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Greg BluesteinTamar Hallerman
Jim Galloway

Next in ‘religious liberty’ fight: Is it a Georgia Baptist effort to minister to lawmakers, or ‘spiritual’ lobbying?

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A "thank-you" billboard, from Georgia Baptists to state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, for his support of "religious liberty" legislation. AJC/Special

A “thank-you” billboard, from Georgia Baptists to state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, for his support of “religious liberty” legislation. AJC/Special

Georgia Baptists appear to be in the midst of a drive to create a more direct pipeline to state lawmakers in preparation for a fourth-year fight over “religious liberty” legislation.

The following paragraphs are from John Pierce, editor and publisher of Nurturing Faith:logo-all

A recent letter to pastors of affiliated churches from J. Robert White, executive director of the statewide Southern Baptist organization long known as the Georgia Baptist Convention, explains the plan to “bear influence” on state legislators.

“Spiritually speaking and politically speaking these are very challenging days,” White wrote. “I want to ask you if you would be willing to be one of approximately 200 Georgia Baptist pastors that I am seeking who would be willing to minister to your local representative and/or senator to develop a relationship and to fulfill needs for ministry for him or her and their family.”

Pierce quotes a dissenting Baptist pastor, who describes the above as “just spiritual language for lobbying.”

Nonetheless, Georgia Baptists are willing to put money behind their effort. A “thank you” billboard, directing some giant love at state Sen. Josh McKoon, the Republican most forcefully behind the “religious liberty” legislation, now graces his Columbus-centered district.

***

On Monday, state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, organized a state Capitol memorial service for the 49 killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre. Project Q Atlanta took note of those who showed up:

The crowd at the memorial included state Rep. Sam Teasley, a Marietta Republican who has introduced anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation, co-sponsored other anti-LGBT bills and voted for House Bill 757, the controversial measure that allowed people to discriminate against LGBT people and others. The bill plunged the state into a national backlash before Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it earlier this year.

Teasley said the Orlando massacre saddened him and left him angry.

“I am deeply saddened and angered by the evil perpetrated in Orlando last week and wanted to come here and stand with my colleagues and the community here and say that whenever evil is perpetrated on innocent civilians, it ought to be spoken out against,” Teasley [said]. “These are not enemy combatants. These are not people on the battlefield that are taking shots. These are people who are going about living their lives, enjoying life, and evil was carried out against them. It was evil and it was wrong. These people were created in the image of God,” he added.

***

The state of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign is the morning’s hot talking point. The New York Times offers the most succinct lede:

Donald J. Trump enters the general election campaign laboring under the worst financial and organizational disadvantage of any major party nominee in recent history, placing both his candidacy and his party in political peril.

Mr. Trump began June with just $1.3 million in cash on hand, a figure more typical for a campaign for the House of Representatives than the White House. He trailed Hillary Clinton, who raised more than $28 million in May, by more than $41 million, according to reports filed late Monday night with the Federal Election Commission.

To say Republicans are nervous is to wallow in understatement. But Trump, who fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Monday, this morning was urging GOP leaders to get over it. From The Hill newspaper:

“I need support from the Republicans. I mean, in some ways I get more support from the Democrats than I do the Republicans,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends.”

Trump said that “some have been phenomenal,” calling the Republican National Committee “terrific,” but indicated he wants more vocal support from party leaders.

 “It would be nice to have full support from people that are in office, full verbal support,” Trump said. “With all of that being said, I may go a different route if things don’t happen.”

***

Sandy Springs-based UPS has become  the latest corporation to pull back from supporting the Republican National Convention in July. The shipping giant sent us a note, saying it made the decision last year not to support either political convention when it established the company’s 2016 budget:

We will not have a presence at the Republican nor the Democratic convention. It is erroneous to assert or infer that UPS decided not to support the conventions due to the identity or position of a candidate. It was not a political decision, by any means.

And yet, UPS Chief Executive David Abney is an outspoken Trump critic and a growing number of Corporate America behemoths are wary of associating with Trump’s campaign.

***

Governing magazine reports that four of five Georgia lawmakers are on greased skids, headed toward November with no opposition.

***

We’ve already told you that, late Monday, the Atlanta City Council approved a November referendum on a half-penny sales tax for a massive expansion of MARTA-sponsored transit. Over at the Saporta Report, David Pendered adds this note:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s legacy in restructuring public assets could well turn on whether voters back his plan for Atlanta to finance MARTA’s expansion inside the city limits.

If voters support the proposed hike in the MARTA sales tax rate and a new sales tax for transportation, Reed will be on track to preside over more than $4.7 billion in public infrastructure transactions.

***

In a Sunday post, we told you that state Sen. Mike Crane’s comments on “no-knock” warrants were driving opposition from law enforcement in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland in Congress. Here’s the entire list of sheriffs who have endorsed former West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson in the GOP primary runoff for the 3rd District seat, released by the Ferguson campaign on Monday:

— Mike Jolley, Harris County;

— James Woodruff, Troup County;

— John Darr, Muscogee County;

— Ross Henry, Heard County;

— Keith McBrayer, Henry County;

— Mike Yeager, Coweta County;

— Dan Kilgore, Upson County.

***

A fresh round of speculation has begun circulating in recent days that Georgia native Clarence Thomas, a reliably conservative Supreme Court justice, is thinking about retiring from the bench. From The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard: 

Thomas, appointed by former President George H.W. Bush and approved by the Senate after a bitter confirmation, has been considering retirement for a while and never planned to stay until he died, they said. He likes to spend summers in his RV with his wife.

If true, the news, of course, would offer the next president the opportunity to realign the high court. Congress has so far blocked a vote on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. But Thomas’ wife, Ginni, quickly took to Facebook to dismiss the rumors:

“For all those who are contacting me about the possibility of my husband retiring, I say — unsubscribe from those false news sources and carry on with your busy lives.”

“IT. IS. BOGUS! Paul Bedard needs to find a phone in his life and unnamed sources are worth as much as their transparency is.”