Dan Baskerville

Everything you need to know Georgia’s elections

Dentons’ Georgia public policy team delves into the data to give you an exhaustive look at how the 2018 midterms played out across the Peach State.

Governor

As of this writing neither candidates for governor of Georgia has officially been declared victorious but Republican Brian Kemp holds a narrow lead. Republican Brian Kemp has received 1,972,951 votes (50.33 percent) and Democrat Stacey Abrams has received 1,909,726 votes (48.72 percent). The third party Libertarian candidate Ted Metz received 37,081 votes (0.95%).

While Kemp has claimed victory, Abrams has yet to provide any indication that she will concede at this point in the voting counting process. In a statement provided to CNN, her campaign cited several specific reasons, including that three of the state’s largest counties “have reported only a portion of the votes that were submitted by early mail” and four other large counties “have reported exactly 0 votes by mail.” Together, the seven counties “are expected to return a minimum of 77,000 ballots,” according to the campaign.

For Abrams to push this race to a runoff she would have to pick up approximately 50,000 of the remaining 77,000 outstanding ballots she claims exist. According to the Abrams campaign the majority of outstanding mail-in ballots are in three metro Atlanta counties—Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett, all areas of strong Democratic support. Therefore, reaching a runoff would require a significant post-election day boost but given the political lean of the outstanding counties, while it remains statistically unlikely, an extended campaign season is not completely outside the realm of possibility.

Regardless of whether this race ends with a Kemp victory or continues on to a December 4th runoff, the historic turnout highlights the effectiveness of both sides’ base-directed campaign strategies. Turnout is reaching presidential levels, with 3.9 million votes counted in the races thus far—only 100,000 votes short of the 2016 presidential election total of 4 million votes. Abrams has already received more votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 by approximately 20,000 but Kemp remains in the lead.

Governor Nathan Deal won by 8 percent in 2014 and Trump won by 5 percent in 2016. Kemp, however, is only leading by 1.8 percent in what is widely seen as a solidly Republican state. Demographic changes, polarization and strong leadership have all contributed to returning Democrats to relevance in statewide Georgia politics.

Although, at the present moment, Abrams appears to have come up short there are three main factors worthy of analysis which led to her surge and Kemp’s equally significant counterattack. First, Gwinnett and Cobb Counties both continued their leftward trends witnessed in recent elections. Second, historic turnout in Fulton County. And third, overwhelming rural dominance by Kemp and the activation of the Trump coalition.

The maps above, from right to left, show results from the current (2018) election for governor, the 2016 presidential election and the 2014 midterm election for governor. In 2014, Democrat Jason Carter faced off against Republican Governor Deal. In 2016 Clinton ran against Trump and, of course, this year Abrams and Kemp are vying to become Georgia’s next executive.

Abrams, from the beginning, was intent on boosting turnout and riding diversifying demographics and a ballooning urban population in and around the City of Atlanta—and she succeeded in achieving that goal. Fulton County, long a Democratic stronghold that voted 63 percent in favor of Carter and 69 percent for Clinton came in at 72 percent for Abrams. In percentage terms alone the continuing liberalization of the county is clear. In four years, from 2014 to 2018, statewide Democratic candidates increased their vote share by 9 percent.

However, increasing the Democratic vote percentage was not alone going to make this a competitive race. Abrams not only received a higher percentage of votes but she also increased the number of votes themselves. In Fulton County, she received 6,503 more votes than Hillary Clinton received in Fulton in a presidential year, which historically have a higher turnout. Moreover, Abrams added to Carter’s total Fulton County vote count by 137,464 votes, a 183 percent increase.

The same trend holds in suburban Atlanta. Four years ago Governor Deal won both Gwinnett and Cobb Counties, netting 54 and 56 percent of the vote, respectively. Two years later Clinton carried Gwinnett with 51 percent of the vote and won a plurality of votes in Cobb with 48.9 percent. Yesterday, Abrams expanded Democratic leads in both counties, winning 56 percent of the vote in Gwinnett and 54 percent of the vote in Cobb.

