Convention leftovers: The split between the GOP base and the Legislature

Ted Cruz, a GOP candidate for president, signs an autograph for his supporter Deb Marks (right) of Columbia, S.C., during the Georgia Republican party state convention in Athens on Friday. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Ted Cruz, a GOP candidate for president, signs an autograph for his supporter Deb Marks (right) of Columbia, S.C., during the Georgia Republican state convention in Athens on Friday. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

As a last act before they headed for the exits on Saturday, delegates to the state Republican party convention in Athens passed a package of resolutions that in essence chided the GOP-controlled Legislature.

There was the endorsement of SB 129, the religious liberty bill, of course. And a resolution endorsing another measure authored by state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, endorsing the denial of drivers licenses to illegal immigrants offered temporary sanctuary by the Obama administration.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogA third pushed for an elected school board, and a fourth condemned changes to high schoolers’ Advance Placement U.S. History course outline for its “radically revisionist view.”

Each one of those issues has had serious problems moving within the Legislature. They have something else in common as well.

Neither of the two leaders of the House and Senate had anything to say about them.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, during his brief time on stage Saturday, spoke of the party’s “unprecendented success,” emphasized the Legislature’s role in creating a favorable business climate, and underlined his own lifelong credentials as a Republican.

Last May, Ralston was fending off a tea-party challenge to his House seat, which gave these comments a bit more meaning:

“We must resist the temptation….to turn inward and turn upon ourselves, and we must resist negativity and the politics of personal destruction, because Georgians are too busy to engage in that.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, president of the Senate, spoke of his Republican origins, and his efforts on education. He closed with this warning:

“Ronald Reagan said that those that vote with me 80 percent of the time are friends and allies. Those individuals that vote 20 percent of the time against me are not bad. It is important for us to remember that a divided house will not stand. That we always have to be united and committed to a greater calling and greater purpose.”

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The surprise hero of the Georgia Republican Convention wasn’t one of the presidential candidates who trekked to Athens. It was state schools superintendent Richard Woods.

Woods, the newest member of the GOP’s statewide hierarchy, was elected in November in a race against Democrat Valarie Wilson. He earned some of the wildest applause from any of the speakers when he railed against the Common Core national standards and previewed an upcoming announcement about new math standards.

“We have no obligation from the state of Georgia that they’ll have to teach funny math,’ he told the 2,000 or so delegates on Friday. “If our teachers choose to use a standard algorithm, they’ll be able to do so. We look forward to making that announcement next week.”

The next day his standing was reinforced by the grassroots in a big way. The delegates approved a pack of resolutions en masse that included one that called for the election of State Board of Education members. They are now appointed by the governor.

Tucked into the resolution was this hoozah for the superintendent:

WHEREAS, in 2014 Georgia voters elected a State School Superintendent who was opposed to the Common Core national standards, electing him in margins that exceeded the ballots cast for either the post for U.S. Senate or the post for Governor, even though those races appeared on the first page of the ballot and the Superintendent’s race appeared on the 5th page of the ballot; and

WHEREAS, the power of the unelected SBOE members supersedes the power of the elected superintendent in many important areas such as the ability to set the agenda for the State Board of Education meetings, hire and fire staff, and even direct staff within the Department of Education; and….

We heard one state senator present scoff at the resolution, noting that — if you elected board members by congressional district — four Democrats would immediately have a presence on a body that is now thoroughly Republican.

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The decision to pass the endorsement of Josh McKoon’s religious liberty bill without debate undercut a floor fight that was fixin’ to happen late Saturday.

Baoky Vu, a DeKalb County delegate and member of the convention’s resolution committee, was ready with an amendment to state that the measure should not be used to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“We want to learn the lessons of Arkansas and Indiana. This bill is bad for business and bad for outreach,” Vu said.

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The tight race for the leader of the Georgia Republican Party was even closer than it seemed.

It was announced at the convention that John Padgett defeated Atlanta attorney Alex Johnson by an 807-612 vote for another two-year term as state GOP chairman. That was a 57 percent tally for Padgett, just slightly less than the 60 percent total he earned against Johnson in the final ballot in 2013.

