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Thoughts on Nathan Deal’s Veto of the Religious Liberty Legislation

By  |  March 28, 2016, 12:59pm  |  @ewerickson

“The Governor would be hard pressed to veto two red meat pieces of legislation. So the odds are the campus carry bill gets signed.”

Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB 757, the religious liberty legislation. He came under extraordinary pressure from Hollywood to put its values ahead of Georgia’s. He caved. He had done a lot to woo those businesses to Georgia and it would have been surprising had he put Georgia small businesses ahead of Hollywood.

What was surprising was Governor Deal doing so the day after Easter — vetoing a piece of legislation championed by many pastors who led their Georgia congregations in prayers for Governor Deal just yesterday. A very large number of Southern Baptist congregations had committed to praying for Governor Deal yesterday during their Easter services. Issuing the veto the day after was just deeply insulting.

On top that, the Governor really wants evangelicals to help him with his education reform effort. I sat in on a meeting last year where the Governor talked to faith leaders in the black community, many who also supported this legislation.

The veto of HB757 means the Governor is going to see his remaining agenda hijacked and HB757 will probably next year be HB1. The issue will not only not go away, but if the Governor remains recalcitrant on the issue, it is going to become the biggest issue in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary.

What conservatives in Georgia are now seeing is that big businesses have the ear of Governor Deal in a way small businesses and churches do not. They are also seeing that no compromise can be had on the religious liberty issue. The evangelicals actually reduced the impact of HB757 by making it only apply to non-profit religious organizations and, at Governor Deal’s request, included specific language prohibiting invidious discrimination.

To have Governor Deal use rhetoric by opponents of religious liberty legislation — rhetoric that actually ignores key components of the legislation — was disappointing.

On the upside, the odds that Governor Deal lets the campus carry legislation go into effect goes up dramatically. That is one of the bits of irony here. The Governor would be hard pressed to veto two red meat pieces of legislation. So the odds are the campus carry bill gets signed. That is, by the way, one reason conservatives in the legislature flat out refused to make the changes Governor Deal requested to campus carry. Were Deal to veto both pieces of legislation, he’d be signaling he has no use for any part of the Republican coalition in Georgia and that would put him into lame duck status ahead of the proper season, scuttling the rest of his agenda.