ATLANTA – A small-town newspaper’s story about a freshman legislator prompted the most unusual display of political damage control seen in two decades at the Georgia House of Representatives.
A strident libertarian in office less than two weeks who has introduced a handful of nonconventional bills received a serial lecture Friday morning from a parade of Republican leaders intent on distancing the party from his proposals before they go viral on the Internet.
Perhaps it’s the nature of modern communication that spooked the leaders into condemning Rep. Sam Moore’s legislation, specifically House Bill 1033, which sought to ensure people’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by repealing anti-loitering laws. The way the bill was reported in the Cherokee Tribune focused on the example of police ferreting out people on the sex-offender registry by questioning them while hanging out at a school yard.
The comments of the local sheriff – and Moore’s own feeble rebuttals – painted the Macedonia Republican as advocating unchecked child molestation.
In years past, a bill by a twentysomething who won a special election in the middle of the legislative session and news about it in his hometown paper wouldn’t have stirred much reaction beyond gossip around the Gold Dome.
But in an era of social media and blistering satire on late-night television, Republican leaders wanted to take no chances of having Moore become the face of the party shackled like a millstone around the neck of every GOP candidate.
So, they came, one by one, to the well of the House to blast the upstart.
“I see a bill and I see newspaper articles overnight that say a member of my party actually wants to submit Georgia’s children to convicted sex offenders at their school grounds and ex-offenders, and I just want everybody to know that the party I so represent – caucus with in this place – in no way, shape or form condones that sort of proposition,” said Majority Leader Larry O’Neal.
“In my personal opinion, it’s the most irresponsible and egregious example of proposed legislation I’ve seen in my entire life.”
The usually boisterous House chamber was silent as he spoke, partly because of how unusual it is for him to come forward during a time normally reserved for backbenchers and the minority to get things off their chests or to announce birthdays and visiting civic clubs.
He was followed by Rules Chairman John Meadows, who acknowledged frequently killing popular legislation in his committee, the last stop before heading to the full House.
“As many of you know from experience, I don’t pass every bill out. I can assure you that this bill will not get on this floor for any discussion,” said Meadows, R-Calhoun.
Beyond that, Meadows delivered a veiled threat that Moore’s legislative career will be a frustrating one.
“If the author comes with others, I will be very suspect on any bill, and it would be awful to be most ineffective person in this building,” he said, a comment one observer described as a political death sentence.
In his short time in the House, Moore has also stood out for repeatedly voting against legislation, often one of only two “no” votes. Since bills require 91 votes to pass the House, legislating is a team sport, and lone practitioners who don’t help their colleagues advance bills find their colleagues don’t help them either.
Moore went so far as to join his fellow “no” voter, Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, in voting for a motion to override a ruling by House Speaker David Ralston, an effort that failed 2-172 in which even the minority party did not participate. That didn’t win either man any friends among the leadership.
Moments after Moore’s public scolding, the Georgia Republican Party issued a statement from Chairman John Padgett.
“This legislation does not reflect the core values of the Georgia Republican Party and will ultimately compromise the safety of our children and the future of our state,” he said.
But the attack by association had already begun.
The Democratic Party of Georgia issued tweets, Facebook posts and a press release tarring the GOP. “The Modern Georgia Republican Party,” the headline screamed.
“This is what the Georgia Republican Party has come to,” said Democratic Chairman DuBose Porter. “And this is why they’re in trouble.”
One Democratic operative joked on Twitter that as of Friday, her party had garnered all of the attack footage it would need for all of the fall campaigns.
So, while most Georgians would have little other reason to ever hear of Sam Moore – who was already facing a tough primary challenge in May, it’s likely that his bearded mug will become the face of Republican candidates across the state by November.
That is despite the best efforts of the leadership to prove he’s a pariah.