But the tally was a bit off. Johnson said Sunday evening that it was actually a 809-672 final tally, and a GOP spokesman confirmed that split. That means Padgett got closer to 55 percent. Johnson improved on his 2013 performance, moving from 40 to 45 percent.

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If you had taken a formal straw poll at the weekend’s GOP convention, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas probably would have won a strong plurality.

Cruz made two full-throated appearances before delegates on Friday, compared to the single speeches delivered by New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

When Cruz sequestered himself with the press for 45 minutes or so, delegates gathered outside the closed door, shouting “We want Cruz! We want Cruz!”

We wrote here about the Texas senator’s comments on Georgia’s fight over a “religious liberty” bill as a counterweight to the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on gay marriage.

What we didn’t tell you was that, in our interview with Cruz, we invited him to discuss the foreign policy of, not just President Barack Obama, but President George W. Bush.

Cruz declined. Sort of. “I’ll let others worry about prior presidents,” the Texas senator said.
But as he talked on, it became clear that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s flubbed answer on Iraq won’t be forgotten. Said Cruz:

“I fully expect foreign policy to be a major issue – front and center in the primary, and if anything, an even bigger issue in the general. ….Historically, if you look at elections where foreign policy and national security are front and center, senators have tended to have a major advantage. It is central to the job of being a senator – dealing with foreign policy and national security threats.”

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smokincruzCruz has a sense of humor about himself. During his appearance at a celebration of GOP minority recruitment efforts, Cruz supporters passed out one California artist’s vision of what the GOP president candidate looks like underneath his shirt. Cruz said it is wholly inaccurate: “I don’t smoke.”

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Todd Rehm of GaPundit.com says this weekend taught him two things about Ted Cruz:

First, he has a “body man” who wears a backpack that has a GoPro video camera on one of the straps that’s always recording. I’m not sure why, but it’s kind of ironic given Cruz’s opposition to government surveillance that he has Robocop on his staff.

Second is that Cruz travels with his own wireless microphone and has someone on his staff to mike him up before he goes onstage. That’s why he’s able to roam the stage at will, while the other speakers remain tethered to the podium.

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Qualifying starts today for a June 16 special election to fill the shoes of departed state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming.

Forsyth County News has an early look at the field:

[F]our candidates have announced their intention to run, including Sheri Gilligan, who ran against Hamilton for the Republican nomination last year; David Van Sant, a local personal injury attorney; Will Kremer, a member of the local Republican Party; and Ethan Underwood, a partner at the law firm of Miles Hansford and Tallant and former chair of the Forsyth County Republican Party.

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The Washington Post has an interview with the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates, Atlanta’s former U.S. Attorney.

Yates still returns to Atlanta every other weekend, according to Sari Horwitz’s piece, and plans to push sentencing reform:

She plans to urge lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass legislation to change sentencing policies.

“Certainly, I don’t think I can ever be accused of being soft on crime,” Yates said. “But we need to be using the limited resources we have to ensure that we are truly doing justice and that the sentences we’re meting out are just and proportional to the crimes that we’re charging.”

“We’re not the Department of Prosecutions or even the Department of Public Safety,” Yates said. “We are the Department of Justice.”

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Lewis FBIAtlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis took to Facebook for a personal look at a Patriot Act extension.

With the photo at right, Lewis wrote: “Reading the FBI file on SCLC & myself, I am more convinced than ever that we cannot allow government surveillance.”

The House voted last week to extend the Patriot Act with some new restrictions on the NSA’s spying programs. (Lewis was a “no.”) With a deadline fast approaching, Senate GOP leaders want a “clean” extension.

The other big items on the packed congressional to-do list this week: A highway bill and Trade Promotion Authority.

On the former, the House votes Tuesday on a two-month extension. On the latter, the Senate resumes work on amendments this evening.

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President Barack Obama travels to Camden, N.J., today to announce new criminal justice actions — including new limits on military surplus for local police departments. From the New York Times:

The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.

He is taking the action after a task force he created in January decided that police departments should be barred from using federal funds to acquire items that include tracked armored vehicles, the highest-caliber firearms and ammunition, and camouflage uniforms. The ban is part of a series of steps the president has made to try to build trust between law enforcement organizations and the citizens they are charged with protecting.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, introduced a bill to that effect last year — but it has not budged in the Republican-controlled House.


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