By State Sen. Royce West
Here we are, a few days before Christmas and fast approaching the New Year. Three weeks from now, I will be headed to Austin to begin a Legislative Session far different from any of the 14 that I have been part of. We’ve faced budget woes before, but not in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
But looking to the near future, Georgia is on my mind. Why? It’s because how America will be governed for at least the next two years, maybe four, depends on the Peach State. Come January 5, 2021, Georgia voters will elect two U.S. Senators.
Those two races will decide whether Democrats will lead the Senate or whether one man will continue to near-dictate the fate of our democracy. His name is Mitch McConnell, current Senate Majority Leader. If it were up to me, voters would have sent him back to his old Kentucky home in November.
In November, Georgia turned blue and chose Joseph Biden for President. The election also resulted in run-offs for two Republican incumbents: one Kelly Loeffler, appointed a year ago. The other, David Perdue, was first elected in 2014. Both face scrutiny and deny allegations that they traded stocks using information about the coronavirus learned from their Senate posts.
The stakes could not be higher. Republicans now hold a one-seat advantage in the Senate pending the January runoff. Democrats must win both races. At 50 members each, any tie-breaking vote would belong to Vice President Kamala Harris.
With an equal number of members from both parties, the new majority leader would come from the vice president’s party, who must confer with the minority leader on Senate business. Shared authority is a better option than we’ve had since McConnell took over in 2015.
As Senate minority leader, prior to the game-changing 2010 Midterm Elections, McConnell told reporters that the most important issue for Republicans “is to make President Obama a one-term president.”
As majority leader, he has consistently pushed for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including a showdown where the vote that saved Obamacare was cast by the late Senator John McCain.
He’s blocked attempts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Elections and until recently, stalled initiatives related to climate change. In 2016, McConnell refused to allow hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, saying the incoming Congress should pick the next justice.
This year, he reversed himself by rushing through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett just weeks after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg but before the November elections.
After the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump, McConnell’s refusal to call witnesses or conduct meaningful hearings aided Trump’s acquittal, allowing him to stay in office.
Many benefits of the CARES Act—passed by Congress in March to help Americans survive the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus—expired at the end of July. Before this week’s new bill passed, remaining provisions were set to end the day after Christmas.
Legislation passed by the House in October aimed to help struggling families, small businesses, states and cities. McConnell refused to consider it. His proposal would shield big business from lawsuits for their failure to adequately protect workers from COVID by subsidizing them using taxpayer dollars.
So Georgia, the road leads back to you. Facing the two incumbents are Democratic challengers, Rev. Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Warnock is pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, once pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He has championed Medicaid Expansion and led voter registration efforts. Ossoff, an investigative journalist, lost a high-profile Georgia Congressional race in 2018. Warnock won more votes than Loeffler in November; Ossoff trailed Perdue by two percent. Georgia officials have responded by limiting early voting locations, but during the first week, 1.3 million ballots were cast.
Call, email, Facebook, Instagram or by any means necessary, contact the people you know who live in Georgia. Tell them America has Georgia on its mind.
Tell them our democracy depends on them.