With Trump on the sidelines, governor’s race turns to state’s flushed revenues
By Tom Baxter
The shadow of Donald Trump will fall heavily on many races across the country this fall, as ardent defenders of the former president square off against Democrats and new controversies continue to unfurl. But not here.
The results of this year’s Republican primary have guaranteed that the general election campaign is going to be just a little different in Georgia. In a time of deepening partisanship, Georgia’s secretary of state race is probably the most uncharacteristic race in the country this year. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger held a 14-point lead over Democratic challenger Bee Nguyen in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. Some 16 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independents said they were supporting Raffensperger, who spurned Trump’s effort to get him to overturn the 2020 election results.
There’s more evidence that Georgia’s different this year in the news that some voters intend to split-ticket vote, for Raphael Warnock in the U.S. Senate race and Brian Kemp in the governor’s race. Split-ticket voting was supposed to be a thing of the past.
It’s as if some of the poison from the last election has been taken away, even though Georgia remains a key pressure point in this ongoing story, with Rudy Giuliani, now officially the target of a criminal investigation, under orders to appear before a grand jury in Atlanta Wednesday. Georgia Democrats and Republicans will have plenty to argue about in the latest dispatches from Mar-a-Lago and the Fulton County Court House, but the passions Trump continues to raise won’t have much to do with the Georgia general election.
Instead, the governor’s race is turning toward a more searching debate on the state’s economy than any we’ve seen in years, with Stacey Abrams pressing harder for Medicaid expansion and most recently outlining a plan that would allow sports betting and casinos in three locations in the state. She’s outlined an ambitious plan for investing the state’s record budget surplus in infrastructure projects, rural broadband and small business development.
Kemp’s answer to all these plans has been that the future is now.
“I don’t want to give any illusions that we’re doing something for the next decade. We’re trying to help Georgians fight through this tough time now,” the governor said last week, unveiling his proposal for some $2 billion in income tax and property tax rebates. He emphasized this was “one-time money,” as if to preclude any claim that the future might have on the taxpayer’s dollar.
With state revenues in great shape and Georgia quickly gaining a foothold in the electric vehicle industry, Kemp holds a strong hand in this debate. Considering that, the size of his proposal tax rebate has been enough to raise some eyebrows.
Axios Atlanta was up Monday with a story saying some Republicans in the legislature have changed their minds about the party’s longtime opposition to Medicaid expansion and are trying to find a discreet pathway to acceptance. That’s so politically sensitive that no Republican would be quoted on the record, and yet it’s inevitably true.
We’re down to an even dozen states now which have still refused to join in the expansion which was passed as part of “Obamacare.” The denial last week of the waiver Georgia had been granted during the Trump administration amounted to the state’s last attempt to do an end-around on the program and still get federal money. If indeed the future is now, the rationale for passing on a federal program that could provide medical coverage for an estimated 500,000 Georgians to remain loyal to a political principle is growing thin.
Something similar is going on with respect to gambling. Abrams, who was on the fence, has now proclaimed herself the gambling candidate. Kemp has stuck to his guns as being opposed to gambling, but he wouldn’t stand in the way of a legislative effort to put gambling on a statewide ballot.
Having it both ways can often be an effective election-year strategy.