'Volvo hunt' could add more intrigue to 'religious liberty' debate

Timing is everything in politics. Last year, the effort to pass “religious liberty” legislation stalled when lawmakers in Georgia saw the wringer that Arizona was being put through on the same issue.

Sunday’s disastrous interview of Indiana’s Mike Pence on ABC’s “This Week” – in which the governor was asked six times whether the new law allowed discrimination against gays and lesbians – has likewise sent a shiver up Capital spines.

The AJC reported Monday that Georgia is in the running for a new Volvo plant. The hunt is serious enough that, in a just-approved $21.8 billion state budget, $25 million was filched from the $100 million intended for first-of-its-kind transit spending.

Why? To build a training center near Savannah that could be used to attract an auto plant.

Deal's aides are urging others not to draw a line between Volvo's apparent interest and the fate of religious liberty legislation. But that's the problem with nationalized issues: They don’t always bend to local concerns.

So the gay-friendly Swedish firm's flirtation with Georgia may add an extra element of intrigue in the final hours of this year's session.

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Southern Baptists have been the primary denominational force behind the “religious liberty” movement in Georgia this year. Last night, Russell Moore, chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention, was on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” to discuss the Indiana situation. Moore drew a line between business and the gay rights movement:

From an exchange at about the seven-minute mark:

Matthews: What do you make, Russell, of the idea of the NCAA – a lot of basketball players, white and black, the most talented basketball players in the country, don’t want to go to Indiana now.

Moore: I think it’s really unfortunate. I think it’s a confluence of sexual libertarianism and crony capitalism in a way that is trying to bully the state of Indiana into backing down from protecting basic religious liberties….

Matthews: What is sexual libertarianism?

Moore: Well, the idea that sexual freedom trumps everything else, and that it ought to be able to pave over the consciences of anyone else. That’s what we’re seeing all over the country now….

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Todd Rehm of Georgia Pundit on Monday snagged a brief but rare interview with Gov. Nathan Deal on the topic of SB 129, the “religious liberty” bill. He’s put the audio up on Youtube:

Said Deal of the bill:

“It has taken on issues that may or may not be related to the statute itself. I think the issue of gay marriage has sort of been one of those peripheral issues that – people think a bill like this will affect it one way or the other. I’m not sure that it will.

“I think it’s sort of become a magnet for the divisiveness of our country. And that’s unfortunate, because it was never intended in that vein.”

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At right, you’ll see an image of the Indianapolis Star, which featured a front-page editorial calling for immediate legislation to end the trashing of Hoosiers. A taste:

In that same edition of the Star, sports columnist Gregg Doyel tells why the issue is guaranteed to ratchet up a notch, just as lawmakers in Georgia reach the final day of their winter session:

NCAA president Mark Emmert will hold his annual Final Four press conference on Thursday. Anyone with an agenda, and that's pretty much everyone these days, will be calling for the microphone to ask Emmert when the NCAA plans to move the 2016 women's Final Four — and the 2021 men's Final Four — out of Indianapolis. For that matter, Mr. Emmert, when will the NCAA pack up its headquarters at White River State Park and leave Indiana in the rear-view mirror?

And then there’s this – again, in the same newspaper:

Chicago and Virginia are recruiting Indiana businesses concerned about their home state's passage of the religious freedom act to relocate to their areas.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have reached out to Indiana companies after last week's passage of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many fear could lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

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It’s not exactly the Final Four, but the American Collegiate Rowing Association has held its national championships at Lake Lanier for the past four years. A fifth is to be held there in May. The group estimates its economic impact to be $1 million a year, and has declared itself “deeply concerned” over the Legislature’s consideration of SB 129.

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Your morning Erick Erickson fix, from Redstate.com:

The gay rights movement has decided their rights are equivalent to the Civil Rights movement and, through their interpretation of the Civl Rights movement, there can be no accommodation with the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment. The "free exercise" clause is not limited to worship. It is "free exercise of religion." It applies, or should, to the business owner who views his job as missional. It applies, or it should, to the religious school whose faculty honor the tenets of its faith. But the left, in recent years, has taken to calling it a "right to worship" instead of a "right to religion."

The gay rights movement cannot abide a middle ground and a free exercise of religion for a simple reason -- homosexuality is not normal in nature, in historic relationships, or in the sacred texts of almost all religions. The gay rights movement must therefore censor and subjugate dissent. Any who point out the lack of historic or religious acceptance or the lack of its ready existence in nature or, for that matter, the lack of scientific evidence showing homosexuality is a birth trait as opposed to a choice or external factors, must be shut up.

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Freshman Rep. Barry Loudermilk picked a doozy of a target for his first piece of legislation.

The Republican introduced a proposal he calls the "DHS Paid Administrative Leave Accountability Act of 2015." It would require new tracking and reporting requirements for Department of Homeland Security employees who are under investigation and placed on paid leave.

The Government Accountability Office reported in October that the department's employees charged about 1.5 million paid administrative leave days between 2011 and 2013, amounting to more than $380 million. He said the practice is rife for fraud and abuse.

"This abuse of taxpayer funds must stop, and this bill will help prevent DHS employees from taking money out of the pockets of hardworking taxpayers by establishing an accountability system and severely cutting down on waste, fraud, and abuse," said Loudermilk in a press release.

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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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