Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has backed himself into a corner. On one hand, he says he won't discriminate against anyone. On the other, he panders to religious conservatives who have made anti-LGBT "religious freedom" legislation their top priority.
It's a tug-of-war that's fun to watch as the career politician flops around trying to keep his place atop the GOP filed of candidates in the governor's race. But flip or flop, it's likely LGBT people will come out on the losing end.
In 2016, Cagle embraced "religious freedom" legislation and criticized Gov. Nathan Deal when he vetoed an omnibus hate bill. He lied about it, too. A year later, trying to improve his relationship with business and civic groups, Cagle balked at the legislation, tried to push the issue to federal lawmakers and remained publicly quiet when colleagues in the state Senate introduced the bill.
And when he formally kicked off his campaign for governor, Cagle said he "will not stand for discrimination in any form."
But now, pushed into a corner by three opponents trying to run to the right on "religious freedom," Cagle acquiesced – even after being given a lifeline by moderates in the Georgia GOP. He's now signed a pledge to enact "religious freedom" legislation as governor. Via AJC:
Asked to elaborate on his stance, the lieutenant governor said in a statement that he will not “stand for discrimination against people of faith, or anyone of that matter.” Prodded on his policy shift, Cagle campaign manager Scott Binkley said he has “consistently supported protections for religious freedom.”
“He believes we need a uniform national standard from the federal government — and that may still come from Congress or from an upcoming Supreme Court decision,” Binkley said. “But in the meantime, Georgia can take action on the state level.”
Cagle had resisted his anti-LGBT urges as the state party squabbled over making the candidates sign a pledge. They didn't and Cagle remained silent. Then the Georgia Republican Assembly resurrected the pledge. As his three challengers – Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sens. Hunter Hill and Michael Williams – agreed to it, Cagle just couldn't resist to pander to GOP primary voters. Via AJC:
The move seemed aimed at depriving Cagle’s three GOP adversaries — or any others considering joining the governor’s race — an opening to pummel him over an issue that’s wildly popular with the party’s conservative base.
The state’s GOP primary electorate tends to skew further to the right than the broader Republican vote, and activists routinely pass resolutions encouraging lawmakers to pass the measure.
It’s also a sign that Cagle is willing to alienate Deal and the state’s leading business boosters — who both disdain the measure — to try to shirk off the image that he’s part of the GOP establishment.
To recap, if Cagle, Kemp, Hill or Williams win in 2018, the governor's office will no longer provide a bulkhead against the anti-LGBT whims of lawmakers. Who knew we'd miss Deal this much.