Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal. Curtis Compton  ccompton@ajc.com
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Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

An artful decision triggers new Sam Olens speculation

Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal. Curtis Compton  ccompton@ajc.com
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Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

A decision by a state official to stash a piece of artwork doesn’t usually raise any eyebrows. But when it involves Attorney General Sam Olens, who is at the center of swirling rumors he could step down, it can fuel new speculation of his future.

Olens has stayed mum on whether he will step down this year to take the reins of Kennesaw State University, the school facing troubling financial questions. 

So when he returned to state GOP officials a portrait of himself painted by Steve Penley, who is the portrait artist of choice for Republicans in Georgia and beyond, the rumor mill ramped up again. Penley’s portraits adorn walls across the Capitol, including prominent places in Gov. Nathan Deal’s suite and Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office.

We asked Olens if the portrait decision was a sign he was preparing for a new gig, and he told us it was a simple matter of housekeeping.

“It was in a closet growing mold,” he said. “I was never comfortable having it.”

Read more about the Olens rumors here.

***

A small armed protest of a proposed Newton County mosque by a self-described militia ended quietly yesterday after local commissioners canceled a meeting on the topic due to concerns over crowd control and hostile social media posts.

Our colleague Meris Lutz reports that members of the militia first spent hours railing against the presence of Muslims in America generally:

Georgia Security Force III%, a local militia, called for the rally after posting a video that caused the county to cancel a meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday. At that meeting, commissioners were expected to lift a temporary moratorium on new places of worship, clearing the way for the cemetery and mosque, which the militia opposes.

Chris Hill, the commanding officer of GSF III% who appeared in the video and goes by Gen. Blood Agent, admitted that his comments in the video were “crass” but continued to voice suspicion that all or most Muslims support violence. He denied that his group posed a threat.

“We’re not violent people, we’re just people with an opinion,” he told reporters. He added that he did not expect to stop construction of what he called an “Islamic compound,” but hoped to voice his concerns nonetheless.

The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is obviously upset. The Muslim civil rights group condemned the armed protest by what the organization called “anti-Muslim extremists”:

“These armed bigots do not represent the people of Newton County, who are as warm and welcoming as other Georgians,” CAIR Georgia executive director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement.

Mitchell expressed disappointment that the commission cancelled the meeting.

***

Republican candidate Drew Ferguson turned his response to the recent NFL national anthem protests into a family affair.

Third congressional district candidate posted a picture of his daughter, a member of the Navy, on Facebook and said she is the reason why NFL players should stand during the national anthem:

“She is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for you. She, the men and women who serve with her, and those that have given so much before deserve your respect and gratitude. Your failure to honor our county’s symbol of freedom is a failure to honor the brave Americans who make your dreams possible.

I hope one day you will have the decency to do the right thing. It says a lot about your character that you won’t honor someone as brave as my daughter. It says even more about her character that she will keep fighting for you despite that.”

Ferguson is expected to cruise to victory this fall in the ruby-red congressional district now represented by Lynn Westmoreland. He becomes the latest Georgia politician to wade into the debate over the national anthem protests, which started with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a way to draw attention to America’s treatment of minorities.

***

Senate Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that they won’t be able to retake control of the chamber later this year as Donald Trump catches up in key battleground states and Republicans notch strong fundraising numbers.

From the Associated Press:

Although most Democrats still express confidence that they will win back the Senate majority in November, they now appear to have fewer paths to victory as wins in Ohio and even Florida look increasingly remote.

And if they do win back control, it could end up being with the narrowest of margins, even a 50-50 Senate with a Vice President Tim Kaine casting tie-breaking votes for the Democrats, if Hillary Clinton becomes president.

A key factor is the Republican money edge, which is particularly pronounced this year because some major donors, most notably the billionaire Koch Brothers, have decided to stay out of the presidential race out of distaste for Donald Trump and are pouring money into Senate races instead. Ohio, Florida, Nevada and other races are awash with cash.

The Senate map falls in the Democrats’ favor this year — the party is defending 10 seats compared to the GOP’s 24 — and the left needs to pick up a handful of seats to regain control of the chamber. But 2018 is slated to be a tough year for the Democrats.

In Georgia, recent polls show Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson putting more distance between himself and Democrat Jim Barksdale.

***

Donald Trump’s unveiled a new child care proposal last night that would guarantee new mothers six weeks of paid leave and offer incentives for employers to provide their workers with childcare as he tries to build more appeal among women, independents and moderates.

From the AP:

“We need working mothers to be fairly compensated for their work, and to have access to affordable, quality child care for their kids,” Trump said in Aston, Pennsylvania. “These solutions must update laws passed more than half a century ago when most women were still not in the labor force.”

Trump proposed guaranteeing six weeks of paid maternity leave to employees whose employers don’t offer leave already. The campaign says the payments would be provided through existing unemployment insurance — though it has yet to spell out how the system would cover those costs.

Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has called for 12 weeks parental leave for both mothers and fathers paid for by taxes on the wealthy.

Trump’s plan has the endorsement of Shannon Perren, a Powder Springs insurance agent and mother of six:

“Donald Trump is showing working American families he understands today’s economic realities. Allowing families to deduct for elderly care and child care expenses, including allowing stay-at-home parents to receive the same tax deduction as working parents, is huge. The burden of caring for dependents keeps growing by the day in an economy that isn’t even close to keeping pace, and Mr. Trump’s proposal will go a long way in lifting the weight of these expenses.”

The liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute estimates that the average annual cost of daycare for an infant in Georgia, more than $7,600, eats up nearly 14 percent of a typical family’s income.

***

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is planning a roundtable with Georgia veterans in Atlanta on Wednesday that will feature state Rep. Scott Holcomb.

Who is better equipped to take care of the nation’s veterans has been a central issue on the campaign trail for both candidates. Clinton emphasized the issue in her first ad, which recently began airing in Georgia.

***

U.S. Rep. John Lewis on Monday will join the ranks of the Dalai Lama, Muhammad Ali, Malala Yousafzai and, yes, Hillary Clinton, as the newest recipient of the Liberty Medal.

The award is given out by the National Constitution Center every year to “men and women of courage and conviction who have strived to secure the blessings of liberty to people the world over.”


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