ATLANTA — The 2014 legislative session that ended Thursday night has now become campaign fodder.
The Republicans in charge began tapping that vein immediately.
House Speaker David Ralston laid out the script for his colleagues in talking to reporters moments after the final gavel fell.
“We are looking forward to building more jobs in Georgia. We are putting money back in our part of the port of Savannah, unlike the federal government, because we want to put Georgians to work. We put money into public education, the biggest investment we’ve made in years. We invested in higher education so that these kids will have outstanding universities and technical colleges to go to,” he said.
“I think (the average Georgian) would be very proud of that.”
Gov. Nathan Deal has been saying essentially the same thing all week.
The budget had more pork-barrel items this year because of the economy’s gradual improvement, providing many bragging points for lawmakers about money for a college here or a library there.
Interestingly, the chairman of the House budget-writing committee chose another issue as the highlight of the session.
“I think the Second Amendment bill we did is going to be one that allows Georgians to exercise their rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution of the U.S., and I think they’ll be glad we did it,” said Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn.
The legislation expanding the places holders of concealed-weapons permits can take firearms is sure to be discussed in campaigns across the state. Liberals and conservatives clashed over the proposal for two years until its passage on the final night.
Liberals argue that ready access to guns leads to more deaths. Conservatives, noting that the U.S. Constitution ensures a right to gun ownership, say people should be allowed to protect themselves if they feel threatened.
Deal will almost certainly sign the bill into law, but his Democratic challenger, Sen. Jason Carter of Atlanta, won’t be using it against him since he voted for it. That is fortunate for both men.
Polls show a majority of Georgians opposed the bill, or at least they did early in the session when it had slightly different provisions. Deal could have lost votes by signing it.
So why is Carter passing up this opportunity? Probably to protect himself against charges of being too liberal.
However, Carter voted against requiring drug tests of applicants for welfare and food stamps whom social workers suspect of being intoxicated, something else Deal will have to consider signing.
“What on earth equips me as a caseworker to know if someone is suspicious?” asked Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, during the Senate debate. Besides, she notes, anyone poor enough to seek welfare won’t be able to afford the drug test in the first place, even if the state reimburses those coming back negative.
But Ralston has the rationale conservative candidates, including Deal, are likely to use in their speeches.
“The bottom line is we passed a bill that simply insists on some level of personal responsibility of people who receive public funds for their support and livelihood,” he said. “I don’t think it’s asking too much to insist that they don’t use those funds to buy and use drugs.”
Perhaps the legislation Republicans think will be their most potent campaign tool was a pair of bills targeting Obamacare, the unpopular federal health reform law. One takes from the governor the ability to expand Medicaid to take advantage of Obamacare’s increased share of the costs, a concept Carter vocally opposed. The other was a symbolic prohibition on state involvement with helping to implement the federal law, and Carter voted against it.
Carrying the opposition from the legislative halls to the campaign are several tea-party groups, such as Americans for Prosperity Georgia.
“This was a full-court press to keep the pressure on, and our activists are committed to re-doubling our efforts to do even more moving forward,” said AFP Grassroots Coordinator Joel Aaron Foster.