ATLANTA – A Georgia House subcommittee approved an elections bill Monday that could put Speaker David Ralston on a collision course with Gov. Brian Kemp.
The legislation would do away with the so-called “jungle primary” U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., otherwise would face in a November special election to retain the seat held by former Sen. Johnny Isakson. Kemp appointed the Atlanta businesswoman to the Senate last month when Isakson retired due to health problems.
Unless the law is changed, Loeffler and every other candidate wishing to run for the Senate seat – Republicans and Democrats – would face off on the same ballot in November. If no candidate in the likely crowded field receives more than 50% of the vote, a runoff would be held early next January.
But on Monday, the Elections Subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee voted 8-2 to scrap the jungle primary and treat Loeffler the same as fellow U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is seeking re-election to a second term. Under the legislation, party primaries for both Senate seats would be held in May, and the Republican and Democratic nominees would face off in November.
Getting rid of the jungle primary would protect the two-party system in Georgia, said Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, the Governmental Affairs Committee’s chairman.
“It benefits the party process, which is an integral part of our elections process,” he said.
But Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, who voted against the bill, said the measure was prompted by Ralston’s opposition to Kemp’s appointment of Loeffler. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, a former member of the Georgia House with close ties to House leadership, has talked about challenging Loeffler.
“I get really hesitant when we try to change the law around here because of one person’s opinion,” Turner said.
Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, issued a statement defending the bill.
“It stands to reason that the electoral process for this special election can mirror that of other offices,” he said. “The underlying principle of this legislation is a fair, comparable playing field for all those seeking elected office. Surely, that is something we can all agree on.”
Democrats on the subcommittee joined Republican leaders in supporting the legislation.
House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, said eliminating the jungle primary would make the special election less confusing for voters.
“Anytime you have a general election with one candidate for each party, it provides voters with a clear opportunity to evaluate the candidates and a clear contrast between the candidates,” he said.
Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who also voted against the legislation, said he doesn’t oppose eliminating the jungle primary. However, he said he would have preferred the issue be taken up in a separate bill.
The jungle primary provision was added to an underlying bill sponsored by Fleming that dealt with other election issues.
The legislation now heads to full House Governmental Affairs Committee.