The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

For a politically savvy governor seeking to keep his options open on the eve of a presidential election year, Gov. Brian Kemp’s swing through Coastal Georgia last week could hardly be beat.

At the construction site of the $5.5 billion Hyundai electric motor vehicle and battery metaplant in Ellabell, Kemp on Friday signed the state budget, which calls for $55.9 billion in spending, $32.4 billion of it in state money and the rest in federal and other funds, in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Hours later, at the Chatham County Sheriff’s office in Savannah, Kemp signed a bill creating a new commission empowered to discipline and remove wayward prosecutors, saying it will curb “far-left prosecutors” who are “making our communities less safe.”

Standing alongside Kemp at the signing ceremony at the Chatham County Sheriff’s office were, among others, Speaker of the Georgia House Jon Burns (R-Newington), state Reps. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) and Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), state Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), Chatham County sheriff John Wilcher, and Savannah City Council members Linda Wilder-Bryan (District 3) and Kurtis Purtee (District 6).

To Republican primary voters who may grow weary and frustrated with what will probably be Game of Thrones-style political combat between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, Kemp’s stagecraft served its purpose. The governor again called attention to his administration’s signature economic development achievement and his competent stewardship of Georgia’s economy.

As for his tough talk about delinquent prosecutors, Kemp showed that he isn’t going to allow any Republican rival to outflank him on the right on the issue of law and order — whether next year, in a challenge to Sen. Jon Ossoff in 2026, or a presidential run in 2028.

Georgia’s Atlanta-centered media focused on what the new law might mean for Fani Willis, the Fulton County DA who is weighing criminal charges against Trump over interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections. Willis has criticized the law, claiming it’s a racist attack after voters elected 14 nonwhite district attorneys in Georgia in 2020

But when the oversight panel starts accepting complaints Oct. 1, assuming that it will zero in on Willis may be a mistake.

Far more likely — and less politically — risky targets for the panel are Shalena Cook Jones, the Chatham County DA, and her counterpart in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, Deborah Gonzalez.

Both are Democrats whose records as DAs have been the targets of scathing criticism by local Republicans for their alleged “soft on crime” prosecutorial stance — in Jones’ case, by Petrea, a co-sponsor of the bill that Kemp signed Friday. Both are women of color who hold positions that have historically been held by white men, and both advocate an overhaul of the criminal justice system, especially as it pertains to juveniles. 

Given how political partisan and ideological the battle over district attorneys has become — both in Georgia and nationwide — it wasn’t surprising that Wilder-Bryan came under fire for standing alongside Kemp at Friday’s signing ceremony.

The councilwoman  later defended her attendance at the ceremony: “I am a card-carrying DEMOCRAT and proud of it,” she said on Facebook, adding that she “worked her entire soul off” for Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s Democratic opponent in last year’s election. What are elected officials to do? she asked. “WAIT 4 more years and get nothing”?

The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...