Erick Erickson promises to ramp up 'religious liberty' fight

Erick Erickson, the WSB Radio provocateur and editor of Redstate.com, this morning predicted that the state Capitol fight over a “religious liberty” bill is about to get serious.

He intends to help make it so.

[F]our national organizations reached out to me yesterday about S.B. 129. They all think local leaders lobbying for it are, in the words of one, “compromised.” The sense is that some of the local religious leaders and lobbyists are hearing promises from people they have relationships with and, as a result of those promises that won’t be kept, they’re not doing what they need to do. My sense from these conversations is we are about to see national groups get involved on behalf of S.B. 129.

…I shouldn’t say “my sense is.” Because I volunteered myself last night. The national groups are tired of assurances from the local guys who can’t seem to move the ball any further. Speaker Ralston gave a great opening to S.B. 129 supporters. I’ll be recording phone calls targeting Republican members of the legislature pointing out they voted for a tax increase, but haven’t voted to protect the religious liberty of their constituents. I’ve already recorded two versions targeting Blue Ridge and Ellijay referencing the calls and emails I’m getting that Speaker Ralston’s office is hanging up on Christians. But there’ll be others as well.

I’ve also done one for Beth Beskin’s district, both Bubber Epps and Allen Peake here in Middle Georgia, and Wendell Willard in Sandy Springs. I’ll be spending a good bit of today recording others, particularly focused in the Middle Georgia and Atlanta metro area, where I have a regular media presence. I know Peake and Epps both support S.B. 129, but I was asked to do one for every Republican in the State House who voted for the transportation tax increase. So I am. I don’t think they’ll send them all out, but they’ve got me recording one for all of them.

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Wheels are turning on the other side as well. We’ve been pointed to this comment from Mark Rinder, executive vice president and CFO of Safeguard Self Storage, posted on the Facebook page of attorney Jeff Cleghorn:

I was at dinner last night in Buckhead with some colleagues of mine at Safeguard and ran into Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta and Glen Hauenstein (SVP of Revenue Management at Delta). We chatted about the election re: infrastructure bonds and then I thanked him for his strong rejection last year of the Religious Freedom bill and asked him why the business community was so silent about it this year. He told me that he had just come from Governor Deal's office where he made a strong argument to persuade him to have the House table the measure. We shall see.

Updated at 3:05 p.m.: Upon our inquiry, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson sent the following:

"Mr. Anderson met with senior administration officials this week, but not with the governor or his staff. The meeting was about Delta’s economic development partnership with the state."

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U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, made his debut as a House Budget Committee chairman who matters on Tuesday, unveiling a budget proposal that would take the federal government out of the red by 2025. One of us has an assessment of Price's day that includes this:

Price attempted to thread a needle by increasing defense spending above what President Barack Obama proposed, but also securing a conservative priority by allowing the budget “reconciliation” process to be used to repeal the law known as Obamacare. Such a strategy, which was used to pass Obamacare, would elude a Senate Democratic filibuster and send a repeal to the president’s desk.

Others were not so kind. The grilling of welcome that Price received from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post begins thusly:

Six men in green ties took the stage in the House television studio Tuesday, and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, a slight leprechaun of a man with silver hair and dark eyebrows, approached the microphone.

“Good mor — top o’ the mornin’ to ya!” Price announced. “Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all.”

It was altogether fitting that Republicans rolled out their budget during a festival of inebriation in honor of the man who magically (and apocryphally) banished snakes from Ireland. What Republicans have done with their budget is no less fantastic: They have employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are.

***

If the U.S. Supreme Court kills the Affordable Care Act's tax subsidies, Gov. Nathan Deal has an idea or two how Congress can make it up to the states.

Deal, a former U.S. House member, said he wants Congress to "revisit that entire structure instead of telling the states that they're the only ones to solve that problem."

The governor has remained in steadfast opposition to Medicaid expansion and contended it's too costly in the long-run. But he outlined his vision for a more limited subsidy program in off-the-cuff remarks on Tuesday, saying they would make it "more palatable to a lot of people."

It would work, he said, by expanding federal healthcare subsidies "where state Medicaid programs leave off" to incorporate more single, working individuals who would have "skin in the game." He didn't outline how much the subsidies should cost or how they would work, but said he hopes lawmakers will take up the debate after the court rules this summer.

