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Greg Bluestein

Why Michelle Obama is in Georgia today

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First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the 2011 Spelman College commencement (AJC/Vino Wong)

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the 2011 Spelman College commencement (AJC/Vino Wong)

First Lady Michelle Obama is venturing to Georgia on Thursday for a few hours. But her journey shouldn’t mess with Atlanta traffic.

From our AJC colleague Jill Vejnoska:

Mrs. Obama will visit Burke County Middle School at 11 a.m. to help students plant the school garden. Located some 40 minutes south of Augusta in Waynesboro, the school is home to the county’s STEM-based learning garden. Students there are even writing a cookbook whose recipes incorporate food that is harvested from the garden. Additionally, Burke County’s Farm to School program offers daily fresh produce to its students, leading to a doubling of their consumption rate of fruits and vegetables, the school district says.

The first lady will be treading on familiar turf at the school. After all, it was back in 2009 when she first planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House to help start a national conversation about health and well-being. That “conversation” evolved into her “Let’s Move!” initiative.

***

There’s been a bit of upheaval in the race for Georgia Republican National Committeewoman.

Vicki Willard, one of the three candidates for the job, dropped out. Within hours, Linda Clary Umberger, another veteran GOP operative, announced her candidacy.

Willard was among three candidates to replace Linda Herren, who is term-limited after serving for 12 years. Ginger Howard and Maria Strollo Zack are also running for the position.

Willard said her mother’s declining health forced her to pull out of the race, which will be decided in June at the state GOP convention in Augusta.

“When I started this campaign for National Committeewoman, my life was settled and my time was easily devoted to most things political. Today, that is not the case,” she said in a statement, adding: “At no time would I want to balance the job of National Committeewoman with the job of being a caregiver to my mother, with one or the other necessarily coming up short.”

Soon after, we received word from Umberger, a former Dawson County GOP chair and ex-regional field director for Marco Rubio’s campaign, that she is joining the contest.

“I recognize that I am coming late to this race,” she said, “but I am confident that I will be able to tap my many friends and colleagues in the Republican party to demonstrate – not just describe, but demonstrate – the kind of leadership Georgia needs on the RNC.”

***

We now have an inkling why state Rep. Allen Peake abruptly stepped down as Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leader.

Emails obtained by WXIA show the rift emerged in November as the Macon Republican, who was pushing to expand Georgia’s nascent medical marijuana program, tried to organize a second fact-finding trip to explore other strategies. Jen Talaber Ryan, a top Deal aide, had accompanied an earlier trip to Colorado.

From WXIA:

Allen Peake, R-Macon, arguing last year for H.B. 1, the medical marijuana bill. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Allen Peake, R-Macon, arguing last year for H.B. 1, the medical marijuana bill. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

But in an email dated November 16, Ryan Teague, the governor’s executive counsel said, “Need to shut down the other trips. Governor not supportive of any further trips on this issue.” 

Peake replied the next day and said he would visit on his own and, “I hope we won’t let law enforcement’s fear stop us from doing something good for our citizens.”

Later that morning, the governor’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, responded with a stern warning and an order, “There is no appetite to move any legislation, sign any legislation, or even gather additional information to write legislation on this issue. If you feel the need to continue to pursue this, I am going to need you to step down as a floor leader because I don’t want you to be embarrassed when the governor states this in a public setting and you’re left holding the bag.”

Yowza.

Within weeks, Peake did just that. He announced in December he was leaving Deal’s leadership team, and the two were on opposite sides of the marijuana debate for much of the session. Peake wanted to legalize a state-sanctioned cultivation and growing program for the drug while Deal firmly disagreed – and at one point issued a stern warning to Peake for confessing to disobeying federal drug law.

Their relationship seemed to thaw by the end of the session, when Deal warmed to a limited plan to expand the number of illnesses eligible for the medical marijuana treatment. But that measure, House Bill 722, failed to pass.