New Georgia Freedom Caucus seeks right turn in state policy

Georgia State Rep. Philip Singleton, R-Sharpsburg, speaks, to a legislative committee on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Atlanta. Singleton and seven other lawmakers on Tuesday, Dec. 14 announced they were organizing a state-level Freedom Caucus to push for more conservative policy in the Georgia General Assembly, saying it would be modeled on the House Freedom Caucus in Congress. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy, File)

A group of Georgia Republican lawmakers announced the launch Tuesday of a Freedom Caucus in the state’s General Assembly, vowing to move outcomes to the political right even as the majority GOP-legislature girds for an election-year session that could be dominated by appeals to Republican primary voters.

Eight Republicans introduced themselves as members of the first-ever state level Freedom Caucus, although a national group promised the Georgia affiliate would be the first of many. Lawmakers from more than a dozen other states gathered Tuesday in Atlanta to discuss forming their own state-level groups. All would be modeled on the House Freedom Caucus in Congress, a group that has often found Republican House leadership to be insufficiently conservative for its tastes.

“The state Freedom Caucus will work in each state and among the states to secure rights, to defend liberty, to protect each state’s sovereignty,” said the group’s chairman, Sen. Greg Dolezal of Cumming. “The Biden administration is determined to change seemingly every aspect of the American way of life. We need a local and statewide effort to fight back.”

The Conservative Partnership Institute, launched by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and led in part by former President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, promises that the network will provide staff support and electoral backing for its members.

Rep. Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg, who has warred openly with House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge, was drawn into a district likely to elect a Democrat in the recent redistricting session. Credited with organizing the group, Singleton said it that often “it’s very easy to isolate those who stand apart” from leadership and that “in Georgia that there’s a there’s a long history of retribution against members that don’t toe the line.” For that reason, leaders said they are only identifying lawmakers who want to be named as part of the grop.

Many members of the Georgia group are at odds with the current Republican legislative leadership. State Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson is running for lieutenant governor against Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller of Gainesville, after Jones lost his own bid for the pro tem position last year. Jones and some of his allies were demoted or stripped of committee leadership posts, in part because of that challenge, and in part because they agitated for Georgia lawmakers to take action sought by Trump to prevent Georgia from awarding its 16 electoral votes to Democratic President Joe Biden.

Jones said the group would “push against a culture of cancellation” that he said was penalizing truly conservative lawmakers.

Rep. Charlice Byrd of Woodstock, another member, recently announced a primary challenge against fellow Republican Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta.

“Well, I want you to know that I am right wing,” Byrd said in response to the idea that the caucus might be labeled right wing. “I cling to my God, my Bible and my guns.

Those and other Republican primaries, including former U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s bid to knock off incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp could create a dynamic that produces a lot of conservative legislative in 2022 in Georgia. Caucus members, for example, said they want to change Georgia’s gun laws to remove the fee for a gun permit, or even the requirement for a permit at all, a proposal they call “constitutional carry” because they argue people shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to exercise their right to carry guns. That proposal has seemed dead in the water in Georgia in recent years, but Ralston has recently said he’s open to exploring it.

Dolezal also identified eliminating the state income tax and keeping “dangerous ideology” from infiltrating schools, but said that maybe more important is preventing bad proposal from becoming law.

“I didn’t wake up this morning saying ‘You know what Georgia needs tomorrow is more laws and regulation,’” Dolezal said.