However, as the graphics above reveal, as in Fulton County, the Abrams victory isn’t defined by a 13 percentage point increase since 2014 but rather a massive Democratic turnout. Abrams received more votes in both Gwinnett and Cobb than Hillary Clinton. Moreover, she expanded Carter’s vote tally by about 200 percent in Gwinnett and 190 percent in Cobb, adding 85,938 votes and 79,437 votes to his totals in the respective counties.

The substantial increase in new Democratic voters from 2014 to 2016 is exactly what the Abrams camp sought and the onslaught of Democratic voters could only be answered by an equal, presidential-level turnout in rural, Republican Georgia, which the Kemp campaign delivered. Kemp was so effective in building a rural ground campaign and tying himself to President Trump that he witnessed only a slight turnout drop-off from Trump’s 2016 victory.

In many rural parts of Georgia, Kemp vastly outperformed Deal in terms of vote count. In fact, he nearly kept pace with Trump in terms of votes per county, surely benefiting greatly from two visits from Vice President Pence and an appearance by Trump himself at a get-out-the vote rally. Just as Abrams added massively to Carter’s turnout, Kemp did the same in comparison to Deal’s, increasing the term-limited incumbent’s vote total in Walker County, for instance, by more than 200 percent and by approximately 150 percent in each of the other five counties we examined.

Moreover, Kemp improved on President Trump’s performance and won four key counties—Burke, Washington, Baker and Early—the first two of which narrowly voted for Hillary in 2014.

In sum, both candidates turned out their base at presidential-election levels and consolidated support in key partisan areas. Should his lead hold up, Kemp will have withstood a formidable metropolitan blue wave thanks to the unwavering support of Trump country.

Down-Ballot

Lieutenant Governor
Geoff Duncan defeated Sarah Riggs Amico with 52 percent of the vote. Amico suffered a substantial drop-off from the top of the ticket, while Duncan remained neck-and-neck with Kemp throughout the night. Amico, as of this writing, received 94,430 fewer votes than Abrams while Duncan only lagged 27,073 votes behind Kemp.

Secretary of State
After neither candidate broke 50 percent of the vote, the race for secretary of state is expected to go to a runoff. Republican Brad Raffensperger received 49 percent, John Barrow received 48 percent and Smythe Duval received 2 percent. Duval netted 48,491 more votes than his libertarian counterpart in the governor’s race. Also of note, Barrow received 62,514 more votes than Sarah Riggs Amico, despite showing up lower on the ballot.

Attorney General
Republican Chris Carr defeated Democrat Charlie Bailey with 52 percent of the vote. Carr received 1,965,061 votes—more than the total cast for Brian Kemp.

Georgia Public Service Commission
Incumbent Republican Tricia Pridemore has seemingly defeated Democrat Dawn Randolph for the PSC seat in District 5, however the race has yet to be formally called. Republican Chuck Eaton appears destined for a runoff with Democrat Lindy Miller. That race currently stands at 49.89 percent for Eaton to Miller’s 47.45 percent. The two are separated by just 93,436 votes.

Top vote-getter
Republican State School Superintendent Richard Woods beat Democrat Otha Thornton with 2,034,151 votes, or 53 percent of total votes cast. Woods received the most votes out of any candidate on Tuesday’s ballot. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, GOP incumbent, was close behind with 2,026,207 votes, or 53 percent, in his race against Democrat Fred Swann.

Fifty-three percent is the high-water mark for statewide Republicans in this election. In 2014, Republican Doug Everett, a Republican incumbent on the PSC, raked in 68 percent of the statewide vote.

US Congress

Both of the competitive US House of Representative races are in the suburban Atlanta counties that came out strongly for Abrams. As such, both the race in Georgia’s 6th and 7th congressional districts remain extremely close. At the moment incumbent Republican Rob Woodall leads Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, 50.59 to 49.41 percent, with a vote difference of 3,184. Bordeaux has not conceded the race.

In the 6th congressional district, Democrat Lucy McBath leads incumbent Republican Karen Handel 50.45 percent to 49.55 percent. Only 2,872 votes separate the two women. Handel, like Abrams and Bordeaux, has not conceded the race. In order to demand a recount the trailing candidate must be within 1 percentage point. At the present, Handel is within that window.

