The Jolt: Zell Miller becomes a debate point in 2018 race for governor

Stacey Abrams (left) and Stacey Evans (right) shake hands at the conclusion of their first forum in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Days later, the Monday night “conversation” between Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, the two Democratic candidates for governor, is still worth poking through.

One undiscussed point: Gov. Zell Miller and his legacy may be up for debate in 2018.

Evans, a native of north Georgia, has built a campaign around her image as an up-from-the-bootstraps native of north Georgia, a serial occupant of mobile homes. Said Evans during the Monday “conversation”:

“Luckily, when I was in high school, one of my favorite teachers pulled me aside and told me that Governor Miller was coming to our school to tell us about a new program in Georgia called HOPE…

“He said, if you keep up a B average, you can have your tuition paid for at any four-year college and university in the state. And regardless of your grades, every Georgia student would have the opportunity to go to two years of technical college.”

Toward the end of the program, Abrams offered up an alternative version of Miller. She told of her family moving from Mississippi when she was 15, and graduating as valedictorian from her high school two years later.

The family car had died. And when Miller opened the Governor’s Mansion to valedictorians across the state, the Abrams family came by MARTA bus:

“My mom and dad got dressed up. I put on my nicest Sunday dress and heels – and I hate wearing heels. We took that bus to West Paces Ferry. My parents got off of the bus and when we walked to the gates, the guard wouldn’t let us in. He said, ‘I just saw y’all getting off that bus. You don’t belong here. This is a private event.”

If you watch the video, you can see the anger building in Abrams’ face:

“I’m running for governor because we have to open those gates wide for everyone…We spend a lot of time in Georgia talking about the good ol’ days when Democrats were in charge, but I’ll tell you now – the good ol’ days weren’t always good.”

I was transcribing this portion of the conversation, in preparation for next Sunday’s column, when I realized that Abrams hadn’t actually finished her story. In the end, had she been turned away?

Actually, no, a campaign spokeswoman said. The Abrams family was eventually allowed to pass into the Governor’s Mansion.

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One day after an 11Alive poll showed her rising in the Atlanta mayoral race, Keisha Lance Bottoms launched her first TV ad of the campaign, advertising herself as “the Democrat for mayor.” Watch here:

This is Bottoms’ attempt to frame the next five weeks as a contest between herself and Mary Norwood. Both are members of the Atlanta City Council.

Municipal elections in Georgia are officially nonpartisan, but in the 2009 mayoral runoff with Kasim Reed, Norwood – who calls herself an independent — was sharply attacked as a Republican. The state Democratic party even jumped into the effort to defeat her.

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More signs of trouble within President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, this time with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. From NBC News:

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan lobbied the White House to salvage the career of his longtime friend Tom Price shortly before the health secretary was ousted on Friday. Politico reports that the Wisconsin Republican urged Chief of Staff John Kelly not to fire the former Georgia congressman. But Kelly, according to the site, was unmoved — the call was more of a heads up anyway. You know what happened from there. (Tamar Hallerman)

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We told you about U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s immigration-focused dinner with President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers on Monday. Now the Republican senator is saying the deal the commander-in-chief struck with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer over so-called Dreamers isn’t nearly as lenient as the Democratic leaders described. Instead, it looks a lot like the immigration compromise he himself has been seeking in recent weeks. Via Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump told GOP lawmakers at a private dinner he’s seeking changes to the legal immigration system as part of any deal to permanently safeguard from deportation nearly 1 million immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, Senator David Perdue said.

…Perdue, a Georgia Republican, said the discussion included elements of a plan Perdue is co-sponsoring to shift toward a skills-based immigration system and cut legal immigration by half over a decade.

(TH)

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President Donald Trump has named former Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland to a five-year term on Amtrak’s board of directors. The Coweta County Republican served a stint on the House Transportation Committee during his time on Capitol Hill. He also spoke in favor of expanding commercial train service as part of a broader energy policy. From a Clayton News-Daily story we found from 2008:

Called the “most conservative congressman of 2007,” Westmoreland gave five speeches on the House floor in April, May and June, lambasting the Democrats’ lack of an energy policy and promoting drilling for oil in Alaska and the continental shelf. But in June, in between speeches, Westmoreland voted to give billions to Amtrak.

“There probably is a turning of the tide,” said Brian Robinson, Westmoreland’s deputy chief of staff. “The congressman does see, with the high price of fuel, that trains are always going to be a part of how we get people from point A to point B, and freight, too, for that matter. But maybe it’ll be an even bigger part than we had imagined.”

Robinson said Westmoreland would even like to see an Amtrak line running from Atlanta to Washington and would like to see Amtrak become a highly developed, first class system. Robinson said Westmoreland “thinks that, in the future, it’s going to play an important role in Georgia.”

(TH)

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Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, was deeply critical of GOP congressional leaders in private remarks to big donors on Tuesday. The Georgia native predicted the party could get “shellacked” at the ballot box next year if Republicans on Capitol Hill don’t make progress on President Donald Trump’s legislative priorities and suggested it could be beneficial to “purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him,” per audio leaked to Politico. (TH)

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One of Georgia’s most prominent Democrats has picked a side in the fight for one of the swingiest Senate districts in the state. Jason Carter, the 2014 nominee for governor, backed trial lawyer Jen Jordan’s bid for the Atlanta-based district once held by Republican Hunter Hill. She faces Jaha Howard, a dentist who was narrowly defeated by Hill in 2016. Several Republicans are in the hunt. (GB)

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A group dubbing itself “A Voice For All Ga” has launched a recall petition for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, alleging the Republican candidate for governor has suppressed voter rights. It’s catnip to Kemp’s campaign, which said in a statement that the “radicals know that as governor, Kemp won’t cower under pressure, back down from a fight, or compromise his integrity for their acceptance.” (GB)

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State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, had good reason to send celebratory emails about the Senate’s decision to livestream its committee meetings: He was one of the chief critics of the chamber’s previous policy, which held that it was too expensive to broadcast the meetings online. He even undercut that argument by not-so-subtly livestreaming some committee meetings himself with the help of a smartphone. (GB)

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We spotted a familiar face in the C-SPAN background as former Equifax CEO Rick Smith testified on Capitol Hill yesterday in his first of four grillings this week: Saxby Chambliss.

The former Republican senator has made cyber security one of his major focuses since moving to the mega law firm DLA Piper after his D.C. retirement. (TH)

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