Walker, Warnock clash over character and competence in final stretch of long campaign 

ATLANTA – Georgians get one more chance to decide whether they want to return Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock to Washington or replace him with Republican Herschel Walker in the upcoming Senate runoff.  

After neither candidate earned more than 50% of the vote in the November election – due to Libertarian Chase Oliver drawing 2% of the vote – the contest was pushed to a December rematch under Georgia’s unique runoff election law.  

In the general election, Warnock won 49.5% of vote while Walker won 48.5%. But it’s unclear how many voters of either party will turn out, yet again, for the final vote Dec. 6.

With each candidate’s policy positions already established as the race enters the final stretch, the candidates are trying to best each other on character and competence. They are crisscrossing the state to encourage voters to return to the polls – “one more time,” as Warnock’s campaign slogan puts it. And they are blitzing state airwaves with campaign ads.  

One thing they are not doing is holding a traditional pre-Election Day debate. The two men debated each other just once in the run-up to the November election. Walker declined to attend any other debate, leaving Warnock to debate an empty podium. For the runoff, both candidates have eschewed the opportunity and a previously planned debate has been canceled.   

Warnock has staked his claim for re-election in the populist steps he has taken in Washington to help Georgians. For example, he frequently touts his votes for caps on Medicare out-of-pocket costs and insulin in the Inflation Reduction Act Congress passed earlier this year. Warnock continues to call for full Medicaid expansion in Georgia which, he argues, would help bolster the state’s hospital infrastructure and improve rural health care.

Warnock also points to his ability to work across the aisle as evidence of his bipartisanship. At a recent campaign stop in Macon, he noted his work with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on getting an expansion of the Interstate 14 corridor in Middle Georgia priority status in last year’s infrastructure bill. (That has not, however, stopped Cruz from attacking Warnock on Twitter recently.)  

“I have been very focused on Middle Georgia,” Warnock said. “Smaller rural communities and small businesses are the strength of the Georgia economy.”  

Walker has sought to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden and blame the Democratic duo for high inflation and crime rates. 

“Y’all seen the drugs coming into this country because they want to leave the border wide open?” Walker said recently to a crowd in Cobb County.   

Walker often emphasizes what he considers the problems with “woke” social policies. A recent ad features Walker sitting next to Riley Gaines, a female college swimming champion.  

“I was forced to compete against a biological male. … A man won a swimming title that belonged to a woman and Senator Warnock voted to let it happen,” Gaines says. 

GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization, called for Walker to remove the ad when it started running just one day after a shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, Colo. that killed five people.

Walker also opposes abortion. While he indicated earlier that he opposes all abortions, with no exceptions for the life of the mother or in the case of rape or incest, during the debate this fall, Walker said he supports Georgia’s “heartbeat law,” which bans most abortions after about six weeks but includes exceptions for rape and incest. 

He has denied media reports that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion and encouraged her to have a second abortion.   

Warnock made his strong pro-choice position clear during the fall campaign, saying that “a patient’s room is too narrow and small and cramped a space for a woman, her doctor and the United States government,” and that abortion rights are protected by the fundamental right to privacy.  

The Walker camp has continued a steady stream of anti-Warnock ads. One criticizes the alleged eviction of tenants in a building formerly owned by a nonprofit affiliated with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Warnock is the pastor.  

Warnock’s campaign has denied those claims, pointing out that neither Warnock nor Ebenezer is involved in the building’s management and no one in the apartment building has been evicted or kicked out since before the pandemic began.

Independent ads on behalf of Warnock take aim at Walker’s alleged history of violence against women as well as his ex-girlfriend’s abortion.  

“Decades of violence against women,” intones a narrator as a timeline of Walker’s alleged violent incidents rolls across the screen. “Now, an ex-girlfriend says Herschel Walker used the threat of violence to force her to have an abortion” the ad continues, showing footage from an interview with the ex-girlfriend, whose name has not been revealed. 

But ads funded directly by Warnock’s campaign take a more light-hearted approach . One shows Warnock walking Alvin, a beagle who was made famous by a 2020 campaign ad, and asking “Is it just me or does it feel like we’ve been here before”?  

