The Jolt: Why Georgia should worry about a Mississippi senator’s health

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. AP file /Rogelio V. Solis

It sounds a little strange, but the fate of Georgia’s long-running water rights battle with Alabama and Florida could hinge on the health of a frail 79-year-old U.S. senator from Mississippi.

Let us explain.

Thad Cochran, a seven-term Republican from the Magnolia State, is the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. The panel exerts outsize power over federal agencies because it holds their purse strings – which gives the chair quite a perch from which to carry out his priorities.

Cochran, however, has been ailing lately and is once again the subject of retirement rumors. From Politico.com:

The 79-year-old Cochran appeared frail and at times disoriented during a brief hallway interview on Wednesday. He was unable to answer whether he would remain chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and at one point, needed a staffer to remind him where the Senate chamber is located.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Cochran said in a low voice when asked whether he plans to retire after 44 years in office.

However, when queried about whether he would stay on as Appropriations chairman, Cochran seemed confused and just repeated the question. “As chairman of the Appropriations Committee?” Cochran asked.

Here’s why that question is important: If Cochran goes, the next in line for the appropriations chairmanship is Richard Shelby.

The Alabama Republican has a reputation as a bare-knuckle brawler when it comes to the issues closest to his heart. He has had multiple skirmishes with John McCain, R-Ariz., over Russian rocket engines and federal aviation studies. And then there’s Alabama’s decades-long fight with Georgia over water from the Chattahoochee River and elsewhere.

Shelby has a notorious reputation within the Georgia delegation for his tactics -– we’ve long heard rumors of testy meetings and language tucked into legislation that Georgia says undercuts its interests. One recent skirmish nearly toppled a must-pass federal spending bill when the Georgia delegation revolted.

The U.S. Supreme Court said it plans to take up a related water case between Florida and Georgia this term. Alabama is sitting on the sidelines for that case, but it doesn’t preclude Congress from acting if it wants to.

Shelby said Thursday that he’d like the governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia to strike their own water usage agreement, but that he’ll also “keep our options open” when  it comes to legislation. “We’ve gotta protect our interests,” he said.

And he’s definitely interested in taking over the Appropriations Committee if the chairmanship becomes available. “I think everybody in the Senate would like to be chairman of the Appropriations Committee, but we wait our times,” Shelby said. (Tamar Hallerman)

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Atlanta mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell on Thursday launched his TV ad campaign that touches on the unfolding bribery scandal in City Hall. Watch it here. The key passage:

“Hope cannot live in a city where corruption runs free. You and I know what a mayor needs to do. I’ll put more cops on the beat, where they belong. And I’ll sweep out the corruption we know is there in City Hall.”

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Democrat Stacey Evans offered a note of caution Thursday to Georgians revved up about the bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. The gubernatorial candidate said the upcoming “religious liberty” debate in the state Legislature will cast a shadow Georgia’s proposal.

Noting that all four leading Republican contenders pledged to sign the measure, Evans promised to veto any legislation that “permits, encourages or in any way promotes discrimination against anyone.”

“I’ll use my veto pen to send RFRA back from where it came and with it I will send a message that Georgia is open for business,” said Evans. “We will stand strong against the fringes that would seek to send us back.” Her Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, has also pledged to veto the measure. (Greg Bluestein)

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Emily’s List, the national women’s rights group, has endorsed Democrat Jen Jordan in a competitive fight for state Senate District 6, which straddles Buckhead and Vinings and has been vacated by Republican Hunter Hill. Jordan is one of eight candidates — three of whom are Democrats. We told you Thursday that one of Jordan’s Democratic opponents,  Vinings dentist Jaha Howard, is facing scrutiny after deleting “embarrassing” Facebook posts.

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis has picked a side in the crowded race to represent a deep-blue Atlanta district in the state House. The lawmaker endorsed attorney Sachin Varghese in the contest to succeed Stacey Abrams, who vacated the District 89 seat to run for governor. Varghese is one of four Democrats in the contest. (GB)

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The top Republican and Democrat on the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday threatened to subpoena documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture after alleging that Secretary Sonny Perdue’s agency didn’t comply with their inquiry regarding the use of private jets by senior administration officials. The Politico.com report comes less than a month after former health chief Tom Price stepped down following media reports detailing his widespread private jet use. (TH)   

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U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Republican from West Point, has drawn a Democratic challenger. The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reports that high school science teacher Rusty Oliver is challenging the first-term Republican. He listed health care and opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive actions on environmental protections as what motivated him to run. (TH)

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Our AJC colleague Vanessa McCray reports that the Atlanta Board of Education ethics commission on Thursday quickly dismissed complaints filed by a school board candidate Charlie Stadtlander against District 8 incumbent Cynthia Briscoe Brown, whom he hopes to unseat on Nov. 7.

The commission met for less than an hour to discuss the matter. Among other things, Stadtlander alleged Brown offered an Atlanta Public Schools job to one of his campaign workers who knocked on Brown’s door. Brown had denied that and other allegations.

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This week in Las Vegas, Democratic National Committee chair is expected to announce his appointments to various party positions. A leaked list has angered supporters of Bernie Sanders. One of those drawing criticism is from Atlanta. According to the Observer:

Daniel Halpern was chosen to serve as co-chair of the DNC Finance Committee. As chairman of the Georgia Restaurant Association, Halpern played an active role in shutting down a bill that would have increased Georgia’s state minimum wage.

Updated at 6:30 p.m.: Daniel Halpern just called from Vegas, confirming his appointments. But he also wanted us to know that he fully supported an increase in the minimum wage at the federal level, though he is not sure how high. Nor does he think raising the minimum wage is enough. He favors some sort of housing tax credit to help low-income workers afford rent or house payments that are rapidly outstripping their ability to pay.

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According to Flagpole magazine, Houston Gaines, the sole Republican running to replace state Rep. Regina Quick in Athens-based House District 117, has settled on an answer for those who want to know whether he would support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton today. He simply doesn’t answer the question.

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In the U.S. Senate, you’ve got to take humor where you can find it. We must say this budget amendment from Georgia’s David Perdue constitutes some A+ trolling. The Republican has long railed about how awful he thinks Congress’ budget process is, but the freshman Republican threw some next-level shade on Thursday, during the “vote-a-rama” process.

He won cheers from his colleagues for offering the final amendment of the night, a non-binding provision to declare the whole process a load of baloney. His amendment’s specific purpose: “To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to eliminating deficit-neutral reserve funds.” (TH)

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