Our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin has the juicy details on House Speaker David Ralston’s remarks before the Atlanta Press Club this afternoon -- read about it here.
But to fully grasp Ralston's comments, you had to have been tuning in yesterday evening to Erick Erickson, the conservative provocateur who occupies the 5 to 7 p.m. shift on WSB Radio.
Erickson has taken exception to the House’s deliberate pace on religious liberty bills, which have yet to receive a first hearing in that chamber. Erickson has pointed his listeners to the speaker’s office phones. He has recorded robocall attacks aimed at the speaker's allies.
Last night was more of the same. You can listen to this snippet graciously provided by the people at AM750/95.5FM News Talk WSB:
Or you can trust me when I say that Erickson began thusly:
“What does the Republican party stand for? I look at this Georgia situation. You’ve got the speaker of the House, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Georgia, whose wife is the chair of the Georgia Republican party foundation. I mean they are embedded in the leadership of the Republican party. And they don’t even want to secure religious liberty in Georgia?”
It is considered bad form in the Capitol to go after a lawmaker’s family. Nonetheless, Vicki Willard, wife of House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, called in to the radio station to defend herself, and did well.
Ralston had another venue available. The speaker was already slated to address the Atlanta Press Club. He ran down the list of issues facing the Legislature, including transportation funding, transit, and the budget. And then he came to the topic of “religious liberty” legislation – specifically S.B. 129, authored by state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.
What follows is a verbatim transcript of Ralston’s remarks. The occasional emphasis is mine. Again, the topic was “religious liberty” legislation. Said Ralston:
“That gets the bill title of the year award in my book. And I want to say a few things about that bill today. I have said before: I am talking with and listening to people on both sides of this important issue.
“And I will continue to do so. I do not take lightly the importance of protecting a person’s right to worship and express their faith. The framers of both the United States and Georgia constitutions saw this right as paramount. And that’s why we find this protection in our most basic and important and even sacred legal documents.
“As with any issue of this magnitude, there’s a lot of misinformation swirling out there through the modern rumor mill that we refer to as social media. Despite what you have heard, I haven’t made my mind up. I am still seeking the right way forward, and I don’t apologize for that.
“Some things in our legislative process, unfortunately, do take time to work out. Before we move forward, we have to understand what the impact of this legislation will be on the rule of law in this state. We need to know if this legislation opens the door to unintended consequences of any type, that some may try to exploit.
“I take proponents of this measure at their word that discrimination toward anyone is not part of this effort. At the same time, I appreciate the concerns of those who have strong opposition to this legislation.
“The good news is that Georgia is a global destination for people from all over the world who want to come visit and for businesses that want to come create jobs. And that is not going to change.
“But closing the door to anyone is closing the door to all.”
Ralston never mentioned Erickson by name, but at this point, there’s no need to wonder about the identity of the speaker's target:
“In this and other passionate debates, however, there always seems to be a few for whom honest, reasonable, and civil discussion is an alien concept that they are simply not acquainted with. These pundits-for-hire and self-professed thought leaders are not looking to protect anything, or anyone. They seek profit, relevance, and attention by preying on people’s worst fears through loud volume, lies and distortions.
“I have no interest in rushing to act on this or any other issue merely to coddle over-inflated egos or help grow someone’s bank account.
“Here’s what I propose we do: Let’s all take a deep breath and look at this thing in a reasonable way – and we’ll find the right way that really does what both sides hope to accomplish. Because I believe that at the end of the day, Georgians don’t have time for the politics of personal destruction. They don’t expect us to waste the limited time we have here playing these kinds of games.
“As an American, and Georgian, and born-again Christian, I value inclusive discussion. I believe the Old Testament prophet got it right when he said, in the Book of Isaiah, ‘Come, let us reason together.’
“I don’t expect or demand that the members of the House agree on everything. What I do ask, and what we have done, is debate the issues constructively…”
It was no coincidence that nearly the whole of Ralston's team was at the APC to back their boss, including Rules Chairman John Meadows, Appropriations Chairman Terry England, and Caucus Chairman Matt Hatchett.