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Greg Bluestein

The cost of new judicial watchdog rules? A new city of South Fulton, apparently

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March 22, 2016 Atlanta: Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) waits Tuesday night March 22, 2016 to see the final vote on a bill she presented to allow a referendum to create the city of South Fulton. The bill passed. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

March 22, 2016 Atlanta: Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) waits Tuesday night March 22, 2016 to see the final vote on a bill she presented to allow a referendum to create the city of South Fulton. The bill passed. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com


Seldom has there been a more overt case of horse trading than what unfolded late Tuesday night in the state Capitol. Or, as Sen. Vincent Fort derisively dubbed it, simply “achieving a deal.”

State Sen. Donzella James, who represents Atlanta and parts south, was the lone Democrat to join with Republicans voting for a controversial Judicial Qualifications Commission overhaul.

A two-thirds majority was required for the proposed constitutional amendment to rewrite the watchdog agency’s rules, and the GOP task was made harder by the desertion of state Sen. Josh McKoon, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and two other Republican critics.

At first, it failed to reach the 38-senator threshold it needed by a mere vote. You could practically see McKoon rejoice on the floor of the Senate.

The chamber’s leaders called a sudden break that was supposed to last one hour but stretched to two. When the Senate reconvened, all other measures were swiftly tabled to return to the JQC vote. This time, it passed by a 38-17 vote with the help of Republican state Sen. Marty Harbin, one of the trio of GOPers who voted against it at first.

As if on cue, moments after House Resolution 1113 passed, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle suddenly revived James’ long-stalled cityhood bill for South Fulton.

“She stuck with us,” state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, explained to a pair of reporters watching from the sidelines. “Now, we’ll stick with her.”

Fort, an opponent of the cityhood effort, stood before the Senate and suggested in no uncertain terms that James, his fellow Atlanta Democrat, betrayed her party for the measure.

Cagle threatened to oust him from the Senate floor – the two briefly talked over each other — before both settled down and Cagle called the vote.

James’ cityhood bill passed 42-10 as cheers peeled out from city supporters outside the chamber.

Given that it needs a House vote, too, an actual city is not a done deal yet.

Fort, meanwhile, took to Twitter:

Others were just as blunt:

Tom Crawford over at Georgia Report offers more:

James gave the Republican leadership the Democratic vote it needed to achieve that two-thirds majority on HR 1113, but the measure wouldn’t have passed if not also for the results of a special election held Dec. 1 in DeKalb and Rockdale counties.

That election determined the replacement for Ron Ramsey, a Democratic senator who resigned from the General Assembly to accept a judgeship.

Although the Senate district is majority black and heavily Democratic, the low-turnout special election was narrowly won by a Republican, former Rockdale County commissioner JaNice VanNess.

Insider note: A version of this post appeared in the Morning Jolt.