By Rusty Paul

While the 2016 national election shocked the political world with underdog GOP nominee Donald Trump capturing the White House and Republicans pulling a winning card from a deck stacked against them in U.S. Senate races, Georgia awoke November 9 to find that little had changed in the Peach State’s political landscape – at least in the partisan balance of power.  

The numbers in both the House and Senate will stay precisely where they were.  House Republicans had hoped to recapture the supermajority of 120 that they lost in the 2014 elections, but they held on to the 118 seats they had November 7. Two veteran Republican representatives – Gwinnett’s Valery Clark and Americus’ Mike Cheokas lost their seats. However, Republicans picked up two Democratically held posts, leaving the numerical balance the same.  

However, the election showed some cracks in the state’s Republican dominance that may have implications in future elections.  

Evolving areas like Cobb and Gwinnett saw the GOP’s advantages there shrink considerably. 

Also, a business sponsored survey showed that 2016 Georgia voters were more likely to identify themselves as independents while a slightly lower number identified as Republicans – though still significantly higher than those identifying as Democrats.

Georgia and Trump Administration 

It is often said that second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience. The most
recent national election could be similarly described. A significant number of America voters apparently opted for the unknow aspects of a Trump presidency rather than the certainty accompanying a Clinton administration.   

Meanwhile, several Georgians are playing key roles in the new Trump administration. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is involved in helping the new president plan his administration and Nick Ayers, who once had an office in the current Georgia Chapter
headquarters when it served as former Governor Sonny Perdue’s campaign base, is
another substantial figure.  

Ayers is Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s top advisor and will play a significant role
shaping the new Trump administration now that Pence leads the transition team. Ayers presence is one reason former Gov. Perdue’s name is being floated as a potential Secretary of Agriculture. 

Looking Toward the Session 

Now that the election is over, the focus turns to the 2017 legislative session. House
Republicans met Monday, November 14 for its caucus elections and returned the existing leadership team. Speaker David Ralston easily was re-nominated for the House’s top job, while Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) and Majority Leader Jon Burns (R-Rincon) each will hold those posts in the next session. 

Senate leadership elections will occur in early December.  

House Majority Leader Burns outlined several issues likely to confront the 2017 General Assembly in a November 15 conversation:         
  • Regulatory and Malpractice Reform – Georgia is now the number two state in the nation for legal advertising by law firms looking to file suits against businesses for supposed negligence claims. The Georgia Chamber says 60 percent of businesses in the state say a major concern is the growing number of nuisance law suits they face.
  • Workforce Development – Burns says all the pieces are in place to help train people for the key jobs needed in Georgia. However, gaps remain in the pipeline connecting the state’s technical/ career colleges, high schools and higher education
    institutions. These organizations are not working as well together as they should to anticipate workforce needs and the legislature wants to hold people accountable for using the tools it has provided. Educational institutions need to focus on job skills so there is a job waiting for every graduate. He noted that many blue-collar jobs are paying much more than those requiring four-year degrees, and “we need more of those people,” indicating education must do a better job of equipping non-college-bound students with real world job skills.  
  • Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) – Military bases are a $20 billon Georgia enterprise and the BRAC process poses a threat to those facilities. Those bases stabilized several regional economies during the last recession and are important to many communities’ wellbeing. The legislature will take steps to help protect those
  • Rural Healthcare – regardless of what happens with the Affordable Care Act under President Trump, Georgia faces a crisis as rural hospital continue to close around the state. Some Georgians are up to 150 miles from the nearest trauma center and routine care is often quite a distance from home. “It’s not a simple solution and it’s not just more money, but involves more innovation such as telemedicine,” Burns said.  The state also needs to focus on preventative medicine that involves common sense things to help avoid avoidable medical situations.  
  • Religious Freedom & Restoration Act – this highly controversial bill is still an issue, Burns noted. He said it should be addressed at the Federal level as Sen. Isakson has suggested.  There is a non-controversial Federal RFRA that passed unanimously through the U.S. Senate and by wide margins in the House. However, the Supreme Court ruled it does not apply to the States which touched off the current scramble to pass a varying assortment of state-level bills. A change federally that would apply existing Federal law to the States would negate the need for the more controversial state-by-state effort such as those seen in Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and Indiana. 
Burns noted three areas that the national election had put on hold, at least for the 2017
session: healthcare, transportation infrastructure and immigration. Burns said the legislature will likely put any major initiatives in these areas aside until it sees what direction a Trump administration will take in these categories.  

Depending on how those issues evolve, he hinted the state may consider a special legislative session to react to Federal policy changes in these areas. “We must be ready and prepared for infrastructure, healthcare policy and other Federal policy changes that may come,” Burns said. He added, “Georgia must be prepared to improve its airports, ports and roads.” 

Want more information on the 2016 election results? Review ABC's The Aftermath of the 2016 Elections presentation.