Next Tuesday’s runoff elections for two state Senate seats have the potential to strengthen the hand of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in his struggle to regain control of the chamber.
Cagle has made personal appearances this week on behalf of both John Wilkinson of Toccoa, a Republican candidate for the District 50 seat, and Duke Blackburn of Newnan, in the contest for District 28.
The lieutenant governor’s public endorsement of Wilkinson came on Tuesday, according to Wilkinson’s Facebook page. But the lines of battle were drawn much earlier. Former state Rep. Rick Austin, R-Demorest, who finished first with 43 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, is backed by Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams of Lyons and Majority Chip Rogers of Woodstock.
Last year, Williams and Rogers led a successful revolt to strip Cagle of much of his authority over the Senate. The chamber has been in turmoil since.
A Wilkinson victory in northeast Georgia by itself wouldn’t be a gain for the lieutenant governor. The seat was vacated by Jim Butterworth, R-Cornelia, upon his appointment as adjutant general by Gov. Nathan Deal. And Butterworth was a Cagle ally.
But the District 28 seat had been occupied by Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, who sided with those who want the chamber controlled by its own members. The Newnan Times-Herald notes that Cagle appeared at a fund-raiser for Blackburn last night.
Blackburn, a former state Department of Corrections official with a lengthy law enforcement resume, led the first round of voting with 28 percent. He faces Mike Crane, a building contractor with one congressional race behind him.
Both contests have been tied together by anonymous mailers that accuse Wilkinson and Blackburn – among other things – of having a Democratic past. Despite the difference in geography, both mailers have been traced to the same north Georgia address.
A spokesman for Cagle on Thursday dismissed the charges. “The lieutenant governor knows both of these candidates and thinks very highly of them and their experience. They are both good, solid, respectful, conservative community leaders,” said Cagle spokesman Ben Fry.
Democratic activist Amy Morton called Thursday to say she’ll be heading up a new, non-partisan – but progressive – policy group that intends to become a player when the Legislature returns next month.
Better Georgia intends to focus on issues such as Georgia’s new illegal immigration law and criminal justice reform, Morton said. The group will attempt to rally Georgia’s political middle. A couple paragraphs from the press release:
“Gov. [Nathan] Deal’s Georgia looks a lot like Alabama. We’re saying ‘no’ to turning back the clock,” said Bryan Long, executive director of Better Georgia. “Georgia once took pride in rising above issues that held back much of the South. Today, Gov. Deal and many of our lawmakers are chasing every bad idea Conservatives have dreamed up –from Alabama’s anti-immigrants law to Mississippi’s personhood amendment.”
…Earlier this year, Georgia passed a law that will cost the average family farmer $1.2 million in lost revenue annually, for a total up to $1 billion in losses statewide. A portion of the anti-immigrants law is similar to one passed in Alabama that requires police to determine the immigration status of suspects they believe are illegally in the country. Alabama’s law recently led to the arrest of a German manager with Mercedes-Benz who was visiting for business….
Larry Peterson of the Savannah Morning News notes that Maria Sheffield, a Mableton attorney who finished second in last year’s Republican contest for state insurance commissioner, will move south in a bid to challenge U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Savannah.
From the newspaper:
“I stand as a true Reagan conservative,” Sheffield said Thursday in a prepared statement, “and will go to Congress as a conservative leader.”
…Sheffield spokeswoman Kathryn Ballou said the candidate will move to Dexter in Laurens County, which is in the new district. Barrow has said he’ll move into the district but hasn’t indicated where.
Sheffield is the fourth Republican in the contest. The others are state Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown, Augusta businessman Rick Allen and Evans real estate attorney Wright McLeod.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider