Capitol Recap: Some GOP voters had a South Georgia state of mind

They say breaking up is hard to do.

But a ballot question seems so impersonal, especially in a relationship of 160-plus years.

In last month’s voting, about one-quarter of Republicans in Pierce County, in the state’s southeastern corner, said they were ready to send Georgia a Dear John letter.

It’s not you, Georgia. It’s them.

They said they wanted a space to call their own — basically all the counties south of Macon. Their goal was to take that region and “form the 51st state of South Georgia.”

It was a question conservatives in Pierce, formed in 1857, placed on the GOP ballot there.

The Georgia GOP didn’t feature questions on the statewide ballots, but Pierce was one of 17 counties where Republicans posted such queries to weigh the interests of their base.

Here’s what the voting showed on some other issues:

  • In Lumpkin County, 90 percent of Republicans support a border wall.
  • Roughly 80 percent of GOP voters in Catoosa, Coweta, Gordon, Harris and Whitfield counties say public school teachers should be allowed to carry guns on school grounds if they have a license.
  • Three-quarters of GOP voters in Gordon, Lumpkin and Whitfield counties say business owners have the right to refuse service based on religious beliefs. And about 87 percent of GOP voters in Pierce and Ware counties want “religious liberty” legislation adopted in Georgia.
  • About two-thirds of Republican voters in Coweta and Whitfield counties oppose offering Amazon “billions of dollars” in incentives to locate its second headquarters in metro Atlanta.
  • In Harris and Pierce counties, about two-thirds of GOP voters want medical marijuana decriminalized. And roughly the same proportion oppose legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

Brant Frost V, a leader of the group Georgia Conservatives in Action, said the findings show “those of us who have been working to get conservative legislation passed at the Capitol are speaking for the vast majority of Republican primary voters.”

The counties with ballot questions this year didn’t come close to providing a majority of Republican primary votes.

Infighting intensifies: The race for governor took a nasty turn this past week on the Republican side, as supporters for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp started hurling mud at each other.

Sex trafficking came up.

After Kemp announced that state Rep. David Clark would be leading his veterans coalition, one of Cagle’s top backers, state Sen. Renee Unterman, took aim at her fellow legislator from Buford.

She tweeted a picture of Clark’s “no” vote for measures in 2015 that, through new criminal fines and an annual fee on strip clubs, set up a fund to help victims of sexual predators.

“Same guy who votes for sexual predators preying on young children being bought & sold for sex,” the tweet said about Clark.

Clark was one of roughly two dozen state House members who voted against the bill. Their point was that singling out strip clubs for new fees would set a bad precedent and do little to stem sex trafficking because much of the problem takes place on the internet.

He fired back at Unterman and other Cagle supporters, saying they must be “really desperate if they’d steep to calling me and a dozen of the most conservative House members supporters of child predators.”

“This bill had some serious constitutional flaws,” he added. “Shame on you, Renee, for politicizing such an important issue.”

No icing on that cake: Supporters of religious liberty legislation in Georgia were pretty happy after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision supporting a Colorado baker who cited his religious beliefs in refusing to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple. They saw it as bolstering their efforts to pass such measures in the Peach State.

Not so fast, said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.

McKoon for several years has been one of the driving forces behind efforts to move religious liberty measures, such as a Georgia version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, through the Legislature. Judging by this post on his Facebook page, he doesn’t see the high court’s ruling as a win for his team:

“The decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop as I read it simply says that the baker couldn’t get a fair hearing before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“It has zero impact on the need for a RFRA here in Georgia.

“Nor does it address the separate question of what happens when free exercise claims collide with LGBT protected class claims….”

McKoon is leaving public office, at least for now. He decided to give up his seat in the Senate to make a run for secretary of state, but he didn’t qualify for the runoff in last month’s primary.

Campaign closure: The election in November is more than five months away, but nearly 60 percent of the races for the state Legislature have already been settled.

Red and blue will only clash in 95 legislative races in November. The other 141 seats in the state House and Senate were filled during last month’s Georgia primary.

We already know there will be some changes when lawmakers return to Atlanta in January for the 2019 legislative session.

In 20 districts, incumbents didn’t seek re-election or ran for higher office. And eight other incumbents lost their re-election bids in the May 22 voting.

Eight legislative races have yet to be settled. Candidates will run a second heat in the July 24 runoffs. Each of those eight winners will face another race in November.

Not yet: U.S. Sen. David Perdue is a big fan of President Donald Trump, but the Georgia Republican doesn’t care much for the president’s move to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Still, Perdue doesn’t think his fellow lawmakers should do anything about it just yet.

“I’d like to see this play out before Congress gets involved in a meaningful way,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“The administration is doing a good job of telling the world, ‘Hey, we’re still supportive, but we have to have a level playing field,’ ” Perdue said. “If we send mixed messages about that, that confuses them about the United States’ negotiating position. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Watch the sugar: Perdue recently drew some scrutiny, Politico’s Florida bureau reports, from federal election officials who warned the Georgia senator about campaign donations he received from a titan in the Sunshine State’s sugar industry.

Pepe Fanjul, the president of Florida Crystals, appears to have donated upwards of $10,800 to the Perdue campaign for 2018 primary and general election races, the Federal Election Commission noted

 That would be a sweet deal for the senator — who isn't up for re-election until 2020 — except that the combined legal limit for such elections is $5,400. 

 Perdue’s office later said the contributions came from both Fanjul and his son, who shares the same name, and that the donations are kosher. 

 The FEC’s website lists all of the donations as coming from the executive vice president of Florida Crystals, the position held by the junior Fanjul. 

 The Fanjuls' support for Perdue is most likely connected to his position on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which is prepared to set subsidies on crops including sugar in the upcoming Farm Bill.

Does he do the Dougie? U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, represents one of the most conservative districts in the country, but he's apparently more than bipartisan when it comes to music.

A Politico story about the close working relationship between Collins and New York U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries — they have co-authored bills addressing prison recidivism and music copyrights — delves into their shared music appreciation.

Jeffries, from Brooklyn, considers himself a hip-hop aficionado.

Collins is all about diversity.

“I go from rap to country to Ne-Yo,” he said. “I listen to everything from AC/DC to Lil Wayne.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has endorsed fellow Republican Kemp’s campaign for governor ahead of the GOP runoff July 24.

— State Sen. David Shafer now has the backing of the state Senate's GOP leadership in his bid to become lieutenant governor. Leadership chose not to take sides while a former Republican member of the chamber, Rick Jeffares, was still in the running, but Jeffares finished third in last month’s GOP primary and out of the runoff. That cleared the way for state Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert to announce the leadership’s endorsement of Shafer over former state Rep. Geoff Duncan.

— Former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes is backing Republican Matt Bentley in the race to replace state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna.

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