To tell you the truth, I didn’t believe they’d pull the trigger. And I’m not sure they believed it either.
For all their rhetoric and immigrant-bashing, I didn’t believe that Georgia legislators would go as far as they have in trying to criminalize substantial sectors of the state economy.
Essentially, that’s what they’ve done. If signed into law as expected by Gov. Nathan Deal, upheld in court and then fully implemented, House Bill 87 makes it illegal for a wide range of economic sectors — from Atlanta’s hotels and restaurants to the onion fields of Vidalia to the chicken and carpet industries — to function without substantial changes in how they operate. For some businesses and perhaps even entire industries, those changes may make it difficult to stay profitable, at least in Georgia.
Legislators were told all that. The state’s business and agriculture communities made sure they had their say, but in the end their warnings were ignored. None of it mattered. They could not prevent years of harsh, even demagogic rhetoric from being translated into actual law.
In fact, HB 87 has the potential to be the single most transformative piece of legislation passed in this state since the civil rights era. That’s how far-reaching some of its provisions are. Call it an educated, informed guess, but I’d bet that many Georgia Republicans, from the governor on down, are looking at each other today and wondering what in the hell they have done.
You could hear that doubt in Deal’s words earlier this week, when asked whether he would weigh in the controversial legislation. “I view this as primarily a legislative responsibility,” he said. “The difficulty they have encountered reflects the complexity of the issue, and certainly it’s a very multifaceted issue and a difficult one to come to logical conclusions that will be meaningful.”
This, from a man who in the past hasn’t hesitated to express strong support for harsh immigration legislation. Because of that history, he now has no choice but to embrace and sign it, whatever his private misgivings might be.
This thing simply got away from the state’s leadership. It gathered a momentum that none dared try to stop, and now we’re going to live with the consequences.
– Jay Bookman