Sen. Johnny Isakson is retiring at the end of the year due to declining health. The open seat in the U.S. Senate is creating quite a bit of activity by those interested in filling the position. Georgia Governor Kemp is being lobbied by Rep. Doug Collins’ allies to appoint Collins to fill the vacancy, including President Trump.
Collins has expressed an interest in moving to the Senate. President Trump spoke with Kemp on a phone call Wednesday, the second time in two weeks, encouraging Kemp to make the appointment. It makes sense for Trump to be enthusiastic over the potential of Collins going to the Senate, as he is a loyal supporter. Collins is often seen defending the president and his administration in television interviews. He plays a prominent role in the impeachment process as the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. He’ll get even more face time on national television as the impeachment hearings move to that committee. With the inevitable impeachment trial heading to the Senate after the first of the year, Collins would have the opportunity to lead the minority in the House through the Judiciary Committee’s hearings and then participate in the Senate trial once he accepts the appointment, should Kemp offer it.
The deadline for filing was Monday. All was going well for Collins, despite stiff competition from other Republicans expressing an interest in the seat, until Kelly Loeffler filed just hours before the deadline. Loeffler is rumored to be the favorite of Governor Kemp. She is a financial executive who co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA franchise. A multi-millionaire, she is married to the head of the Intercontinental Exchange that bought the New York Stock Exchange and can self-finance a campaign. Loeffler is touted by her supporters as someone who can appeal to suburban women voters, a key demographic.
Wednesday Collins confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is interested and if he is not appointed, he will likely run for the seat in 2020.
“In recent days and weeks, I’ve heard from more and more Georgians encouraging me to pursue statewide service,” he said. “Those Georgians deserve to have me consider their voices – so I am, strongly.”
Collins added, “As I focus on defending the president against partisan impeachment attacks, I recognize Georgia needs someone with experience serving at home and making them heard in Washington.”
Former Rep. Jack Kingston is interested in the job, too. He has indicated that he will not run in 2020 if Collins is appointed, as they are similar in their ideology. Loeffler has some baggage due to past contributions to Democrats, as well as being labeled a “Romney Republican” for her donation to a PAC during his presidential run. That donation was a hefty $750,000. She wasn’t a contributor to Trump’s campaign in 2016.
An interesting part of this story is how Gov. Kemp has opened the Senate seat appointment up to average Georgia citizens. He asked those interested in filling the seat to apply online. More than 500 Georgians responded. So far Kemp hasn’t given a date by which he will make his decision.
Kemp has not detailed his thinking process on the Senate appointment. A spokesman said the governor has not set a timeline for his decision.
But Georgia Republicans and those familiar with Kemp’s thinking say he is weighing two potential paths: He can choose a conventional route with a known and tested elected official, or he can move outside the box and choose someone who has never held public office before.
That process – the request for online applications from ordinary citizens – fits right in with today’s political environment, doesn’t it? It is very much in line with the Trump era and a desire for outsiders to come in and clean out the swamp. The impeachment hearings certainly have opened the eyes of viewers who might not normally pay much attention to politics. Whether you want to call it the Deep State or just career government bureaucrats, the arrogance and entitlement that often follows after a career spans 20 or 30 years on the government payroll is breathtaking. No better example is that of the employees of the State Department who testified before the House Intelligence Committee. They often sounded as though they made foreign policy, not the president and his administration.
If Kemp wants a tried and true Trump loyalist to fill the seat, he’ll go with Collins. People in Trump’s inner circle are promoting his nomination. Don, Jr. and Matt Schlapp are Collins supporters. State House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, the most senior woman in Georgia’s legislature, has applied for the job. If Kemp is looking to reach suburban women voters, he could look at Jones or Loeffler. If he is looking for a real outsider, he can choose one of the hundreds of online applicants. To me, it seems like Collins is a good fit. Collins is a lawmaker known for working with the other side of the aisle while maintaining a strong conservative agenda. He’s not a bomb-thrower but he’s effective in moving agendas forward.
As I said, there are many choices available. Jackie Gingrich Cushman, Newt’s daughter, applied, as did Robyn Crittenden, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Service, and Allen Poole, who heads up the Office of Highway Safety. As a side note, either Crittenden or Poole could be Georgia’s first African-American Senator.
Several other current and former officials are on the list of applicants, including former Reps. Paul Broun (R), Jack Kingston (R) and Tom Price (R), President Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary; Randy Evans, Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg and a prominent Republican donor; Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols; and state Sen. Tyler Harper (R), who is close to Kemp.
Some of the top potential candidates for the appointment decided against filing applications. They included Attorney General Chris Carr (R), former Rep. Karen Handel (R), who is running for her old House seat, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R), perhaps Kemp’s closest ally.
Kemp’s spokesman declined to detail the governor’s thinking on the appointment. But several sources said Kemp is leaning toward an outside-the-box pick.
Kemp rode in Trump’s presidential limousine during a visit by the president earlier this month. Kemp listened as Trump suggested Collins and told Trump he will let him know of his decision before he publicly announces it.