There’s a lot to be learned about the recent history of the Georgia Republican Party from the 53rd Senate District up in northwest Georgia, even though there hasn’t been a competitive election there in two decades.
In 1998, a young Republican named Jeff Mullis came within a hundred votes of defeating Sonny Huggins, a solidly entrenched Democrat. He proved to be the beneficiary of the Republican wave, which would soon sweep the state. Mullis beat Huggins decisively in 2000, and, only two years later, he didn’t have a Democratic opponent.
Amid the charged air of the new Republican legislative majority, Mullis was someone people felt they could talk to. Democrats didn’t like his politics, and, as the years went by, some Republicans chaffed at his increasingly outspoken scorn for those he thought were caving into the party’s wing nuts. But all sides felt they could talk to him.
In any legislature, this is a quality that is often associated with effective rules committee chairs. Eventually, that’s what Mullis became, and along the way he served in several other important leadership positions.
In his last election, in 2020, he was unopposed in the primary and the general election. But in 2022, he knew he’d be facing primary opposition from state Rep. Colton Moore, a young Donald Trump loyalist. Mullis opted to retire. Moore won a narrow primary victory over Mullis’ handpicked replacement and won the general election without opposition.
Nothing in his career so far suggests that Moore has the least interest in becoming a rules chairman. “Our leadership styles, ideas and problem-solving abilities could not be more different,” he said when he thought he’d be running against Mullis.
In his short time in the House, he voted against naming the judicial center at the Capitol after Nathan Deal and was one of the 10 Republicans who signed a petition calling on the late Speaker David Ralston to step down.
Moore votes “no” a lot and enthusiastically calls out fellow Republicans when he thinks they are straying from the hard right. Last week, he set a land-speed record for getting from indignation to donations, urging supporters to send money to keep up the pressure for a special session to go after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
“It’s hard to soar like an eagle when your colleagues are acting like a bunch of buzzard cowards flying around the land looking for every dead-end excuse not to do anything,” Moore said on the John Fredericks radio show after drawing a cool response to his call for the special session.
One reason his colleagues have been reluctant to go along is that they don’t have the votes in the Senate to do what Moore is calling for, a detail he swept aside in a recent post.
“Did Democrats have the votes when they impeached President Trump? Hell no! But they certainly went forward with it anyhow and went on the record supporting it. Have some courage and do the right thing,” Moore wrote.
Another less often mentioned but equally valid reason is that there are unintended consequences wrapped all around calling a special session to interfere in the proceedings of another branch and another level of government.
Gov. Brian Kemp might have been unusually pointed when he dismissed the special session call last week as “some grifter scam that somebody’s doing to help them raise a few dollars in their campaign account.” But when you look at his web page, where there are boxes to make your “URGENT” donation to “investigate Fani Willis immediately,” the “gr” word does come quickly to mind.
With the election interference case picking up speed and the full contents of the special grand jury’s report about to be released, impeachment is probably not near the top of the list of things Willis is worried about. Whether you punch the box on Moore’s website to contribute $20.23 (the lowest amount) or $3,500 (the highest), it isn’t going to make any difference to the district attorney of Fulton County.
Meanwhile, the voters of the 53rd, who were represented for decades by level-headed politicians, first Democrat and later Republican, will have the chance to learn more about the freshman senator’s leadership style, ideas and problem-solving abilities.