Charlie Harper: The goveror's gun gathering

April 29, 2014 

Last Wednesday was an especially beautiful day for a drive up to Ellijay, Georgia. There, on the banks of the Coosawattee River, Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 60 -- the "gun bill" -- into law. Despite the location well off the beaten path -- even well off the main road -- the Governor wasn't exactly alone for the bill signing.

The event attracted a couple of hundred people as witnesses. The members of Georgia Carry -- Georgia's most prominent grassroots group that promotes protection of the Second Amendment -- were on hand for a barbecue to celebrate the passage. Members of the press were also plentiful, with satellite trucks from Georgia and national media filling one of the overflow parking lots nearby. The Governor was flanked by many members of the Georgia House. Chief among them was their chief, Speaker David Ralston.

The pageantry and the location surrounding the event were no accident. Ellijay is in Speaker Ralston's House district. Ralston faces a primary challenge from Sam Snider who is, not coincidentally, from Ellijay. The bill signing was a direct demonstration of power -- and results -- in the ultra-conservative area north of Atlanta.

Speakers included bill co-sponsor Rick Jasperse from just down Highway 5 in Jasper, adding a neighborly endorsement of Ralston's and the Governor's efforts. Public Safety Committee Chair Alan Powell took a good natured swipe at New Yorkers in his remarks. Rules Chairman and co-sponsor John Meadows welcomed everyone, adding, "I'll even welcome the press."

The Speaker broke from his prepared remarks to mention a "thank you" he received from a lady in the crowd as he arrived at the event. She was a self-described 60-year-old who had just received her concealed carry permit. She told him that she likes to hike, and the murder of Meridith Emerson was always in her memory. Ralston told the crowd that as long as he was speaker, no law abiding Georgian "would have to run and hide from a bad guy."

While protests were announced, it seemed that the closest the speakers could find in attendance were some members of the press corps itself. Privately, some elected officials were enjoying the tortured maneuvers that some were having calling the bill an example of right-wing extremism while explaining why the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor also voted for the bill.

And yet, the focus for the campaign event was as much about documenting results to a Republican voter base as it was to playing defense ahead of a November general election. Protesters from the right had also rumbled about making an appearance. An upstart gun group that bills itself as a "no compromise" organization believes that HB 60 doesn't go far enough. Though their presence was not clearly visible, their public statements mean we can now add gun rights to the list of wedge issues that will evoke an "all or nothing" following among parts of the GOP base.

The Governor, of course, is not without his own primary challenge from the far right. Former Dalton Mayor David Pennington seems to share many of the same detractors that are also supporting Snider over Ralston. It's causing some within the GOP to question if that means Georgia's leaders are "too establishment," or if some people just can't be pleased.

Those who would say the GOP has it "just right" point to a record of not only the gun bill becoming law, but Georgia's resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention, successful passage not only of this year's bill that restricts abortion coverage in state health plans but of the "fetal pain" bill a couple of years ago. Add to those a bill that prohibits state cooperation in executing the Affordable Care Act and restricts the Governor's ability to expand Medicaid coverage and you have to wonder how much room remains to the right of these issues that has a few less than pleased.

Georgia is a state that Democrats have vowed to turn dark purple if not fully blue within four years. They're putting up a decent run this year. A presidential election cycle in 2016 and presumptively most statewide offices lacking incumbents in 2018 means their mission will just get easier going forward.

And yet, there are those who believe the GOP isn't governing from a conservative enough posture. They believe the party isn't pure enough.

There's a problem with trying to please those who can't be pleased. It's obvious, and it's that you can't. The only real question is why one would continue trying.

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

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