Georgia State Legislature

While democratic enthusiasm may not have materialized statewide to loosen the Republican grip on statewide offices, the Democratic enthusiasm in suburban Metro Atlanta created a significant blue undertow, leading to a net gain of eleven seats in the Georgia House and two seats in the Georgia Senate. This is a substantial result for Georgia Democrats, who knocked off several entrenched Republicans and, in some cases, convincingly defended seats many thought were in play. All of the races that flipped from Republican to Democrat, shown below, were in the suburbs of Atlanta. Democrats now hold 21 out of 56 seats in the state Senate and 75 out of 180 seats in the state House.

Races of note:

  • Jen Jordan, an incumbent Democrat in Senate District 6, which includes parts of Smyrna and Sandy Springs, handily beat back a well-funded challenge from Leah Aldridge.
  • Incumbent Republican Fran Millar, representative for Senate District 40, which is mostly in North DeKalb County, lost by ten percentage points to Democrat Sally Harrell
  • Sam Teasly a Republican incumbent in House District 37, central Cobb County, is currently losing by 145 votes to Democratic challenger Mary Williams.
  • In one of the more surprising upsets, Betty Price the Republican incumbent from House District 48 in North Fulton county, is currently losing to Democratic challenger Mary Robichaux by 121 votes.
  • Democrat Matthew Wilson defeated Republican incumbent Meagan Hanson to return House District 80 to Democratic control.
  • Gwinnett County witnessed the greatest partisan turnover of any state house delegation. Five former republican House seats (HD 95, HD 105, HD 105, HD 107, HD 108) and one Senate seat (SD 48), previously held by former State Sen. David Shafer, are now in Democratic hands.
  • Democratic incumbents Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace were defeated in House Districts 117 and 119 in Clarke and Oconee Counties

Across the board the suburbs played an instrumental role in increasing Democratic influence under the Gold Dome, however, Republicans remain firmly in power.

Ballot Initiatives

Amendment 1: Creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund: Approved
Amendment 2: Creates a statewide business court: Approved
Amendment 3: Redefines, reclassifies Forest Land Conservation and Timberland: Approved
Amendment 4: Adds rights for crime victims to state constitution: Approved
Amendment 5: Changes rules for calling a county education sales tax referendum: Approved
Statewide Referendum A, homestead exemption for certain cities: Approved
Statewide Referendum B, tax exemption for certain homes for mentally ill: Approved

Transit reform inches forward in Ga. General Assembly

Speaker David Ralston is backing a Republican transit reform package that would reshape transportation services throughout metropolitan Atlanta, signaling the much-anticipated measure should at least get a vote in the House.

The 77-page bill, introduced by Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Tanner, would recast the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority as the Atlanta-region Transit Link, or ATL, and empower it to govern transit planning in 13 metro counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale.

The bill would provide financing for new transit projects through the creation of a handful of new taxes, including fees on goods sold at the airports in Atlanta and Savannah and one on taxi and ride-hailing fares.

A companion reform bill is under consideration by the Senate

Elsewhere under the Dome …

Religious conservatives in the Senate have introduced a measure to allow adoption agencies to turn away married same-sex couples, the latest religious liberty effort in the General Assembly. A mirror provision was attached to an adoption reform package last year, killing the bill in the eleventh hour. (An adoption reform bill was passed this year by both chambers after both the governor and speaker demanded a so-called clean bill.)

The House Public Safety Committee green lighted a bill to bring some state oversight to the controversial practice of vehicle booting. The measure now advances to the Rules Committee.

The House voted by near unanimous measure to approve a constitutional amendment to prevent the misappropriation of environmental fees for other purposes in the state budget. Each year, a large portion of revenues collected for the purpose of disposing tires or cleaning hazardous waste sites are leveraged for other expenses.

The Senate OK’d a supplemental spending bill for fiscal year 2018 last week, and the chamber’s slight adjustment to an earlier-passed version goes back to the House for a second time for final passage.

