The “Buckhead City” movement might have met its match this week when Speaker Ralston indicated he would not be in favor passing de-annexation legislation during this session. Speaker Ralston said that Lt Governor Duncan’s actions had effectively put the effort on “pause mode” and that Mayor Dickens deserved time to try and address the crime in Atlanta.
For his part, Mayor Dickens said he was glad state lawmakers were giving his administration “the runway” they needed to get to work. Since taking office, Mayor Dickens has made it a priority to improve relations between the state and the city. Often he has told state lawmakers he will cross the street to see them and hopes they will do the same.
Mayor Dickens and Speaker Ralston had previously demonstrated their mutual respect. Speaker Ralston said Mayor Dickens impressed him by calling the morning after he was elected. When Mayor Dickens came to address the State House, Speaker Ralston invited him to walk the center aisle – a privilege normally reserved for governors and celebrities. After a season of disunity, city officials and state lawmakers seem interested in rebuilding their once strong relationship.
The Speaker’s comments come after a rough couple of weeks for the cityhood movement. New polls showed that Buckhead voters were souring on the idea of their own city and questions continued to rise about how a “Buckhead City” would handle the intricacies around bonds and public schooling. Bill White, the movement’s de facto leader, once again made headlines for insensitive comments, even raising ugly conspiracy theories about a recently deceased bureaucrat beloved across the aisle in the State Capitol.
Although the issue had yet to play a role in the gubernatorial election, David Perdue signaled his support for the legislation and called on Governor Kemp to do the same. Now, Governor Kemp will not have to take a position on the legislation and possibly side-step the issue completely. However, “Buckhead City” proponents look poised to continue their political activism. In recent weeks, the group has started a political action committee and announced their support for a Republican congressional candidate, the vice president of the Buckhead City Committee, for the heavily Democratic 5th Congressional District. Speaker Ralston said the issue could be revisited later if crime in Atlanta did not improve. The movement might be sidelined for now, but results in November could either resurrect the cause or bury the issue for the foreseeable future.
Across the country, Republicans have sought to capitalize off of Governor Youngkin’s victory in Virginia by raising the issue of “Critical Race Theory” in schools. In Georgia, Governor Kemp’s State of the State Address implied he would support legislation to protect students form “divisive ideologies.” This week, two CRT bills had their first committee hearings.
At hearings for both HB 1084 and SB 377, Democrats raised questions about the feasibility of such legislation, the need to address the issue, and the overarching effects on teachers’ academic freedom. The bills define “divisive concepts” as any thing that makes a student feel distress or discomfort for the color of their skin, among other definitions. SB 377 and HB 1084 both sparked intense debate during their hearings, but the committees only acted on HB 1084, passing it on the full committee. HB 1084 and SB 377 are very similar but differ in enforcement mechanisms. SB 377 changes an uncompliant school system’s funding if they are found breaking the law. HB 1084 gives the Georgia Department of Education the ability to revoke one or more of the local school system’s waivers.
Both sponsors, Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) and Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) emphasized that they believed teachers would still be able to teach history and highlighted a carveout to that end. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) pushed back on the language in the carveout and wondered if it would give teacher’s the security they need to teach. Detractors in both committees asked if this legislation was the best thing for a profession already struggling with a staffing shortage.
Ultimately, Republicans will be under political stress to pass some legislation on CRT while Democrats are left trying to poke holes in the bills. Meanwhile, the authors of both bills have offered to listen to detractors and may amend their bills so while it is highly likely that something will pass on the issue, what the final legislation will look like is still up in the air.