“You’d think Herschel Walker would want to explain what he’d do in the Senate. … Instead, he repeats the same lies, trying to distract from what we all know is true about him,” Warnock says. “But I think Georgians will see his ads for what they are,” Warnock continues, as he throws a symbolic bag of dog poop away.  

Both candidates are campaigning with high profile figures. Though Republican Gov. Brian Kemp kept his distance from Walker during the general election campaign, he stumped for Walker last weekend in Cobb County. And Florida Sen. Rick Scott is also continuing to campaign for Walker.  

Former President Barack Obama will return to Atlanta Dec. 1 to urge Democrats to turn out for Warnock. The campaign also is sponsoring an event with rock superstars The Dave Matthews Band at a Get Out the Vote Rally in Cobb County on Monday, Nov. 28.  

Early voting in some Georgia counties will begin as early as Saturday, Nov. 26. Election Day is Dec. 6.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Georgia Supreme Court reinstates abortion ban

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court reinstated Georgia’s law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy Wednesday just over a week after a lower court judge had blocked the law from taking effect. 

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney had ruled last week that the Georgia abortion ban was unconstitutional and blocked state officials from enforcing it.  

The so-called “heartbeat” law, initially passed in 2019, prohibits abortions in Georgia after a fetal heartbeat is detected. It has faced legal challenges since its inception, first in federal courts and now in Georgia state courts. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning the 1973 landmark abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade, a federal appeals court allowed the Georgia law to take effect in July. 

Pro-choice groups then took their fight to state court, where McBurney enjoined the law. Soon after, lawyers for the state filed notice of their intent to appeal to the state Supreme Court. They also filed an emergency petition asking the court to reinstitute the abortion law while the case is pending.  

The court agreed to do so Wednesday in a one-page ruling representing a unanimous 7-0 decision. Two justices – Nels S.D. Peterson and Andrew Pinson – did not participate in the case.  

“We are pleased with the court’s action today,” said Kara Richardson, spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. “However, we are unable to provide further comment due to the pending appeal.”

The plaintiffs in the case – led by reproductive rights group SisterSong — argued that reinstituting the ban while the legal battle continues could harm women.   

They also asked the Supreme Court to provide one day’s advance notice of the re-institution of the law so that providers and patients are not taken by surprise ahead of scheduled procedures. However, the court declined to provide the advance notice.  

“It is cruel that our patients’ ability to access the reproductive health care they need has been taken away yet again,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“For the second time this year, we are being forced to turn away those in need of abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy. This ban has wreaked havoc on Georgians’ lives, and our patients deserve better. We will keep fighting to protect our patients and their health.” 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

House Speaker David Ralston lies in state at Capitol 

Former House Speaker David Ralston, who died last week, will lie in state under the Gold Dome in Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday (photo: Rebecca Grapevine).

ATLANTA – Legislators from across Georgia and across party lines gathered underneath the Gold Dome Tuesday to pay tribute to former House Speaker David Ralston, who died last week and will lie in state at the Capitol until Wednesday morning.  

“He was a loyal friend through times of victory and loss,” Gov. Brian Kemp told the assembled mourners, who included Ralston’s family members as well as many state lawmakers.

“At times, he governed the House with an iron fist but also a big soft heart. That is why he was so respected and admired.”  

“Those who frequently disagree with each other can still come together to achieve extraordinary things,” Kemp said of Ralston’s approach to politics. 

Kemp listed some of Ralston’s key accomplishments: A mental health reform bill passed earlier this year, a 2020 hate crimes bill, and a 2015 transportation funding package.  

After serving for more than a decade in the state Senate, Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, was first elected to the House in 2002. In 2010, he assumed the position of speaker, which he held for more than a decade until his death last week.   

“Of all those friends I’ve had the privilege of knowing, David Ralston was unique,” said Len Walker, who was Ralston’s pastor and, prior to that, served with Ralston in the Georgia House of Representatives. “He was one of a kind and I treasure his memory.”   