The House Education Committee advanced a proposal to increase funding for State Commission Charter Schools. The current state funding formula is based on the average spending of the five lowest-spending school districts, and the new bill would increase state spending to the average spending of all school districts.

Ga. House OK’s 2018 ‘Little Budget’

The Georgia House of Representatives approved last week a midyear spending bill to make use of additional revenues for fiscal year 2018, appropriating more than $300 million in new money.

The supplemental budget, known around the capitol as the “Little Budget,” will keep state agencies and offices running through June 30, when a new fiscal year will begin.

More than a third of the newly apportioned revenue will go to public schools and colleges. Other tens of millions will be directed to health care programs serving poor Georgians.

The so-called Little Budget now goes to the Senate for consideration, and its eminent passage brings the General Assembly one step closer to addressing and completing its singular constitutional obligation: passing a balanced spending plan, known as the Big Budget, for the next fiscal year.

Elsewhere in the capitol …

A House education subcommittee green lighted a proposal to address supplemental funding inequities for charter schools across the state, while another committee approved legislation providing for a new sales tax exemption to help pay for a potential expansion by the Georgia Aquarium.

Senator Brandon Beach has introduced his long-awaited transit reform bill, which would create new transit funding mechanisms through an optional local sales tax. The stipulates that MARTA would operate any service funded by the new tax. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Provide for a 1% Transit SPLOST and excluding that tax from the 2% cap;
  • Allow counties to fund transit projects within their jurisdiction, subject to approval of those projects by the Commission, and referenda would be carried out in accordance with other such SPLOSTs.  Approved projects would then be evaluated and prioritized by the local jurisdictions affected in conjunction with MARTA.  Local jurisdictions will also have the option to execute intergovernmental agreements with MARTA under which MARTA would assume control of future transit services.  For all intents and purposes, this bill would appear to impact 13 metro Atlanta counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale; and
  • Create the Atlanta-region Transit Link “ATL” Commission as a new division under the Georgia Regional Transportation Commission. The purpose of this Commission is to plan and coordinate the provision of transit services, the establishment of transit facilities, and the funding of those purposes throughout its jurisdiction. This jurisdiction consists of any county which has approved a MARTA tax or any county which has approved a Transit SPLOST.  Initially the Commission would consist of 11 members.

Spurred by recommendations from House Rural Development Council, legislation has been introduced in the House that would finance the cost of developing rural broadband with a new tax on digital content streaming services like Netflix.

Ga. House, Senate leadership agree to crossover, sine die dates

The General Assembly’s pace quickened last week after a sluggish start to session, stalled in part by unusual winter weather and a shortage of essential legislative priorities.

After earlier sparring over an adjournment resolution that could have split the two chamber’s work calendars, leadership from the House and Senate agreed to a time table for the remainder of the 2018 session.

The consensus calendar encircled Feb. 28 as crossover day—the point by which any bill must have been green lighted by at least once chamber to remain viable—and March 29 as the final day of session. Leadership has pledged it will adjourn no later than midnight on sine die (from the Latin “without day”), as has occurred in recent years.

Elsewhere under the Gold Dome …

Senator David Shafer, a Republican vying for the open Lt. Governor’s post, has proposed an amendment to the Georgia constitution that would declare English as the official language of the state.

An omnibus health care bill based in part on the policy recommendations of the House Rural Development Council is expected to be dropped this week. The measure is said to include a provision tinkering with the state’s certificate-of-need framework, but won’t repeal the hospital rule in urban areas as was proposed last year by the Council.

Legislation to propose a new structure for the governance and funding of transit in the metro Atlanta area are being finalized and will likely be introduced this week or next.

A bipartisan group of senators are backing legislation to reduce Georgia Power’s profits on the multi-billion dollar Plant Vogtle nuclear facility by restricting the so-called nuclear tariff the utility has been charging customers’ since 2011 to finance the project. Under the bill, Georgia Power would no longer be allowed to charge the financing fee on parts of the notoriously laggard project that had fallen behind the original schedule.

The Senate voted 49-0 last week to approve a raft of technical adjustments to the state’s garnishment law, which was overhauled two years earlier amid a rebuke by federal courts. The updates would bring the state code into alignment with federal garnishment rules.

Winter storm stalls Ga. legislature’s work

The Georgia Senate voted overwhelmingly last week to adopt comprehensive reforms to the state’s outmoded adoption law, but the bill’s fate remains far from settled amid a swirl of election-year politics and personality conflicts.

A similar measure came up for consideration last year, but stalled after a religious liberty provision was attached in the final hours of the legislative session. The Senate’s newly approved version pointedly excluded last year’s poison pill, but it contains a provision—an amendment to grant temporary powers of attorneys to guardians of children—that Governor Nathan Deal vetoed last year.

The legislation will now return to the House of Representatives, which already twice passed adoption reform bills in as many years. The House has before it three options: agreement to the Senate version as-is; remove the offending powers of attorney’s plank and return it to the upper chamber; or send the bill to a conference committee of both chambers to negotiate a compromise.

The legislation has been a top priority for Governor Deal and Speaker David Ralston for two years running, and they entered the new year demanding a clean bill—that is, one not adulterated with controversial religious liberty language. Senate proponents insist the revised legislation is, in fact, a clean child welfare proposal that will also assist struggling working class families who may face short-term personal crises.

Elsewhere in the capitol…

The recent winter storm that dusted north Georgia with a mix of snow and ice suspended state and local government activity for much of the week. Both chambers’ budget hearings were cut short, but are expected to resume this week.

One-time House lawmakers Brian Strickland was sworn in last week to fill the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Rick Jeffares, who left his seat to pursue a run for Lt. Governor. The governor announced that Strickland would serve as one of his administration’s floor leaders for the remainder of the session.

Republican Geoffrey Cauble, a Henry County general contractor, was elected to House to fill the House seat vacated by Senator Strickland.

Georgia General Assembly closes out week one: Deal’s State of the State and budget proposal, and House and Senate sync calendars

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal delivered his final State of the State address Thursday, using the occasion before the General Assembly as something of a victory lap: an unemployment rate at its lowest point in a decade, industry accolades as the best state in which to do business, significant investments in education and transportation, and criminal justice reform.

Declaring Georgia “not just strong” but “exceptional,” Deal, who became visibly emotional throughout the speech as he reflected on the work of the previous seven years, was pointedly light on his administration’s priorities for the new year.

Instead, some clues can be found in the budget proposal he submitted to lawmakers shortly after his address. The proposed spending blueprint for fiscal year 2019 doesn’t contain any radical reorganization of the state’s priorities, but instead provides for a little more of the same from years before:

  • $361.7 million for the Teachers Retirement System;
  • #127.6 million for K-12 enrollment growth, training, and experience;
  • $30 million to assist low-wealth school systems;
  • $54.3 million for resident instruction at University System institutions;
  • $5.9 million for operations for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center;
  • $34.4 million for growth in the Dual Enrollment program;
  • $255.9 million for Medicaid to fund growth and offset the loss of federal and other funds;
  • $28.8 million for child welfare services to fund out-of-home care growth and foster care per diem increases;
  • $22.9 million to implement recommendations from the Commission on Children’s Mental Health;
  • $5 million for accountability courts to implement new courts and expand existing courts;
  • $31.7 million in new motor fuel funds for transportation; and
  • $100 million in bond funds to repair and replace bridges throughout the state.

The challenges of passing a balanced budget—the General Assembly’s lone constitutional obligation—are complicated this year by federal action on the recently passed overhaul of the US tax system, which could decrease state revenues, and whether the US Congress renews the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known locally as Peachcare.

Elsewhere in the state capitol, the Senate remedied a lingering procedural issue Thursday by passing an adjournment resolution passed three days earlier by the House that would sync the two chambers’ legislative calendars. And the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a version of an adoption reform package without a controversial  religious liberty provisions that doomed the bill in the final hours of last year’s session.

The two actions represent significant concessions by Senate leadership and Lt. Governor Casey. Last year’s poison pill amendment that would have allowed adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples was removed although a provision allowing for transfer of child custody through a power of attorney to a close relative or friend was attached. Whether this satisfies House leadership or Governor Deal, who have called for a clean adoption bill is yet to be seen.

