The bad cops have had their turn. It’s time to bring in the tall, lanky good cop.
For three years, the religious conservative movement has flailed at the state Capitol. Last year, it was rolled, ignominiously, on a measure to empower local communities to decide whether grocery and convenience stores could sell beer, wine and liquor on Sunday.
No major anti-abortion measure has passed the Republican-controlled Legislature in three years. The House has specifically blocked passage of a “personhood” bill championed by Georgia Right to Life, which would bestow the legal title of human being on any fertilized egg.
Efforts to restrict in-vitro fertilization by physicians and embryonic stem cell research at institutions such as the University of Georgia have likewise stalled -– in part the result of quiet pressure from the business and medical communities.
Another reason for disarray has been the aggressive, confrontational tactics employed by Georgia Right to Life, which has assumed the leadership of religious conservative forces in the Capitol since the retirement of longtime activist Sadie Fields.
I once referred to GRTL’s approach as “bare-knuckled,” only to be corrected. “Brass-knuckled” was more accurate, I was recently informed by a GRTL leader.
Enter soft-spoken Jeff Chapman, the former state senator from Brunswick and one-time Republican candidate for governor. This week, Chapman drew the curtains on a new player at the Capitol -– the Peach Tea Party.
Yes, the tea party label is overused. But PTP, headed by Chapman, promises to be something different. It is a coalition of several groups, including GRTL, and several causes.
“The life issue is obviously the most important, and we’ve been very disappointed in the last three years over what’s happened,” Chapman said. Preservation of marriage as something between only a man and a woman is another priority.
But the group will also oppose the July referendums on a sales tax for transportation funding across the state –- “a bureaucratic nightmare,” Chapman said.
Peach Tea Party will also back a cap on lobbyists’ gifts to state lawmakers. Heck, Chapman said, he would think about putting all 236 state legislators on an annual salary, in exchange for cutting off the freebies. “At least we’d know who was paying them,” Chapman said.
He estimated the cost of a full-time Legislature at $11 million a year. That’s cheap, Chapman said, when you consider that this company or that one can offer the right legislator a $1,500 vacation to California, then walk out of the Capitol with a project that adds $50 million in bonded indebtedness to a taxpayer-funded budget.
Some might think there’s a risk in mixing hardcore social issues with a good-government agenda. Chapman does not. “I think it makes sense. We believe that a person who is not right on the life issue –- how can we expect them to be right on the other issues, consistently?” he said.
There are two ways to open a jar of jelly beans. One way is to smash it. Chapman says he prefers to unscrew the lid. He is a man of easy demeanor who understands the social order at the Capitol. But he also has a history of stubborn –- some would say quixotic –- opposition when he takes up a cause. Chapman was a major thorn in Gov. Sonny Perdue’s attempt to remake Jekyll Island – which fell apart, primarily as a result of the Great Recession.
The Peach Tea Party also claims a secret weapon -– the “sharp end of the spear” was one description — that state lawmakers might want to take note of. In the old days, election-season scorecards –- distributed in Georgia churches on Sundays – were the bane of many a lawmaker’s existence.
But the reports, issued by Fields under the name of the Georgia Christian Coalition, were the foundation for her clout at the Capitol.
The PTP intends to replicate the tactic -– with an Internet-based system using software developed during the Colorado “personhood” fight.
An interactive map immediately links a voter with his or her legislator, his challenger, and a voting score assigned to both by Peach Tea Party. A small cast of straying Republican lawmakers will be targeted for elimination in the July primaries as a kind of pilot project.
“They have played the game of getting the support of the coalitions that are conservative. Then they’ve taken it for granted. Before now, we’ve really not had a process where we could do anything about it,” Chapman said.
Extra points will be awarded to lawmakers who actually put their name to legislation backed by the Peach Tea Party -– rather than simply agreeing to vote in favor of a measure that’s never likely to make it to the floor.
“The power of co-sponsoring lets the leadership know that it’s going to be difficult for them to shove it off to the side,” Chapman said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider