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Columns Tom Baxter

In the state and the nation, an unsettling passage from one year to another

By Tom Baxter

We’re coming to the end of the season for columns which wrap up the major developments of the past year in a neat bow, and lay out what can be predicted about the year upcoming. These have been unusually hard to write this year.

One of the enduring images of the old year of 2019 was U.S. Rep. John Lewis crossing the aisle to embrace U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson at a retirement tribute in the U.S. House. It was a rare example of leadership which transcended partisan divisions, and it has a special poignancy now.

The year ended with the unsettling news that Lewis, the state’s longest-serving House member, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, throwing another uncertainty into a year which already features two U.S. Senate races and big holes to fill in the legislature, not to mention just a little chaos at the national level. The hinge time between 2019 and 2020 has not lent itself to easy summations or confident predictions.

In 2019, abortion opponents achieved their greatest legislative victory and Republicans took their widest step to the right with passage of the “heartbeat” abortion bill. As expected, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the implementation of the law, putting it on the list of cases which might provide a test of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2020, we’ll see what impact this has on the races in those hotly contested suburban Atlanta seats where Democrats hope to continue their legislative gains. It says something about Republican worries over the backlash that U.S. Sen. David Perdue declined to join more than 200 members of Congress who signed a petition urging the Supreme Court to consider overturning Roe. He would not have tempted angering his own base if that wasn’t a big concern.

One of the big take-aways from last year’s dustup over Gov. Brian Kemp’s appointment of Kelly Loeffler to fill Isakson’s seat was the speed with which religious conservatives turned on the governor who signed the “heartbeat” bill at the first suggestion he wasn’t toeing the line.

Now that Kemp has named her, Loeffler has to reassure the red-hot Republican base while still appealing to the more moderate voters Kemp intended for her to reach out to. It’s a hard needle to thread, but Loeffler has one big thing going for her: an absence of Democrats. Several Democrats have expressed an interest in taking on Perdue, but so far only a University of Georgia philosophy professor, Richard Winfield, has announced for the seat to which Loeffler was apppointed. It seems like only a matter of time before the balance in the two races changes, but there’s not much time. We also don’t know yet whether Rep. Doug Collins intends to follow through on giving Loeffler a primary challenge.

While Republicans were calling on the Supreme Court to take up Roe v. Wade last week, a group of Democratic governors and attorney generals joined with Democrats in the U.S. House asked the court to expedite its review of the appeals court ruling which struck down a portion of the Affordable Care Act and directed a lower court to sort out what of the rest of it was still constitutional.

In the first week of 2020, which also included threats of war, impeachment up in the air and the Democratic presidential field in a dead heat, that may have been the sleeper story. The Democrats in effect have decided that if the ACA is going to be struck down, it’s better that it be done, decisively, in the middle of an election year, than to wither over time. If both the Republicans who want a decision on Roe and the Democrats drawing the line on the ACA get their way, the impact on the November election could be huge.

A passing word, as we turn the page from one year to another, on the current dispute with Iran. We shouldn’t forget that the City of Atlanta has already been the target of a cyber attack by Iranians. The two hackers who were indicted in 2018 for the ransomware attack on the city’s computer system were civilians and not — that we know — part of the Iranian government. But the federal indictment against them outlined how they had hacked into hospitals, health care companies and local governments across the country and in Canada. More than was realized at the time, that attack may have been a precursor of worse to come.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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1 Comment

  1. Randall Harber January 8, 2020 10:42 pm

    Dead on once again, Tom.Report


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