"Far be it for me to think that anyone in Washington would listen to what I think is a practical solution," he said. "There are political consequences associated with anyone who tried to do that," he said, adding that it "would solve the problem of Medicaid expansion and solve the problem of state exchanges."

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The Senate's transportation plan does not guarantee close to the $1 billion that Georgia's political leaders are aiming for this legislative session, and Gov. Nathan Deal sees that as a major problem.

Shortly before the chamber released its version of the plan, Deal made clear that he saw $1 billion as the floor. "I would hope the $1 billion mark would be their goal," he said of the plan.

As our AJC colleague Kristina Torres noted, the Senate's goal is to get the proposal passed and into conference committee with House legislators. Expect a final compromise to include some tweaks from both sides.

Deal, for one, said he's counting on that process to play out. "As long as the goals I have outlined are kept in mind, I would not be disappointed."

***

Over at the Saporta Report, David Pendered has a major state transit agency going its own way:

GRTA is completing a strategic plan that envisions Xpress bus service direct to Atlanta’s airport as part of an expansion of a transit service that has consistently received state funds for operations since the great recession.

GRTA started work on the plan in January 2014, months before state lawmakers began a series of public meetings last summer that resulted in the transportation funding bill now pending in the Senate.

***

Atlanta voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $250 million bond referendum to repair city infrastructure, a big win for Mayor Kasim Reed. But questions could linger about how he promoted the initiative. Here's our AJC colleague Katie Leslie:

Mayor Kasim Reed’s office is defending criticisms today over a city-issued flier stating the proposed $250 million infrastructure bond will not only fund better roads, but put more money in the bank and food in the fridge.

In the mailing recently sent to 90,000 Department of Watershed Management customers about today’s vote, Reed is quoted as saying: “On March 17th, we will have the opportunity to make the most significant single investment in modern time, not just to improve our roads, but to help families pay mortgages and keep their refrigerators full.”

The flier raises a number of questions, according to a government watchdog and at least one Atlanta councilwoman. One, did it violate state laws prohibiting a government agency from spending public funds to influence the outcome of an election? And two, did Atlanta misuse Department of Watershed Management enterprise fund dollars, which the city is obligated to spend on Watershed matters?

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It is pretty rare to see the entire Georgia U.S. House delegation come together to tweak the Obama administration. (The Savannah Port expansion comes to mind.)

But this week both of the state's senators joined an existing push from 13 of the state's 14 House members (Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, abstained) asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to delay a new regulation on prepaid cards to give the industry -- which is disproportionately headquartered in Georgia -- more time to respond.

Wrote the Georgians:

"While we understand that the CFPB desires to provide prepaid cards with many of the same protections available to debit cards attached to transaction accounts, we are concerned that the Proposed Rule may go too far as some of the 'prepaid accounts' covered by the Proposed Rule aren't viewed by the industry and consumers alike as functionally equivalent to transaction accounts, which is the main underpinning of many of the requirements in the Proposed Rule."

The letter was circulated by the American Transaction Processors Coalition lobby group. It notes that 70 percent of "all card transactions processed in the United States are handled by companies that are either headquartered or have significant operations in the state of Georgia."

The CFPB in November proposed a rule to require prepaid card companies to protect consumers in cases of lost or stolen cards, fraud or other errors -- much as credit and debit card companies do. The agency was created in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, and its creation was fought vigorously by the financial services industry.

***

Debbie Dooley, the tea party leader who took on House Speaker David Ralston in a GOP primary fight on his north Georgia turf last year, is now down in Florida fighting for a solar power measure – and doing battle with both the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Americans For Prosperity. From the St. Petersblog:

Debbie Dooley, a founding member of the national Tea Party and a leader of the Atlanta Tea Party, says she always looked up to Ralph Reed as a national icon — until she worked on his 2006 campaign for lieutenant governor in Georgia as a volunteer.

So she says she’s not surprised that the Florida offshoot of the group that Reed created in 2009 — the Faith and Freedom Coalition — came out today to criticize her group’s efforts to try to put a solar energy initiative on the Florida ballot next year that would allow citizens to purchase solar power directly from private companies — and not from the state public utilities, who have shown little interest in offering solar as an option.

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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.
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