Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

'Religious liberty' debate prompts words 'of a profane nature'


During Thursday’s debate over the Pastor Protection Act, the first “religious liberty” bill to pass a chamber this year, the House and Senate engaged in – oh, let’s call it a heated cross-cultural exchange.

House Bill 757, known as the Pastor Protection Act, sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, passed 161-0 and now goes to the Senate. The bill, supported by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, passed easily despite several Scripture-tinged speeches by lawmakers hoping it would do more.

Then came the point of personal skepticism from state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, whose own “religious liberty” bill, SB 129, languishes in a House committee:

“The best thing I can say about that piece of legislation is the name. If we were to be accurate about what the bill is really intended to do, we would call it the Politician Protection Act,” McKoon said from the well.

But he didn’t stop there. There was Twitter, too:

It didn’t end there, either. Finally, there was the heated confrontation between McKoon and Terry Chastain, the legal counsel to the House speaker, in a public space outside the office of Senate President pro tem David Shafer. Many bad words were said, apparently, by one party. From McKoon’s Facebook page:

The Counsel for the Speaker of the House just used some language to describe me that I cannot post here because of its profane nature. He informed me if I want to [criticize] House bills that I should run for the House. Evidently in addition to refusing to defend the free exercise of Georgians, if he could have it his way he would take away my right of free speech.

***

Sometimes, new information doesn’t sink in until the other shoe drops. By now, of course, you know Georgia has a serious problem within its prison system:

They agreed to protect drug smugglers and believed that in their state-issued uniforms, they’d be able to avoid police. In exchange, the Georgia Department of Corrections officers would pocket cash earned from the bribes, according to federal investigators.

But the FBI was already a step ahead and conducting an undercover investigation into corruption in Georgia’s prison system. That crackdown continued Thursday when federal and state authorities arrested 46 current and former guards, two civilians and one inmate on drug and bribery charges.

Which gives much more meaning to these paragraphs from an AJC report in January:

[Gov. Nathan Deal] on Wednesday announced plans to give 200,000 teachers and state employees 3 percent raises, the largest state-funded increases since before the recession.

Employees in four areas — prisons, juvenile justice, behavioral health and public health — could see raises of up to 10 percent in hopes of reducing chronically high turnover rates.

***

The Georgia Senate passed the $23 billion mid-year state budget adjustment with little drama this week. But there was almost a last-minute kerfuffle with Gov. Nathan Deal's staff over his plans to set aside $10 million more to pay for water wars litigation.

Senate leaders had requested a detailed itemization of how the litigation costs would be spent, which Deal's office rebuffed due to the "sensitivity" of the case. Apparently, a meeting between Deal chief of staff Chris Riley and Senate lawmakers was needed to ease concerns.

***

Jessica Szilagyi over at GeorgiaPol.com raises a point about the outcry by a trio of Gov. Nathan Deal loyalists over state Sen. Mike Crane's dodge of a budget vote as he prepares to run for Congress. From her post:

Where were they when the Governor’s Floor Leader Christian Coomer missed over 100 votes? Have these three legislative watchdogs monitored to make sure no current floor leaders skip votes? Where are the tweets about House leadership all stepping out the ropes on contentious votes, something that happened at least three times during the 2015 session alone. I guess it wouldn’t be so disturbing if they applied that level of criticism to every legislator under the Gold Dome, or not at all.

***

The idea of being a political outsider has been a dominating theme on both sides of the presidential race for months, but how does that impact longtime Georgia elected officials campaigning for reelection this year?

We lobbed the question to two Georgia mainstays in Congress,  Sen. Johnny Isakson and Rep. David Scott of Atlanta. Both indicated that not much has changed for them – they’re hoping their work on the state level over the years will speak for itself.

“I work at it, day in and day out. I meditate in it, day in and day out. That’s my jazz,” said Scott, a Democrat. “I put on jobs fairs every year, health care fairs. I use my ability to help get scholarships, raise money, get our kids into (military) academies. I help our veterans … You get in there, you do your job, you do your work and the people reward you.”

Isakson said that after decades in politics -- the Republican is seeking his third term in the Senate -- it’s too late to change who he is, but that he still works at keeping up with a rapidly changing state.

“Y’all have written enough articles about me over the last 40 years to where I can’t change what I’ve been and don’t want to, so I just try to be the same old guy, he said.

Isakson continued: “The state I was first elected to represent in 1976 is still what it was then, and that’s the capital of the South. We’re now the capital of a lot of things like cybersecurity, banking transactions, we’re the medical center of the world with Emory, the CDC and all of the things that are taking place there. So the state’s prominence grows and grows. I’m doing everything I can to keep up with it.”

 


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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.