Democrat Tharon Johnson of Greenberg Trauig and Republican Todd Rehm squared off at the Douglas County Chamber's GreyStone Power Luncheon Tuesday for the annual 2018 Political Perspective.
Johnson led Kasim Reed’s successful bid for Atlanta's mayor in 2009 and was Barack Obama's 2012 southern regional director for his run for a second term.
Rehm is a Republican political consultant and pollster based in Atlanta and editor of GaPundit.com, a political newsletter in Georgia, which focuses on Republican politics, state and local government and elections. He is a graduate of Emory University and veteran of 20 years of political campaigns.
Brandon Reese, executive director of government and community relations at WellStar Health System, moderated the political discussion.
Johnson began the congenial discussion on the two women running for the 2018 governor’s race — Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, who served seven years in the state House and rose to the position of chair of the House Democratic Caucus. He described both as “outstanding” women with two different campaign strategies hoping to win the Democratic nomination.
Johnson said Evans has $1.5 million on hand, mostly from herself; Abrams spent a lot of money early on.
“Look at how these candidates spend their money,” Johnson said, while predicting, “The race will stay as calm as possible.”
Rehm, on the Republican side, called Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle “the presumptive candidate” on the ballot for governor “unless something happens to take him out.”
Rehm said Cagle has pocketed $6.5 million in campaign contributions, well above the two Democratic opponents.
“I’m all for a new approach, but I believe in money in the bank,” Rehm said.
Of Abrams, Rehm said, “Stacey Abrams is brilliant and can convince you of anything, but she is running the same campaign as before and that just doesn’t work.
He said, “Spending millions of dollars in TV ads really works.”
Rehm said the big test for the Democrats in Georgia is if they can put a candidate in every slot statewide.
“If the Democratic Party is going to be serious, can they put a person in every spot on down to the public service commission,” he said.
Rehm, a Republican, predicted that there will be a Democratic governor in office in the future.
Johnson agreed with his Republican counterpart that Casey Cagle is the front runner, but also there was a movement to “knock Casey down.”
He also agreed that Rehm was right. “We do have to make sure we have a clean slate of people,” Johnson said.
Rehm predicted that David Schafer, immediate past President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, will be the state’s next lieutenant governor.
“The lieutenant governor’s race will be entirely to see how Shafer’s opponents knock him out,” Said Rehm. “On the Republican said, they are having a lot of shots taken at Shafer."
He said the two biggest issues in the current legislative session are calling for a special legislative session on bringing Amazon HQ2 to Georgia and transportation.
Johnson said the state has done “a phenomenal job of bringing businesses to the state and now that Georgia is on the short list, the special session will definitely happen to bring the legislators back.”
He said, “Political will” is not helping the cause by having Republicans in the legislature talking about English-only ballots and Religious Freedom. Let’s be a place where we don’t discriminate against people.”
Johnson said he “felt good” about the House and Senate bill on transportation.
Rehm, however, said that “transportation bills don’t do what people think they do. Most important is not qualitative bills — it is about the budget.”