The local take on Karen Handel’s decision to skip a Sixth District debate

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Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in the Sixth District runoff, and her husband Steve. thanks her supporters and her husband Steve. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

As tempting as it might be to leave coverage of the Sixth District congressional race solely to national outlets, or even large-ish organizations like the AJC, this is no time to give up on smaller, neighborhood-oriented news operations.

They do good work – essential work. Tuesday provided a pair of examples.

You know that, during this year’s session of the Legislature, state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, floated the first rewrite of Georgia’s adoption laws in 23 years. After passing the House unanimously, the measure stalled in the Senate when a “religious liberty” amendment was added.

The provision would have offered legal protection for child placement agencies that accept taxpayer funding yet choose not to deal with same-sex couples or other categories of people seeking to adopt.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who backed House Bill 159, was furious.

Next Tuesday, voters in state Senate District 32 – largely located in east Cobb County – will go to the polls to settle a runoff between Democrat Christine Triebsch and Republican Kay Kirkpatrick.

In Tuesday’s edition of the Marietta Daily Journal, we learned that Kirkpatrick and Triebsch both oppose the anti-LGBT amendment that was attached to HB 159:

“I supported Bert Reeves’ bill, and he was very disappointed with his bill sort of getting hijacked, if you will,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think that shouldn’t have happened. I think kids are better off being with loving parents and that that’s always going to be better than being a ward of the state. I don’t think there’s any data to the contrary, and so I supported Bert Reeves’ bill, and I think it was the right thing to do and hopefully it will get done next year.”

Kirkpatrick, remember, is the Republican. Given that Senate District 32 lies almost wholly in the Sixth District, it’s now worth quizzing Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel on the same topic.

Then we have Reporter Newspapers, which concentrates its coverage in Sandy Springs, Buckhead and Dunwoody. This week, one of its reporters was at the Dunwoody Homeowners Association when its president, Robert Wittenstein, announced that Handel had declined the group’s invitation for a Sixth District debate.

After the boos subsided, Wittenstein said the Handel campaign had communicated its decision by email. And then added this:

“But the email exchange just prior to that was …their question of whether or not [the debate] would be open to the public or  if it was going to be restricted to Dunwoody residents or members of the DHA,” he said. “When I told them it would be open to the public, the next response was, we have a scheduling conflict.”

 

Added Wittenstein, “It is unclear to me if they have a scheduling conflict or whether the fact there was no vetting of who is coming  determined they would not participate. But they gave us a hard no.”

***

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has become the latest establishment Republican to give his full-throated endorsement to Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s Sixth District race.

Isakson, who represented the district before his ascent to the U.S. Senate, stayed out of the April 18 first-round vote while other big GOP figures weighed in on the contest.

In an ad released this week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Isakson declares he’s voting for Handel because she has a “record of fighting for us, for our families, for our local businesses, local jobs.”

***

Republicans have pounced on video footage from a tracker at a canvassing event for Democrat Jon Ossoff featuring an organizer asked by a volunteer how to combat voters worried that he doesn’t live in the district. Says the organizer:

“That comes up sometimes. Jon was born and raised and has spent his basically career representing local interests and the interests of this community. He lives right outside the district because his girlfriend goes to, is a medical student an Emory….. I wouldn’t stress too much about that. Again, this falls into the category of, if you don’t know, you can say I don’t know. But yeah, he lives three blocks away from the district and has been born and raised inside the district.”

Watch it unfold here:

***

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is out with a ‘religious liberty’ policy of his own, less than a week after President Donald Trump rolled out a scaled-back executive order touching on the divisive subject. Perdue’s version is artful in its vagueness. Download it here, but here’s a paragraph:

“Freedom of expression flourishes in a climate of mutual respect and tolerance. To that end, USDA will continue to uproot and eliminate discrimination, harassment and retaliation and ensure our employees and customers work in an atmosphere of dignity and equality — a place where the rules are known, respected and fair to all.” 

***

We have our first Republican candidate in the race to replace state Sen. David Shafer. Matt Reeves, a Duluth attorney, said he’s running as the outsider in the race  who will “fight to implement serious reforms guided by our conservative principles.”

Shafer is running for lieutenant governor, and his Gwinnett-based district is suddenly competitive: Hillary Clinton won it by a decent margin in November and Democrats are circling it as a pick-up opportunity in 2018.

***

Two senior Republicans on Capitol Hill blasted health Secretary Tom Price on Tuesday for restricting Health and Human Services Department employees from communicating directly with Congress.

In a letter to Price, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said a new policy Price’s top aide announced in a recent staff memo as “potentially illegal and unconstitutional” and could “chill protected disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse.”

In the memo dated May 3, Price’s Chief of Staff Lance Leggitt told staff that he was “restat(ing) the Department’s long-standing policy regarding congressional relations” and that workers should consult with the congressional liaison’s office before communicating with Capitol Hill. He said the process would “ensure that our efforts are coordinated.”

Grassley and Chaffetz said they worried the guidance would silence whistleblowers.

***

West Virginia is in the news today. The Washington Post reports this:

As Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price walked through a hallway Tuesday in the West Virginia state capitol, veteran reporter Dan Heyman followed alongside him, holding up his phone to Price while attempting to ask him a question.

 

Heyman, a journalist with Public News Service, repeatedly asked the secretary whether domestic violence would be considered a preexisting condition under the Republican bill to overhaul the nation’s health care system, he said.

 

“He didn’t say anything,” Heyman said later in a news conference. “So I persisted.”

Heyman ended up handcuffed, jailed and charged with the “willful disruption of state government processes.” He was later released on $5,000 bond.

***

On the top end of West Virginia, on the tip of that needle that shoots up between Ohio and Pennsylvania, we have the case of former police officer Stephen Mader, who has sued the city of Wierton, W. Va. Mader claims he was wrongfully fired because he chose not to shoot and kill Robert Williams, an African-American man, during a 2016 domestic dispute. From Newsweek:

Mader ordered Williams to show him his hands. When he complied, Mader saw he held a silver handgun. The officer drew his own weapon and ordered Williams to drop the gun. “I can’t do that,” Williams said. “Just shoot me.” Mader, who served as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, felt the man wasn’t dangerous or aggressive; instead he feared Williams was trying to commit “suicide by cop.”

Two other officers arrived at the scene, and within seconds, one shot Williams in the head, killing him. The Weirton Police Department placed Mader on administrative leave, then fired him for allegedly putting other officers at risk by failing to shoot.

After the shooting, police confirmed that the gun held by Williams — as had been reported by Williams’s girlfriend and as Mader suspected — wasn’t loaded.


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