A gay Republican group thanked Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill, just as conservative activists prepare to berate him at the state GOP convention in Augusta this weekend.

Georgia Republicans for the Future greeted convention-goers on Thursday with a banner that applauds Deal in large all caps letters: "THANK YOU GOVERNOR DEAL." (photo below) The group fought anti-gay legislation earlier this year and helped counter the anti-LGBT push from religious conservatives in the party.

"We are proud to stand with Republicans from across the state of Georgia in thanking our Republican Governor in vetoing House Bill 757. There are many delegates in attendance that agree with the courageous leadership of Governor Deal, but there are thousands more that are not in attendance who support his leadership," Allen Fox (photo), the group's director, said in a prepared statement.

"We agree with him that Georgia is a welcoming, loving and inclusive place. That sentiment, along with Governor Deal's conservative leadership, has made Georgia the best place in the nation to do business. There is nothing more conservative than that. We are blessed that our state avoided the economic catastrophe seen recently in North Carolina and Mississippi. That is solely due to Governor Deal," Fox added.

State Sen. Josh McKoon – the voice of anti-gay "religious freedom" efforts who now threatens legislation aimed at transgender students – criticized the gay GOP group and Deal in a Facebook post on Thursday. Because of course he did.

"Here early for this weekend’s Georgia Republican Convention. Allen Fox and “Georgia Republicans For the Future” (the shadowy group whose donors are secret) have hung a banner thanking Governor Deal for killing the religious freedom legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year. What a slap in the face to grassroots Republican leaders!"

Deal vetoed an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill on March 28, quieting a growing national backlash that threatened the state's economy and lucrative film industry. But it inflamed anti-gay lawmakers and pastors, religious activists and a swath of party faithful. Gay Atlanta rallied to thank Deal for the veto, but anti-gay activists spanked him in April by voting to "censure" him. 

Those same embittered activists are threatening further retaliation during the GOP convention in Augusta. They are still mad, especially Tanya Ditty. The state director of Concerned Women for America has revised her anti-gay attacks of the past to become more of an ignorant grandmother instead of a bitter troll. But still, she's pissed at Deal and seeking her pound of flesh, according to the AJC.

The unrest among his critics only intensified after the governor rejected “campus carry” legislation that would have legalized firearms on most parts of public college campuses. Tanya Ditty of the Georgia chapter of the Concerned Women of America, an outspoken critic of Deal’s vetoes, said several resolutions critical of Deal’s tenure are pending.

“There is a lot of disappointment, frustration, distrust and anger with Gov. Deal,” she said, echoing many grassroots activists who have lashed out at the vetoes in the last two months.

The fuss over Deal's vetoes is being fueled by anti-gay grassroots activists. The bigger pool of Republican voters in the state aren't nearly as concerned, state GOP Chair John Padgett told 1340AM. Via the AJC:

“I think the vetoes would prove to be fairly unpopular here at this convention. You know, the Republicans in the state –the million or so who vote Republican every election cycle – are probably not as conservative as couple of thousand that come to the Republican convention, that are inside the party, having been elected to come here a grassroots around the state.

“It’s a pretty conservative group, and those two issues were very conservative issues.  With the veto, it just didn’t go the way that the people at the Capitol and a good portion of our base would have wanted it to go.

“The governor had his reasons for doing it, and he would tell you if you look at the polls, generally across the state, they were about a 50-50 [issue].  But I don’t know who they were polling.  I can tell you they were not popular vetoes here with this convention.”

And Harry Abrams, a GOP activist in Cherokee County, told the AJC that the grassroots activists driving the push to smack down Deal are a bit out of touch.

Still, yet another group of Republican stalwarts say the push back is overblown and the resolutions are little more than soon-forgotten paper. Harry Abrams, a Cherokee County GOP activist, said the angst over Deal will do little in the long run to block his second-term goal of overhauling the state’s education system next year.

“The noisy and always vocal usual suspects are clamoring for his head,” said Abrams. “But they actually have little to say in representing the life of the average Georgia citizen.”

A WSB poll bolstered their arguments. The poll in May showed that more likely voters in Georgia agreed with Deal's veto than disagreed. Not that the results stopped McKoon from twisting them to support his argument to revisit the legislation again in 2017.

Deal, for his part, is skipping the GOP convention this weekend. That's too bad. Gay Republicans could have bought him a cocktail.