Walker, a Republican who represented Loganville, described how his conversations with Ralston while in the House often started off with legislation but quickly transformed into explorations of deep topics such as theology, life and death.  

“I treasured the conversations we had,” Walker said. “He was a friend who would build you up …. [and] make you feel better about what you were trying to do in this state Capitol.”  

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, credited Ralston for the passage of a major mental health bill earlier this year.  

“We passed a very significant mental health reform bill because of David Ralston’s leadership. It would never have happened without him,” Oliver said. “He was committed from the beginning. I think his cause for reform will go on beyond today.”  

Ralston was well known for maintaining a civil atmosphere in the Georgia House. 

“Speaker Ralston and I had a unique relationship,” said former Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus. 

Ralston did not shy away from challenges, said Smyre, who was chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Smyre pointed to the former speaker’s success with this year’s mental health reform bill and the 2015 transportation package.  

“He loved those heavy lifters,” Smyre said. “Politically, he had a two-way street and not a one-way alley. You could go back and forth with him, reason with him.”  

“Though there were major differences under the Gold Dome, there was a sense of civility, that you could disagree without being disagreeable,” Smyre added. “A giant tree has fallen.”  

Ralston surprised Georgians earlier this month when he announced he would not run for the leadership position next year. His death followed soon thereafter. House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, is expected to succeed Ralston as speaker during the next legislative session, which will begin in January.  

Ralston’s body will lie in state in the Rotunda of the state Capitol until Wednesday morning. A funeral service at Fannin County High School Performing Arts Center in Blue Ridge is planned for 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

New initiative seeks to increase the diversity of companies that contract with the state 

The Department of Administrative Services’s Small Business and Supplier Diversity Manager Julian Bailey will help oversee the state’s efforts to increase supplier diversity.

ATLANTA  – From fish sticks and canned fruit to feed prisoners to a 22-foot pontoon boat for the state Department of Natural Resources, Georgia buys a lot of goods and services to keep the state running.  

State and local government contracts with businesses to provide goods and services amount to about $4.5 billion each year.

A report the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) issued last month outlines steps the state could take to ensure small and minority-owned businesses have a shot at winning those lucrative pieces of the state business pie. 

The report stems from an executive order Gov. Brian Kemp signed last July requiring the DOAS to explore ways to increase the amount of state business conducted by small businesses and businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

The agency surveyed more than 600 small businesses to learn about their experiences with the state’s contracting process. The survey remains open, but the DOAS has already compiled and published the first round of the results. 

The DOAS has named Julian Bailey, who has been with the agency for close to a decade, as its small business and supplier diversity manager. Bailey will work to increase engagement with the targeted business groups.  

“The push is to make sure that we’re leveling the playing field for all these businesses, that they’re no longer left behind, that they have an opportunity to be able to participate in the state’s bid processes,” Bailey told Capitol Beat.

Many businesspeople who responded to the survey said they often do not know about relevant opportunities and lack sufficient time or staff to develop bids. These small businesses also lack ready access to capital or fall short of the insurance and bond amounts required to do business with the state.  

The new report recommends appointing a small business liaison at each state agency and University System of Georgia institutions to help facilitate business owners’ access to the bidding process. The liaison would conduct outreach and training and help identify bid opportunities. 

The state also should increase its “matchmaking” services for businesses interested in the bidding process. This would give small business owners the chance to meet representatives from larger contractors and state agencies and showcase their offerings.  

“We plan to partner with all these different organizations, all these different chambers [of commerce] at the local level, to make sure that we are not leaving anyone behind,” Bailey said. “We’re making sure that everyone is able to participate in the state’s bid process.”

The report said Georgia should test out an informal bidding process that would allow businesses to submit informal bids via email for contracts that are $100,000 or less. Such a system would encourage small businesses that are deterred by complex bidding processes.

The state also should decrease the insurance and bond requirements for some state contracts to increase the number of businesses eligible to bid, the report recommended.

About a third of the survey respondents said they face challenges getting sufficient capital to expand a business. Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs plans to expand a small business credit program to increase the amount of capital available for small and minority- owned businesses.  

The DOAS already sponsors a number of training resources for business owners interested in bidding for a state contract. A seven-week training class the agency started for small businesses recently concluded training 32 potential suppliers about doing business with Georgia.  

“This is a great opportunity, for the state to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to make a difference as it relates to minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses,’ ” Bailey said.  

The DOAS also manages procurement processes for smaller government entities, like county commissions and local school boards.

Charlie Maddox, who serves on the board of the Department of Community Affairs and helped connect Black chambers of commerce from across the state to the new program, said small local suppliers can often meet local governments’ needs best.  

“Our goal is to let the small employers know what’s out there, and also to match them up with what they are capable of providing,” Maddox said. “Some of these things can be done locally, by people that live in a community.”

Government contracts can provide a steady income and stability to small businesses, Maddox said.

“We want …. the potential business operator out there [to think] that this might be an opportunity for me,” he said. “They may be in Hahira, Georgia, and say ‘Oh, there’s these opportunities. … I want to be connected to that.’ ”

Independent advocates praised the new initiative but said some checks and balances are needed to fully deliver on expectations. 

“We are happy to see Governor Kemp acknowledging the importance of creating small business equity with the announcement of the Small Business and Supplier Diversity Initiative Report,” said Rachel Shanklin, Georgia director of Small Business Majority, a small-business advocacy group. 

Shanklin urged Kemp to expand Medicaid and take other steps to promote equity in Georgia. 

“We hope that the governor will tackle ongoing equity problems in the state through impactful and meaningful policies that increase diversity and remove barriers to long-term resources,” she said. 

“Efforts to provide more procurement access to minority-owned and small businesses are always a plus, provided that prevailing wage standards are part of the process to keep out potential contractors who offer relatively low contract bid amounts by paying their employees unlivable wages,” added Ray Khalfani of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.  

“This initiative to expand access can provide a larger window of opportunity for minority business owners who seek to create better quality jobs and hire underserved workers.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Kemp stumps for Walker on runoff campaign trail 

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp stumps for U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Cobb County on Saturday.

SMYRNA – Recently re-elected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp campaigned Saturday on behalf of former University of Georgia football star and U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who is facing a Dec. 6 runoff for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat.   

“Look, we cannot rest on our laurels here,” Kemp said to the Walker supporters gathered in a parking lot in Cobb County. 

“Who do you want to fight for you in the United States Senate? Do you want a guy that represents our values like Herschel Walker or do you want a guy who’s stood with Joe Biden 96% of the time?  

“This is going to be a turnout election – who’s more motivated?  Is it them or us?,” Kemp said, urging Georgia Republicans to take advantage of early voting and vote as soon as possible. 

“I know Herschel Walker will do like we’ve done in Georgia, be fiscally conservative,” Kemp added.  

The joint appearance represents a departure from fall campaign events, when Kemp and Walker kept their distance from each other and ran separate campaigns.  

Though Kemp defeated Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams for the governor’s seat, Republican Walker fell short of incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock by about 38,000 votes in the Nov. 8 general election. Because neither candidate earned more than 50% of the vote, the two face a Dec. 6 runoff.  

Kemp and Walker blamed Warnock and President Joe Biden for inflation. Kemp touted steps Georgia has taken under his leadership to address economic pressures, such as temporarily lifting the gas tax. 

“We need someone in Washington that’s gonna …. row the boat with Governor Kemp,” Walker told the crowd. “What [Warnock has] been doing is rowing the boat against Governor Kemp.”

“He [Warnock] voted to put men in women’s sports. Men shouldn’t be in women’s sports,” Walker said. “It’s written in my Bible and it says woman came from the rib of the man. Senator Warnock need[s] to read his Bible.” 

“They want to bring wokeness in our school house,” Walker added. “Instead of teaching our kids how to read and write, they want to teach them about [critical race theory]. … That won’t happen on my watch.”  

Early voting in the runoff is due to begin on Saturday, Nov. 26.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.