ATLANTA — Georgia’s General Assembly opened an election-year session Monday that could be dominated by Republican primary politics, with Gov. Brian Kemp facing internal challengers and some other key Republicans reaching for higher office.
Times are good in some ways for lawmakers, with billions in the bank to spend on election-year pay raises and other goodies. Lawmakers are also likely to find broad agreement on proposals to reform mental health.
With the University of Georgia playing for a national football championship Monday, the session’s first week will start slow.
In the House, Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, vows to not let political needs distract from more substantive priorities.
“We’ve got some important things to get done — public safety, mental health, the budget,” Ralston said. “These are things that I think we can make a difference in the lives of Georgians in doing. And, you know, I’m not going to be distracted by what other people are doing in their campaigns.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said he hopes to be a “steadying hand inside the legislative process,” but it’s unclear whether he’ll have much influence, since he isn’t seeking another term after making a sharp break with most Republicans over the 2020 election and other issues.
“You’re certainly always concerned about folks that deliver legislation into this body only for political purposes and for headlines. That certainly is not a healthy place,” Duncan said. “I believe it creates a divide. But I’m going to focus hard on making sure that we pass legislation that matters and positively moves the ball forward.”
Democrats are openly hopeful that they will benefit in November from opponents who can’t paste the splinters of the Republican Party back together, especially with Stacey Abrams facing no internal Democratic opposition in her run for governor.
“I think that they’re going to create some problems for themselves that hopefully benefit the Democrats over time because we’ll have a relevant message that unifies Georgia rather than separates it,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Macon Democrat.
He said Republicans are “going to have to decide who is their true master,” whether that is Trump and his followers or Kemp and the business community.
Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, Hall’s Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, proposed a constitutional amendment on Monday that says only U.S. citizens who are residents of Georgia are allowed to vote.
State law already prohibits voting by noncitizens. The Georgia Constitution says that citizens are entitled to vote. The proposed amendment would change the Constitution’s language to say that only citizens can vote.
The election-year proposal would put the question on the ballot for voters to decide.
Miller faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson.
Tribune News Service contributed.