On Tuesday, state lawmakers will begin submitting bills for their colleagues’ consideration in January, when the Legislature returns to Atlanta.
We are entering an election year, which means more than a few of the measures will be intended to stir the blood and drive GOP voters to the polls in November.
But stir the blood too much and the patient revolts. Votes in Arizona and Mississippi last week may have set boundaries for Republicans in Georgia when it comes to two hot topics: Abortion and illegal immigration.
Let’s address the more subtle of the pair first: Last Tuesday, voters ousted Republican Russell Pearce, president of the Arizona state senate and architect of that state’s illegal immigration law — which became a model for Georgia’s HB 87, passed earlier this year.
Opponents of state attempts to enforce federal immigration laws called Pearce’s defeat a victory. But Pearce was replaced by another Republican who also supports Arizona’s approach. Reports from the Southwest indicate that the difference between the two candidates was one of tone.
Pearce came across as sharp, mean-spirited and heedless of the consequences of his legislation. At least that’s the warning that some GOP lawmakers in Georgia have taken to heart.
“Both sides need to lay aside their ideology,” said House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, who will be in charge of rousting that chamber’s votes for Republican causes next year.
Lindsey voted for HB 87 last year, and says there’s no chance that the GOP-controlled Legislature will back away from the measure.
But Lindsey was one of several Republican legislators given tours of south Georgia farms where crops were left to rot this summer — after migrant workers fearful of arrest fled the state.
Republicans do not want an alienated south Georgia.
An attempt to create a guest worker program is likely next year, he said. Such things usually require coordination with — and approval from — the federal government. But the symbolism could be important.
“If my friends in south Georgia want to see us try to put the cart before the horse, to show the federal government that we’re serious about a guest worker program, we’ve more than happy to take a look it,” Lindsey said. “I think the state probably needs to show its willingness to run with it once the feds are willing to give us that leeway.”
Last month, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, a Republican, testified at a U.S. Senate hearing endorsed a “penalty-based work authorization permit” for illegal immigrants already here.
Would Lindsey’s House colleagues consider that idea? “I don’t know,” the House whip said. “That’s something that needs to be put on the table, along with a lot of others I’ve heard.”
Mississippi is another matter. Voters there were presented with a proposed amendment to that state’s constitution that would have declared life to begin at fertilization. All abortions would have been banned, some birth control methods would have been made illegal, and physicians and the use of in vitro fertilization would have been curtailed.
The amendment, designed as a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade, was rejected by 58 percent of some of the most conservative voters in the country. Similar legislation — under the name of “the Human Life Amendment” — has been rejected by House GOP leaders in Georgia. Tuesday’s results in Mississippi are likely to reinforce that decision, especially as a means of driving GOP voters to the polls.
“Certainly we’re going to listen to our caucus,” said Lindsey, who has chaired hearings on the issue. “But the same concerns I had about the Human Life Amendment I still have today. I believe it has a lot of unintended consequences.”
Moreover, Lindsey said the proposed amendment splits the pro-life movement. The Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta is among the opponents. “I don’t want to see another civil war break out among pro-life organizations in Georgia,” he said.
Dan Becker, on the other hand, thinks the war needs to be fought — as a revolt against the “tired arguments of timing that the pro-life leadership has been putting out there for the last 24 years.”
Becker is president of Georgia Right to life, and sits on the board of directors of Personhood USA — one of the groups behind the proposed Mississippi amendment.
Two Georgia lawmakers, one in the House and one in the Senate, are prepared to drop legislation to renew the fight here, Becker said.
The lesson of Mississippi, the GRTL leader said, is that the implications of the measure needed to be spelled out beforehand, in legislation that would accompany it. To ease legitimate concerns and combat illegitimate ones.
“We have 50 sections of the Georgia Code being worked on right now. That will determine what will and won’t happen,” Becker said. “We won’t have doctors prosecuted for ectopic pregnancies. Women will not be prosecuted for miscarriages. Passports will not be issued to the pre-born.”
A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds passage in the House and the Senate. “That’s not going to happen without the leadership being in favor of it,” Becker concedes. “We’re cognizant of that. We’re in it for the long term.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider