5 Georgia politics storylines to watch in 2023

People scurry up the Georgia State Capitol steps as other stand and talk during opening day of the year for the state legislative session, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

2022 was a banner year for Georgia politics. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp beat back a primary challenge and a rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams to score a second term. Georgia again drew the nation’s attention with a runoff election for the U.S. Senate, when Democrat Raphael Warnock won re-election in one of the most high-profile races in the country. 

The legislature passed a flurry of major bills, including new laws about guns, mental health and schools. Georgia’s roughly six-week abortion ban also took effect, new redistricting maps were implemented and a special grand jury in Fulton County began investigating former President Donald Trump.

All these developments will animate what’s ahead in 2023. Here’s what the WABE politics team is keeping our eyes on in the new year.

1. The power players

The party in power will be the same, but the Georgia General Assembly will kick off with new Republican leaders at the helm. Rep. Jon Burns takes over the powerful speaker’s chair in the state House from the late David Ralston, who died suddenly in November. He had guided the chamber with a steady hand for years. Across the Capitol, in the state Senate, Republican Burt Jones will assume the top spot as Georgia’s new lieutenant governor. 

Meanwhile, Kemp is no longer a first-term governor with a re-election on the horizon. How will his priorities and approach shift as a second-term leader? 

The legislature could take up bills on electric vehicles, gambling, mental health, elections, abortion and taxes. We’ll have a better sense of what’s on the docket after the session gets underway on Jan. 9. 

2. 2022 election fallout

Days after the December U.S. Senate runoff, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called for the legislature to end general election runoffs.

Georgia is one of just two states with general election runoffs, a vestige of the segregation era. If the legislature takes up the charge, they could eliminate Georgia’s 50% vote threshold altogether, lower it or adopt ranked choice voting. 

Alternatively, state Rep. Jasmine Clark has pre-filed a bill to extend the runoff from four to six weeks, allowing a longer window for early voting to alleviate long lines. 

And if you thought Georgia had finished with elections for a while after the midterms finally ended with the Senate runoff in December, you’d be wrong!

Elections for Georgia’s Public Service Commission, which regulates how much Georgians pay for electricity and how that power is generated, were supposed to be on the November ballot. They were put on hold by a Voting Rights Act lawsuit that’s been making its way through the courts. You can read more about that here.

Once that wraps up, expect another round of voting for statewide candidates possibly next year. 

3. Presidential politics

The Democratic Party is working to add Georgia to the calendar of early presidential primary states in 2024. But the Georgia Secretary of State’s office has said they’re not willing to hold the Republican and Democratic primaries on different days. And the RNC seems unwilling to let Georgia move its date into the early window. 

Either way, the beginnings of the next presidential election will start infiltrating Georgia politics. Atlanta is a finalist to host the Democratic National Convention. Georgia’s solidified stature as a political battleground, especially given recent victories for Kemp and Warnock, will surely keep attracting national candidates to the state. 

During the midterms, a parade of potential GOP White House aspirants came through Georgia to help campaigns for Senate and governor. Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden largely stayed away from Georgia — but how these two figures will play into the state’s 2023 politics is an open question. 

The new year will keep testing Georgia’s position in shaping national politics.

4. It’s the economy

One of the legislature’s biggest lifts and most important responsibilities each year is passing the state budget. Last year, Kemp and Georgia lawmakers took advantage of the state’s budget surplus to deploy tax refunds, pay bumps for teachers and state employees and cut income taxes.

Kemp has signaled more tax measures may be in the pipeline, such as another income tax refund and an extension of the homestead tax exemption. Democrats have continued to criticize Kemp for not using some of this money to fully expand Medicaid. 

Persistent inflation seems to be cooling somewhat, but some economists predict a recession is on the horizon. How insulated from that is Georgia’s economy? How will the global economy impact fiscal policy in Georgia in 2023?

5. Special grand jury

A special grand jury in Fulton County has been investigating efforts by then-President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the election result in Georgia.

Led by District Attorney Fani Willis, the grand jury can be impaneled through May, but is expected to wrap up sooner. The panel will produce a report that may include recommendations for criminal prosecutions. At that point, Willis could ask to convene a grand jury to bring any charges. That could then kick off a lengthy trial.

So even though the bulk of the special grand jury’s work happened in 2022, the road through the justice system could be much longer and stretch beyond 2023.

To sum up, you might think a respite from Georgia politics is in the cards for 2023. But as we at the WABE politics team know, Georgia politics is never boring. 

Rahul Bali and Susanna Capelouto contributed to this report.

This is part of WABE’s Storylines To Watch In 2023 series. Click here to see which storylines WABE reporters are watching on their beats — including arts and culture, criminal justice, education, the environment, health, housing and immigration — so you’re in-the-know on what the year may bring.