It was a spectacle you seldom see during a legislative session.
One after the other, the top Republican leaders in the Georgia House of Representatives gave speeches last week denouncing a legislator from their own party: Rep. Sam Moore, a Republican from Cherokee County.
Moore, one of the most conservative members of the House, had introduced a bill that would have repealed the state’s anti-loitering law.
Moore said he introduced the bill to reinforce a person’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when questioned by police, but the media eagerly noted that the bill would also allow sex offenders to hang out at public schools.
Embarrassed by the fact that one of their own members had introduced such a toxic piece of legislation — no one wants to be accused of aiding child molesters in an election year — a dozen Republican lawmakers declared that they were outraged, repulsed or disgusted by Moore’s bill.
“This legislation will never, ever see the light of day,” said Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), chairman of the House Republican Caucus. “It’s abominable to me to think this legislation would ever receive a single vote.”
It’s easy to understand why party leaders would move so quickly to criticize a bill that gives ammunition to the opposition party.
The Georgia Democratic Party, in fact, issued a statement arguing that Moore’s bill “is not out of step with the Georgia Republican Party’s extreme legislative agenda this year.”
There are more aspects to this controversy, however, than mere political embarrassment.
The harsh remarks about Moore also reflect the fact that Ralston and his cohorts didn’t want him serving in the House in the first place.
Moore ran in a special election to replace the late Calvin Hill, who died of cancer last fall. After the first round of voting on Jan. 7, Moore and Meagan Biello advanced to a runoff election.
The House leadership sized up the candidates and decided that they favored Biello over Moore, who was the more conservative of the two. In the period prior to the Feb. 4 runoff, Biello received more than $16,000 in contributions from prominent House Republicans.
Moore, however, defeated Biello and was sworn in Feb. 11 as a House member.
He quickly joined with extremists like Rep. Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) to vote against measures such as the state budget that other House Republicans were routinely adopting.
Last week, the House was poised to pass a sweeping gun bill that would allow firearms in churches, bars, public buildings and K-12 schools.
That bill was not acceptable to Gregory. He tried to offer an amendment from the floor that would have made it legal to carry guns on college campuses as well.
When Ralston, as the presiding officer, ruled that there would not be a vote on the amendment, Gregory challenged the speaker’s ruling. This is usually a foolhardy move for any lawmaker, in either party. Ralston tends to get very angry when a House member disputes his interpretation of a rule and he lets that anger show.
Gregory insisted on a vote, with his motion losing by the margin of 172-2. The only other House member voting with Gregory to challenge Ralston’s ruling was Moore.
Moore had already thwarted Ralston by defeating the speaker’s favored candidate in a special election. Moore was now teaming up with other extremist House members to defy Ralston on floor votes. Given that combination of factors, it should not have been surprising to see Ralston’s team fire back at Moore when he made the mistake of introducing his sex offender bill.
After Friday’s House session had adjourned, Ralston met with the press corps to chat about the day’s events. He allowed as to how he didn’t care for Moore’s bill, either.
“This is not a Republican Party measure,” Ralston said. “We don’t approve of that.”
As Ralston was speaking to capitol reporters, Biello was already sending out an announcement that she will oppose Moore again in the upcoming May 20 Republican primary. You can probably guess who will be contributing to her campaign.
Moore, who professed to be “honestly shocked” by the attacks on him, still recognized the political considerations that were involved.
“It’s an election year, I get it,” Moore said. “I get the politics of it. It’s great to have something to attack.”
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.