewide contest without a Republican-appointed incumbent.

Updated at 2:05 p.m.: In a quick phone interview, state Sen. Josh McKoon said he was not only motivated by speculation that U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson might not serve a full term (which Isakson himself dismisses), but also by talk that U.S. Sen. David Perdue might have ambitions that could take him elsewhere in mid-term.

It is a matter of principle, he said. “To have a member of the executive branch determining the membership of the legislative branch I think is problematic,” McKoon said. But he acknowledged that his GOP colleagues didn’t agree.

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The story is an old one, almost a cliche. A state lawmaker signs up for re-election, but draws only one opponent – because incumbency is a great advantage in a primary, regardless of party. Then said lawmaker withdraws. The challenger, left unopposed, waltzes into an open seat. From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

[State Rep. Tom] Weldon, R-Ringgold, submitted paperwork to run for re-election March 7. Dewayne Hill, a former Catoosa County commission, qualified to challenge him on March 11 — the last day to register to run.

On Thursday, Weldon told the Times Free Press he is going to bow out, leaving Hill with no competition. He said he needed to spend more time at his law practice and with his family, and he expected to formally withdraw within the next couple of weeks….

Some Catoosa Republicans don’t like the idea of Hill running unopposed. Local party chairwoman Denise Burns said Saturday the field would be more crowded if people knew Weldon, an eight-year incumbent, was not going to run.

Weldon said he didn’t come to his decision until “two or three” days after he qualified. Some Republicans in Catoosa County say they will ask the Georgia GOP to reopen qualifying. But that’s not likely to happen.

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If the anti-Donald Trump crowd decides to back a third-party contender in the race for the White House, the bar to get on the ballot in Georgia just got a lot lower. From the Daily Report:

U.S. District Judge Richard Story’s March 17 order in the four-year-old case brought by Georgia’s Green Party and Constitution Party would significantly lower the qualifying threshold for third-party candidates seeking a place on this year’s presidential ballot.

Randy Evans, a Dentons partner in Atlanta who is also a member of the Republican National Committee’s rules committee, called Story’s order “particularly noteworthy” given that it “comes at a time when institutional powerbrokers are meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss the creation of another party should Donald Trump become the GOP nominee.”

Atlanta attorney Doug Chalmers, who served as counsel to Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, concurred, calling the timing of Story’s order “extremely interesting given the discussion going on nationally among Republicans who are dissatisfied with Trump as the potential nominee.”

The ruling, handed down Thursday, strikes the requirement that political organizations must collect signatures from 1 percent of the state’s registered voters – that’s more than 50,000 signees – to get on the ballot. The new bar is just 7,500 signatures, though the judge said that could be overwritten by state lawmakers.

The odds are long for that happening this year – there are but two days left in the legislative session.

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Republican Billy Davis, one of two self-funders challenging U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, offered to put his money where his mouth is over the weekend. From his campaign:

“I’m tired of career politicians running for office and calling themselves ‘public servants.’ These ‘public servants’ make almost $200,000 a year of our taxpayer dollars and enjoy untold taxpayer-funded ‘perks.’ It shouldn’t cost $200,000 for someone to serve the public.” He adds, “I will donate 100% of my salary to veterans’ groups. Our veterans are actual public servants who deserve a heck of a lot more support than our useless politicians!”

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In Sunday morning talk shows, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the main headliner. The Republican leader of the U.S. Senate said his chamber will not hold a vote on Supreme Court justice nominee Merrick Garland during its lame-duck session, even if the GOP loses the White House in November.

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, the Kentucky Republican had this to say, according to Politico:

“I can’t imagine that a Republican-majority Congress in a lame-duck session, after the American people have spoken, would want to confirm a nominee opposed by the NRA, the NFIB, and [who] The New York Times says would move the court dramatically to the left,” McConnell said, referring to the National Rifle Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

When Bash followed up by asking McConnell whether he is ruling it out 100 percent, he replied: “Yes.”

Several Republican senators indicated last week that they would be willing to entertain the idea of a lame-duck vote if Hillary Clinton won the presidency in November in order to prevent a more liberal judge from being nominated.