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Georgia voters are sending Senator Raphael Warnock back to Washington, bringing to an end one of the nastiest political fights in recent memory.
“Thank you, Georgia. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and to God be the glory for the great things that God has done,” Warnock said in a victory speech Tuesday night at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.
More than 3.3 million Georgians cast votes during the four-week Senate race runoff, one of the shortest runoff periods in recent history – a result of Georgia’s 21-month-old election reform law which cut the time between the midterm election and a runoff election from nine weeks to four.
The runoff was a repeat of the November midterm race with Warnock eking out a thin lead over Walker. AP declared Warnock the winner at 10:31 p.m. Tuesday, election night.
At 11:06 p.m., with 95 percent of the counties and precincts reported, the Georgia Secretary of State’s website showed Warnock had 1,748,474 or 50.8 percent of the votes cast while Walker received 1,692,748 or 49.2 percent.
Meanwhile, Walker acknowledged Jesus, his wife and prayers from supporters in a concession speech Tuesday night.
“I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “Never stop dreaming. Believe in America, believe in the Constitution and continue to believe in our elected officials. Pray for them. God bless you. There’s no excuses in life. So I’m not going to put up any excuses.”
From the start, the Walker-Warnock faceoff was anything but the norm: Two Black men — a preacher vs. a football legend — both from humble southern Georgia roots vying for a top congressional seat.
It was historic.
It also was the most expensive race in the country during the 2022 cycle. The pair – with the help of special interest groups — spent a combined $415.8 million, according to OpenSecrets.org. An estimated $80 million was spent on campaign ads during the month-long runoff, according to AdImpact and NPR.
Aside from record-setting spending, the Walker-Warnock match devolved into one of the country’s messiest, mud-slinging political battles that at times took on bizarre twists and turns that rival any soap opera, or “Real Housewives of Atlanta” plot.
Both men’s exes hurled embarrassing claims of abuse against them during campaign ad appearances. But Walker’s foibles sprinted past Warnock’s. Two women accused Walker, a self-proclaimed staunch pro-lifer, of pressuring them to have abortions. His campaign speeches often veered into the nonsensical. In one campaign TV spot, he waxed on about vampires and werewolves.
“A werewolf can kill a vampire. Did you know that? I never knew that,” Walker, a football legend and 1982 winner of the Heisman Trophy, told a crowd during one campaign stop. (Walker later defended his comments saying “The vampire thing is good, if they would have played the whole thing. The vampire thing had to do with faith.”)
Walker’s relentless missteps prompted Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to proclaim one of football’s greatest players “one of the worst candidates in GOP history.” A point that didn’t escape veteran political consultant James Carville.
“Herschel Walker’s run a historically buffonic campaign,” Carville, who was the lead strategist in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential win, told State Affairs. “Warnock’s run a superb campaign.”
Why It Matters
Despite the political hijinks and scandal that marked the Georgia Senate race, Carville said Warnock’s return to Washington “means a lot.
“It’s bigger than people think,” he said.
Warnock’s win gives Democrats 51 seats in the U.S. Senate and an outright majority.
“The Democrats have a challenging senate map for 2024 and going in one seat up helps,” Carville said. “There’s so many things you can do. You can do procedural things. You’ve got a plus-one going into a pretty challenging senate [session].”
Warnock can now focus on the job he’s been fighting to keep for the last 16 months.
“He’s now got four or five years where he can be a senator,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock III told State Affairs. “[He can] concentrate on whatever he’s going to want to concentrate on rather than be constantly looking over his shoulder and raising money and being in campaign mode.”
Now comes the hard part.
As if enduring four races in two years weren’t enough, the next six years for Warnock will be crucial for his political career and for Georgia ultimately.
“I would think as a Democratic senator, you would concentrate on what thing [you] could put under the budget umbrella and maybe we could get it enacted,” Bullock said, adding that Warnock could look at creating a plan, for instance, that would expand Medicaid at a federal level.
“Make Medicaid universal to a certain pay rate or level of income,” Bullock said. “You could put that under the budget umbrella. [That way] he’s showing that he’s interested in that.”