Notably, the adjournment resolution is important to Lt. Governor Cagle, who is eager to finish the legislative season as soon as possible so  fundraising can resume, which is barred during session for ethics reasons, in his campaign for governor later this year.

Sine Die in Georgia: all the bills that passed (and those that didn’t)

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned for the year in the early morning hours of Friday, sending to Governor Nathan Deal a major slate of bills, including a failing schools turnaround program, a pilot program for highly autonomous vehicles, a children’s hearing aid insurance mandate, and tax credits for music production firms, musical artists, and yacht owners.

Passed

The following bills passed both chambers of the General Assembly in its final week and will be reviewed by the Governor for signature or veto. The governor has 40 days from sine die to make his decisions.

Education

The legislature green-lighted the governor’s second attempt to revive the state’s chronically failing schools (HB 338), empowering a special statewide “chief turnaround officer” to address problem districts. At the discretion of the new school CTO, the staff of failing schools could be replaced or control of the district could be ceded to “successful” districts or nonprofit charter schools.

The General Assembly passed an additional pair of bills, one adopting charter schools recommendations from the Governor’s Education Reform Commission last year (HB 430), and another creating a $5 million annual tax credit for an “innovation” grant program (HB 237) that prioritizes schools on the target list for turnaround by the governor’s CTO.

Transportation

A bill to clear regulatory hurdles for the operation of highly autonomous vehicles on certain public roads in Georgia unanimously passed the Senate. The bill (SB 219) gave the green light to driverless cars providing they register with the state and satisfy certain insurance thresholds.

Taxes

A slate of tax credit programs was adopted in the final week of session, including rebates for royalties paid to music artists (HB 196), credits for music production companies (HB 155) and breaks for yacht owners who make repairs in the state (HB 125). The General Assembly also adjusted the manner in which ad valorem tax on leased vehicles is assessed and collected (HB 340).

Immigration

The legislature moved to ban any funding for the state’s colleges and universities that pointedly flout federal immigration laws or declare themselves a sanctuary campus for undocumented students (HB 37).

Separately, lawmakers moved to create a Georgia Bureau of Investigation-maintained website publically indexing all undocumented immigrants who are released from federal prison in Georgia (HB 452/SB 1). The bill also strengthens the state’s anti-terrorism laws.

Health

Georgia’s private insurance providers will be required to cover the cost of hearing aids for the state’s children under a new Senate mandate. The devices are already covered by Medicaid and were added in 2015 to the State Health Benefit Plan, which covers some 650,000 state employees.

Lawmakers also passed a bill (HB 249) requiring medical providers to check the state drug registry before issuing a prescription for opioids in an attempt to prevent “doctor shopping” by addicts and curb the state’s opioid abuse epidemic.

Energy and environment

Lawmakers passed an update to the state’s oil and natural gas regulations to expand the permitting process of hydraulic fracturing (HB 205).

Public safety

Legislation providing for the licensed carry of firearms on certain publicly owned properties and portions of public post-secondary educational institutions passed, despite the reservations of Governor Deal (HB 280). The bill is a near-facsimile of legislation that was vetoed last year by the Governor.

Under legislation that unanimously passed both houses (SB 141), carnival operations must now submit to safety and engineering inspections.

Did not pass

The following newsworthy bills are among those that failed to receive final passage in this year’s General Assembly session but are eligible for consideration in 2018.

Education

  • HB 51 would have provided additional due process rights for students accused of sexual assault on college campuses and universities.
  • HB 217 would have increased to $100 million from $57 million the annual pool of available tax credits for private school scholarships.
    Transportation
  • HB 160/SB 6 would have created a Georgia Commission on Transit Governance.

Taxes

  • HB 61 would have required online retailers to collect sales taxes like brick-and-mortar retailers.
  • HB 329 would have reduced the state income tax to a flat 5.4%.
    Child welfare
  • HB 159, which would have been a major update to Georgia’s adoption law, was tabled by the Senate in the final minutes of the session amid efforts to add RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act)-like language.

Fun and games

  • HB 118 would have provided for the authorization and regulation of fantasy sports operations within the state.