Charlie Harper: Burning down the House

February 25, 2014 

Friday morning in the Georgia House of Representatives didn't exactly go according to script. Freshman Sam Moore saw to that, though not the way he probably would have hoped.

Moore, elected to fill the unexpired term of the late Rep. Calvin Hill, only won a runoff for the seat earlier this month. He wasted little time in authoring bills that reflect his campaign rhetoric and libertarian philosophy, and filed two of those late last week.

The first bill proposes eliminating Georgia's statutes that make loitering and prowling crimes, and would strip language from Georgia code that prohibits convicted sex offenders from hanging around schools and other places where children gather. The second bill would allow citizens to "use deadly force against law enforcement officers who attempt violent entry into home without first knocking and announcing identity and purpose …"

The problem was made worse by Friday's news headlines. Moore answered a question from his local Cherokee Tribune newspaper about repealing the section of the loitering law that allowed predators to go near places where children congregate with "I'm O.K. with that."

In less than 24 hours, a newly minted representative offered bills that would allow child molesters to hang around schools, and people to shoot police officers. The reaction was swift and harsh.

At the start of Friday's business in the House, most members of the leadership, including Majority Leader Larry O'Neil, Rules Chairman John Meadows (who indicated that he held the ability to keep any legislation ever proposed by Moore from reaching the House floor - and he likely would do that) and GOP Caucus Chairman Matt Hatchett led off a group of roughly a dozen members who wanted to make sure that the bill neither reflected neither the values of the Republican party, nor those of the House or the state as a whole.

As with any good firestorm, supporters of Moore from the Campaign for Liberty and the Tea Party chose to support their man, but decided to blame the House Leadership and "GOP establishment" for this spectacle. They began circulating donations made from GOP leadership to Moore's opponent as proof that somehow there was a conspiracy to make Moore introduce really bad legislation.

In life, sometimes people can mess up all on their own, without the aid of a conspiracy. And sometimes, looking at all the available evidence, rather than just what you want to see, will help determine the truth.

Members of House leadership were not the only ones to speak unvarnished truths about Moore's legislation. Fellow Republican freshman from Cherokee County Scot Turner, also a member of the House's conservative/libertarian wing known for being independent of House leadership, implored his colleagues from the well, saying "I beg of you … this is not what liberty looks like."

Another ally who has been bold in challenging leadership is Freshman John Pezold. While others were speaking, he sent out a statement reading in part "… If Mr. Moore's mission was to come down to the state Capitol and alienate his colleagues by staking out positions that no one in their right mind could agree with, he can now hang a 'mission accomplished' banner behind him because he has done just that."

Pezold and Turner, along with other members who have generally attempted to institute reforms within the GOP caucus, were upset enough to communicate concern that their efforts will be marginalized in the future, as it will be easy to paint them with the same brush as Moore. Given their background, it's illogical and irrational to include them in a leadership conspiracy to make Rep. Moore look bad.

Moore, for his part, told the waiting press outside the House chamber Friday afternoon that he was just inexperienced, and that if leadership had just offered assistance then his bills would have achieved their intentions without being worded so horrifically wrong.

Which brings up the final piece of evidence as who is and who isn't dealing in good faith in this episode. For Moore to claim that leadership should have worked with him, one would have to believe that Moore would even be willing to work with leadership. Instead, Moore sent out an email on Friday morning urging support for a bill which would "nullify Obamacare." It contained the following:

"… Before the bill was even filed, our sources at the Capitol in Atlanta told us that "leadership" in the General Assembly and the Governor's office were scheming to kill the bill.

"You see, many politicians don't want to take a bold stand on anything that might be considered "controversial," especially during an election year.

"These politicians would much rather pass meaningless resolutions and half-measures that they can 'sell' to unsuspecting constituents back home.

"And really, if they can buy votes by spending your tax dollars in their districts, all the better from their point of view.

"Don't be fooled by the excuses and explanations these politicians will try to make!"

These are not the words of someone who would solicit nor accept the help of leadership. These are the words of someone not trying to reform an institution, but trying to burn the place down with everyone in it.

And those aren't my words. Those are from one of his colleagues, someone trying to reform the institution, who knows Sam Moore just made his job a lot harder.

Allowing predators near playgrounds and declaring open season on police officers is a swift 1-2 punch to Rep. Moore's political career, but he delivered the combination himself.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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