Georgia Republicans strike a somewhat softer tone on walkouts

While some Republican officials in other states called the national school walkout in protest of gun violence "shameful" or called it "political indoctrination," Georgia Republican leaders took a softer approach.

Gov. Nathan Deal didn't criticize on the protest movement that prompted thousands of students across the state to leave classrooms in stand in silence for 17 minutes in honor of the victims of the Florida mass shooting a month ago.

Ant several of the leading GOP candidates veered clear of more scathing attacks on the walkouts.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the GOP frontrunner for governor, said he supports free speech rights as strongly as he backs the Second Amendment. Republicans, he added, “must show tolerance for views we disagree with, and protesters should act with safety and civility in mind.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said he, too, would defend “without hesitation” the First and Second Amendments and called for “local solutions – not a top down mandate” to keep students safe. He supports arming teachers and hiring more military veterans as security officers.

Former state Sen. Hunter Hill offered the harshest criticism. He said students are in school “to learn and prepare themselves to enter the workforce or go to college – not make political statements that take away time” from studies. He praised county school systems that disciplined students for walking out.

Georgia Democrats wholeheartedly embraced the movement. Legislative leaders staged a "walkout" of their own in honor of the protesters. And the party's two candidates for governor both trumpeted the protests.

Ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans joined former First Lady Marie Barnes to watch as hundreds of students walked out of Marietta High School. And former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams praised demonstrators for "drawing on the courage too many have lacked."

Cagle:

"I support the First Amendment as strongly as I do the Second. Democracy is sometimes messy and protests are disruptive by design. But as Americans, we've kept a pact that the freedom of expression is sacred. If we're to keep that pact for future generations, we must show tolerance for views we disagree with, and protesters should act with safety and civility in mind. We all share the goal of keeping our schools safe."

Hill:

"These decisions are rightly being made at the local level. However, students are in school to learn and prepare themselves to enter the workforce or go to college - not make political statements that take away time from their education and burden our teachers, principals, and law enforcement officers. I believe Cobb, Fulton, and Gwinnett County schools are correct in disciplining students who choose this course of action."

Kemp:

"As governor, I will respect the U.S. Constitution and defend - without hesitation - our 1st and 2nd Amendment Rights. To keep students safe in the classroom, we need local solutions - not a top down mandate from state government. I support arming teachers, employing veterans as security officers, and using technology to identify and stop threats but the decision rests with local school boards, administrators, and parents."