State Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/
Photo: Bob Andres/

Bipartisan group blasts Ga. lawmaker who opposed hurricane relief bill 

The lone House lawmaker to oppose Gov. Nathan Deal’s nearly $500 million plan to help rebuild southwest Georgia after Hurricane Michael is under fire from a bipartisan coalition who calls his stance “short-sighted and foolhardy.”

State Rep. Matt Gurtler, a Tiger Republican, said the spending plan was “not in line with conservative principles” after he voted against the measure, which passed 162-1 in a special session. That drew the fury of south Georgia lawmakers who represent territory ravaged by the hurricane. 

In a letter to newspaper editors in Gurtler’s north Georgia hometown, state Rep. Sam Watson said Gurtler has made no effort to “work constructively on anything to help Georgians – your district included.” 

The letter, signed by 19 other lawmakers, questioned whether Gurtler’s constituents were as willing as he to “turn their backs on the people of South Georgia.” 

“Simply voting against every use of state funds, in the annual budget or for any other purpose, is short-sighted and foolhardy,” wrote Watson, R-Moultrie. “What would happen if the Georgia General Assembly also abdicated its responsibility to schools, public safety and other public services?”

(You can read it here.)

Gurtler has done little to endear himself to Republican leaders since he won office two years ago. 

A constant “no” vote in the Legislature, he accused Gov. Nathan Deal’s top aide of threatening him after he was the sole legislator to oppose the governor’s spending plan. And both Deal and House Speaker David Ralston openly backed his Republican primary challenger. 

Gurtler also drew criticism from Democrats – and more private grumbling from Republicans – after he pre-filed legislation days after a divisive election that would allow anyone who is legally allowed to own a gun to carry it without a license. 

His opposition to the hurricane relief has touched a different sort of nerve. Gurtler has argued that the special session was wasteful because lawmakers could have approved the spending without being summoned back to Atlanta. And he’s done several media interviews touting his stance. 

“Someone had to take a principled stand,” he told FetchYourNews, an online media outlet. “It’s so easy to be compassionate with other people’s money. But I wanted to point out that we should always take a closer look at these bills.” 

In a statement Monday, Gurtler criticized Watson for his focus on “personality not policy.”

“After two years and hundreds of votes, my consistent voting record is highly predictable and this is merely an orchestrated attack on a legislator who exercises his independent legislative judgment,” Gurtler said. 

“Typical ugly politics - and things like this are the reason so many Georgians and Americans have become fed up with the status quo and voted for President Trump.” 

(You can read it here.)

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.