Depending on his performance going forward, Warnock could wind up chairing a senate committee down the road.
“He’s pretty effective,” said Carville, who has deep ties to Georgia politics. “He works a lot with the business community around the state. He’s got six years ahead of him. He’s going to be a lot more powerful Wednesday [the day after the runoff election] because he’s won re-election. He’s won a tough seat in a tough state. Democrats are going to want him out front and center.”
Contact Tammy Joyner on Twitter @LVJOYNER.
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A study committee of Georgia senators took a decisive step Tuesday toward ending a longstanding and contentious law that regulates how and where new medical facilities are located in the state.
The committee’s decision centers on the 44-year-old Certificate of Need law. It was created to control health care costs and cut down on duplication of services and unnecessary expansions. It determines when, where and if hospitals need to be built. Opponents have said the law prevents competition and enables big hospitals to have a monopoly, often shutting out small and private medical outlets.
On Tuesday, the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform effectively said the law needs to be repealed. The committee approved, in a 6-2 vote, nine recommendations.
“Based upon the testimony, research presented, and information received, the Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform has found that the problem Georgia’s CON law was intended to combat no longer exists,” the report said.
However, the head of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals said Tuesday that repealing the law would be a bad idea.
“It would have a devastating financial impact on hospitals and the quality and access to health care,” Monty Veazey, the alliance’s chief executive, told State Affairs.
Veazey said he has not seen the recommendations yet but his organization has sent its own set of recommendations to the senate and house study committees.
“We believe that the certificate of need really does need some modernization and we look forward to working with the committee to work through those recommendations and see if we can reach a compromise position during the upcoming legislative session,” Veazey said. “We still want to see what the House committee recommends before moving forward.”
Here’s what the senate study committee recommends, according to a draft:
- Repeal CON requirements for obstetrics services, neonatal intensive care, birth centers and all services related to maternal and neonatal care across Georgia.
- End requirements for hospital-based CON on Jan. 1, 2025.
- Reform CON laws to eliminate CON review for new and expanded inpatient psychiatric services and beds that serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured.
- Repeal all cost expenditure triggers for CON.
- All medical and surgery specialties should be considered a single specialty, including cardiology and general surgery.
- Multi-specialty centers should be allowed, particularly in rural areas.
- Remove CON for hospital bed expansion.
- Revise freestanding emergency department requirements such that they must be within 35 miles of an affiliated hospital.
- Remove CON for research centers.
The committee will present its recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
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ATLANTA — The first step in the 2023 electoral redistricting process occurred Monday when Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, released a draft proposal of new Senate district maps.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia to redraw its state House, Senate and congressional district maps, adopted in 2021 by a majority-Republican-led Legislature, after finding they violated the Votings Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The Georgia General Assembly is charged with submitting new maps to comply with Jones’ order by Dec. 8, and will be meeting in an eight-day special legislative session to do so, starting on Wednesday.
The proposed Senate maps would create two Black-majority voting districts while eliminating two white majority districts in metro Atlanta now represented by Democrats. The districts of state Sen. Elena Parent, chair of the Senate Democratic caucus, and Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves, a freshman, would become majority-Black if the redrawn maps make it through the redistricting process, a change that could invite considerably more primary challenges.
The proposed maps do not significantly alter the district lines for Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, and Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, whose districts Jones ruled did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. It will be up to Jones to decide if the new maps pass muster.
As it stands, the proposed Senate map will leave Republicans with a 33-23 advantage in the Senate.
On Wednesday legislators will plunge into their redistricting work during a special session at the Capitol. In addition to the state Senate maps, lawmakers must also redraw electoral maps to create Black majorities in one additional congressional district in west-metro Atlanta, and in five additional state House districts in Atlanta and the Macon-Bibb County area.
The proposed Senate maps (and all proposed maps to be submitted by legislators) are available on the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office’s website. Written comments can be submitted (and viewed) by the public through the portal available on the Georgia General Assembly website. Most of the reapportionment and redistricting committee’s hearings are open to the public; the daily legislative schedule is available here.
“The committee encourages public participation and values the input of the community in this vital democratic process,” Echols said in a statement released on Monday.
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