GOP gov hopefuls unite behind religious liberty, against casino gambling in first forum

Supporters of ‘religious liberty’ measure at Georgia’s Capitol. AJC file

The four leading Republican candidates for governor stood in unison behind Georgia’s controversial “religious liberty” measure and were lockstep against an effort to legalize casino gambling at the party’s first GOP gubernatorial forum.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former state Sen. Hunter Hill and state Sen. Michael Williams had all previously pledged to sign the religious liberty proposal as governor, but Saturday’s forum in Milledgeville was the first time they shared the stage to outline their views.

All four of the top candidates also vowed to oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow casino gambling in Georgia and funnel some proceeds to the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship. That effort has stalled in the Legislature in recent years, lacking forceful support from many GOP leaders.

It was the first formal showdown featuring the four highest-profile Republican contenders for governor, who also shared the stage with Marc Alan Urbach, an educator running as a constitutional conservative. A sixth contender, Clay Tippins, has also filed paperwork to run but has not formally announced.

The meeting, the first in a series of gubernatorial forums sponsored by the Georgia GOP continuing Sunday in Augusta, comes days after Democrats held their own “conversation” in Atlanta. That event, like this one, offered a preview of the race ahead to replace a term-limited Nathan Deal in 2018.

If Saturday’s event is any indication, the gambling giants that have long sought to break into Georgia’s market have their work cut out for them with the GOP field.

Hill, Kemp and Williams all said they would oppose the measure because it wasn’t necessary. (Said Hill: “We are doing fine without gambling.”) Cagle also said he’d reject it, then quickly pivoted to talk of “enormous opportunity” for economic development in south Georgia through other growing industries.

As for the yearslong battle over a state version of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, each of the GOP candidates said, in their own ways, that it was overdue.

(Supporters see the measure as an added layer of legal protection for the faithful; critics call it state-sanctioned discrimination. Deal agreed with the latter, vetoing it in 2016 amid threats of economic boycotts.)

“I just don’t see an issue,” said Kemp.

“If it’s good enough for the federal government, it’s good enough for Georgia,” said Hill, invoking the 1993 federal version of the legislation adopted by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton.

“A nation that doesn’t protect your religious liberties won’t protect any of your liberties,” added Hill, a combat veteran, cautioning that he would bring his weapon to any country that doesn’t do so.

And Cagle, an unabashed supporter of the legislation in 2016 who was less enthusiastic about it this year, said he “will not back down” from his pledge if elected.

“I do not see it as discriminatory in any way,” Cagle said. “I believe that we must always fight to ensure that our religious liberties are protected in all circumstances.”

That brought a challenge from Williams, who casts himself as a Donald Trump loyalist, who dared Cagle to back the measure during next year’s legislative session so “he can show us all he truly does support religious liberty.”

One of the few areas where a sharper rift emerged involved a question about whether the candidates supported targeted tax breaks to industries, much like the incentives to filmmakers that have turned Georgia into a movie hub.

While several of the candidates talked about the need to slash taxes overall, Kemp and Williams didn’t mince words.

Kemp said the state needs a hard spending cap and that he would vet whether the range of tax incentives the state offers truly works.

And Williams said that the state gives away “billions of dollars of tax credits every year to large corporations,” and that many of them only yield “not very good jobs.”

Read more recent AJC coverage of the governors race:

‘Religious liberty’ could have impact on Georgia’s Amazon effort

Democratic forum previews a fight for 2018

Georgia gov hopeful gets heat over response to Las Vegas shootings

Democrats in Georgia governor’s race push gun limits

Georgia governor race: Who is running in 2018

New relationship brewing between Georgia Republicans, alcohol

A divide over the two Staceys has Georgia Democrats worried

Candidates for governor are showing rural Georgia some love

Governor’s race revives a familiar feud between Kemp, Abrams

Reader Comments 2

14 comments
George Cantrell
George Cantrell

Is it too early to start using the #BoycottGeorgia hashtag ?

hipakuhi
hipakuhi

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BreakingFakeNews
BreakingFakeNews

Has Georgia become a subsidiary of Alabama in our politics?  Georgia Republicans, like most national republicans, have shown they have no spine when it comes to standing up for what is right against our moron president.


Any Georgia republican or candidate for governor, who says he is for Trump and at the same time for christian values or freedoms is of course a hypocrite. If our moron president drags us all into a third world war, which is possible, none of this will matter.

Corey
Corey

The Christians in the picture holding up placards only need to walk across Washington St. from the capitol and volunteer at the homeless shelter operated by Central Presbyterian church. Wouldn't that be more Christ like? Religious people have always picked a favorite sin and sought to force the government's hand in shielding them from it. God is powerful enough to shield you from sin. Then what's the problem? You want the government to do what God has chosen not to do?

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Ralph-43
Ralph-43

No one should be allowed to run for a tax-payer supported position unless they can pass a test regarding the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  Attempting to pass state legislation over-riding these laws is a crime.  

 

Know the law.“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”Article 1 of the Bill of Rights ratified by the states and the United States Congress, December 15, 1791.

catuskoti
catuskoti

Wait, so signs and political demonstrations are allowed in the state capitol building? 


I'm so confused....



Another comment
Another comment

When is the business community going to stop sending their dollars to these GOP creatins. No Fortune 500 company will stay or invest in a state with a Religious Liberty Bill. The Chamber of Commerce and Fortune 500 companies need to start backing Stacey Evans if they want to keep what they have and want a chance at Amazon.

Without the money from Atlanta, Savannah and their is no support dollars for the rest of Georgia.

sim_namore
sim_namore

Just wait 'til these wads get a full load of my Jesus.  They're not going to like it--and it won't wash off.

daks
daks

The "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" will look even bigger partisan fools when the Supreme Court rules in favor of religious liberty.

And "Greg Bluestein" will have to give up shilling for the homosexual agenda, at least on this one issue.

RufusATL
RufusATL

@daks Your true colors are showing--so religious liberty is REALLY about throwing stones at homosexuals after all.  Doesn't sound too christian to me.  

Corey
Corey

@daks Would  you put up with discrimination against you due to someone else's religious sensibilities? If you balked at government coddling discrimination against you because of someone's religious sensibilities, what  would be your agenda? People demanding to participate equally in power sharing have the same agenda as all Americans says the U.S. Constitution.

No2Decatur
No2Decatur

Religious Liberty stands for we don’t want Atlanta to get to uppidity and win Amazon. I thought you GOP idiots were pro business.

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  1. […] does not seem to be present in the current crop of Republican candidates. Just last weekend, all four of the major GOP candidates pledged to support so-called “religious liberty” legislatio…. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has maintained a presence at the Gold Dome in one […]

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  2. […] is the only leading Republican candidate who refused a pledge to sign the “religious liberty” measure if he’s elected, saying he wouldn’t sign any oath involving undrafted […]

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