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Capitol Recap: Cagle and friends break out their checkbooks

Supporters of Casey Cagle’s run for the Governor’s Mansion are starting to write some big checks. We’re talking two commas.

Citizens for Georgia’s Future is putting out a pair of commercials praising the lieutenant governor for his efforts in education and his stand against illegal immigration. The price tag: $1.2 million. It’s unclear who is behind the group.

The first ad, “21st Century,” focuses on Cagle’s College and Career Academies initiative. The second, “Stop,” centers on his pledge to crack down on illegal immigration. The group will air them in the Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah television markets.

Cagle is writing some big checks, himself. He’s planning to air six weeks’ worth of ads ahead of the May 22 primary in those same markets, as well as radio, cable and satellite spots. His cost: $4.4 million.

The lieutenant governor is not the first in the GOP race for governor to buy airtime. Businessman Clay Tippins spent $250,000 for a spot that aired Super Bowl Sunday, and former state Sen. Hunter Hill laid out nearly $400,000 for his own ad. Both took advantage of a new industry: Cagle impersonators with a flair for the awkward.

The two other Republicans in the race, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sen. Michael Williams, have yet to hit the airwaves with ads.

Neither have the two Democrats in the race, former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and former state Rep. Stacey Evans.

A minority pitch: Evans sees Atlanta policy on contracting minority-owned businesses as a way forward for the state.

She called it “absolutely unacceptable” that fewer than 1 percent of the state’s contracts go to minority-owned businesses, and she praised Atlanta for requiring that 35 percent of the city’s contracts go to those types of firms.

She pledged that if elected governor, she will expand a federal program aimed at increasing minority participation in state projects,

She also threw her support behind House Bill 21, legislation from state Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, that would create a state advocate for minority- and women-owned businesses and establish a state Division of Supplier Diversity.

Bruce, by the way, has endorsed Evans.

Amazon buy-in? No sale: There was lots of talk going into this legislative session warning that passage of some type of “religious liberty” bill could ruin Georgia’s chances of landing Amazon’s second headquarters and the 50,000 jobs it’s expected to bring.

But the supporters of that line of thinking never got the state Senate Judiciary Committee on board.

This past week, the committee gave its blessing to Senate Bill 375, which would offer legal protection to faith-based child placement agencies that refuse to engage with LGBT couples.

“States have failed our faith-based agencies. These are agencies that have provided services to children – some of them, through their affiliation with churches - for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the primary author of SB 375. Ligon said other states had forced these agencies to “choose between violating the tenets of their faith or going out of business.”

Supporters have never provided evidence that faith-based agencies have actually had to make that decision in Georgia.

The bill could face a big test down the road. A similar provision was stripped from a larger adoption bill last month with strong support from Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston.

Kingston takes some heat: Jack Kingston, the former congressman from Savannah, generated a sizable share of activity in social media this past week when he suggested that survivors of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school were being controlled by left-wing forces.

“O really?” Kingston tweeted in response to a USA Today story about student rallies following the shooting. “‘Students’ are planning a nationwide rally? Not left wing gun control activists using 17yr kids in the wake of a horrible tragedy? #Soros #Resistance #Antifa #DNC”

Two days later, Kingston threw another log on the fire during one of his frequent appearances as a CNN commentator.

“Do we really think 17-year-olds, on their own, are going to plan a nationwide rally?” said the runner-up in Georgia’s 2014GOP runoff for the U.S. Senate.

Demanding an apology was Brandon Abzug, a student who survived the shooting.

“To say that just because we’re young we can’t make a difference is not right and he should apologize for that,” Abzug told CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota.

“Young people all across this country and all over the world should feel that they have the power to make things right,” Abzug said.

In a later appearance on GPB’s “Political Rewind,” Kingston expressed sympathy for the students. “Their hearts are broken and I absolutely support their right to go up and be heard,” he said.

But then Kingston said it’s common for some groups to take advantage of a tragedy like the shooting. He then pointed out that actor George Clooney and TV mogul Oprah Winfrey both made donations to the organization promoting a March 24 gun control rally in Washington.

“I know that unfortunately things like this turn rapidly to politics,” he said, “and there are people who will take that agenda and run with it.”

Kingston, who served as a surrogate for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, didn’t bring up instances when the president has gone to Twitter to advance his agenda following tragedies. For instance, Trump recently used a tweet to call for a crackdown on illegal immigration after police revealed that an immigrant lacking legal status had been charged in the death of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson in a suspected drunken driving accident.

Peake out: It’s time to pass the cause of medical marijuana to other legislators, state Rep. Allen Peake said. He will not seek another term in the House.

In an email, the Republican from Macon, whose legislation created the state’s medical marijuana program, said he never expected to spend 12 years in the Legislature. “I’ve always believed that an elected official should know when it’s time to leave,” he wrote. “I’ve also committed to myself that I would not make a career of politics.”

Peake has been fighting this session to allow the in-state cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes, but the governor has made it clear that won't happen this year. Still, Peake brought it up in his email.

“My biggest disappointment will be that we have not come to a solution on cultivation of medical cannabis in our state,” he wrote, “but I am confident that there is a strong group of colleagues that share my passion who WILL continue this fight.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.

— The Georgia chapter of Our Revolution, a progressive movement inspired by Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has endorsed Abrams in the governor’s race. It also slammed Evans’ approach to the campaign, which includes trying to lure back white voters who stopped voting for Democratic candidates in favor of GOP hopefuls. “Pursuing legacy Dixiecrat voters and their sympathizers must be consigned to the dustbin of history,” it said

— Isakson showed no hesitation when asked during an appearance this past week at the Atlanta Press Club whether he will seek a fourth term in 2022. Yes, he will.

His office said he filed paperwork for the run last year, in part so he can continue to raise campaign cash. Campaign records show he has about $1.1 million on hand.

— Plans have been made for a series of debates ahead of the May 22 primary between two Democratic hopefuls making a bid for Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice’s seat in Congress. Chalis Montgomery and Richard Dien Winfield, a pair of first-time candidates with Sanders-style platforms, will meet in four head-to-head debates. They’re only part of a crowded field. Five others have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to challenge Hice, who ran unopposed in 2016.

— U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is backing former newscaster Bobby Kaple in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District race.

— State Rep. Tommy Benton has drawn a challenger in the GOP primary. Sam Thomas, a debate team coach and youth teacher from Jackson County, has set his sights on House District 31. Thomas calls the district the “most conservative in the state” and adds that its legislator “should reflect that.”

Benton, a Jefferson Republican and former history teacher, has made headlines for uttering kind words about the Ku Klux Klan. You may not like its methods, Benton said, but the KKK “made a lot of people straighten up.”

Thomas doesn’t appear too interested in that, though, calling Benton’s comments “a distraction from the real issues.”

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