Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle sat down Friday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News for an exclusive interview about his remarks in a secretly-recorded conversation released by a former rival in the race for governor.
The interview came a day after the AJC and Channel 2 reported that Cagle acknowledged he supported “bad public policy” - a controversial education measure - to prevent an opponent from getting millions of dollars in outside support.
Here are the highlights of the interview with Cagle. (The questions are edited for clarity, answers are direct quotes.)
Q: What happened?
Cagle: “He said to me, ‘I’d like to have a very open, candid, honest conversation – man-to-man, between just you and I.’ And that’s how it began. Obviously, I had no idea that it would become public. But it did. And this is the reality: Regardless of what took place, my position stands firm. And that is, I stand on the public policy issue and the decisions that we made. This session, we were able to do some great things for public education ...
“The important thing is to always be focused on what is in the greater good for our kids, and I wanted to do something special this session that advanced the cause of public education and opening up more options and choices for our kids ...
“During the political exchange that I had with Clay Tippins, it was just that: A political exchange. In terms of the importance of doing something good for Georgia, we did. And I’m proud of what we accomplished. Just like President Trump didn’t get everything he wanted on the budget deal or the tax cut, it was certainly for the greater good. My record speaks for itself ...
“When I made the statement that this was bad legislation, I will tell you there were things that I did not like. And I don’t back away from that. In the context of the way it was framed, I would probably have said things a little differently. But you always have to look at whether the greater good is being accomplished. And in this instance it was.”
Q: You said several times this was bad legislation.
Cagle: “This is the reality. This was a conversation about his uncle. And that was how he phrased that conversation, and within that context I was articulating the various reasons by which he was not happy with the legislation. And listen, I will be very firm in saying I want to see a scholarship approach to make sure we’re doing more for financially-challenged individuals. And we didn’t get as far as I wanted to get. So yes we have more to work out.”
Q: You tied this bill several times to an effort to prevent Hunter Hill from getting outside support.
Cagle: “The policy is the right policy. Is it perfect? Maybe it’s not as perfect as we would like. It’s certainly good policy. And the reality is I have not received any money whatsoever centered around any of this. And I stand on my record and the things that I’ve done as lieutenant governor.”
Q: How do you reconcile what you said?
Cagle: “Everybody recognizes when you come into an environment and someone is taping you that you’re not aware of, there are things that are said in private that come across sometimes in a wrong way. And that is not in the context of the overall point we were trying to make to him in a political context.”
Q: Tippins called it a “window” into your character. What’s your response?
Cagle: “He’s open to his opinion. Ultimately this is a decision the voters of Georgia get to make. And when someone comes into your house and begins asking you various questions you didn’t know they were taping – that’s a decision that each and every individual has to make.”
Q: Does it say anything about Casey Cagle’s character?
Cagle: “My character is pretty clear. I’m a person who continually does the right things for the conservative principles that I believe in. And this record of accomplishments that we’ve pushed through the Legislature this year reflects that.”
Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to Clay?
Cagle: “I don’t think there’s anything I need to say to Clay.”
Q: Is there anything you’d like to say about him?
Cagle: “I don’t think there’s anything I need to say about him. This contest is a contest about me ... I am the only candidate who can win, and that’s exactly what I’m focusing on.”
Q: Why did you say this outside group was going to spend $3 million on Hunter Hill’s campaign? Did an outside group ever insist on raising the school tax credit cap to $100 million?
Cagle: “The Walton Foundation has stated for themselves they didn’t engage in the gubernatorial campaign. During the session there were a lot of ads being run against me, so it was a political contest that was occurring ... You never know what kind of third-party entities that could be out there or what level of funds they’re going to spend. That was information that had come to me. Whether it was true or not, remains to be seen.”
Q: But it worried you, politically, since you said you were “playing defense”?
Cagle: “In the context of the legislation itself, there was politics that entered into this. And the politics are real. It’s not just inclusive of any third party, it’s also dealing with the House. And the House was pushing really hard for the SSO bill along with the charter school expansion ...”
Q: Did you cross a legal line?
Cagle: “None whatsoever. I did exactly what I said I was going to do ... This year, I stated we would be in support of reaching a deal and a compromise to get that done.”
Q: Is there anything you said that you regret?
Cagle: “Well, certainly, in situations like this to say the bill was bad in a thousand different ways is really an overstatement. It would be better to have stated that the bill was not perfect. There were many ways in which we could have perfected the bill, but in a political process that becomes very challenging ...”
Q: Did an outside group ever threaten to support an opponent if the tax credit cap wasn’t expanded, like you said in the recording?
Cagle: “This was all rumor and innuendo that was placed out there. And obviously that’s where it stands.”