ATLANTA (AP) - When Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recently vetoed bills allowing guns on college campuses and shielding religious people who deny people services based on their faith, he was directly bucking his fellow Republican lawmakers, who overwhelmingly supported the proposals, and possibly losing points with his conservative political base.
Why would he do such a thing?
The answer may lie at least partly in term limits and corporate persuasion, observers say.
Deal never needs to win over the Republican base again. Georgia’s Constitution limits governors to two consecutive terms, and Deal, 73, plans to retire at the end of his second and final term.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said the term limits, coupled with the outpour of opposition on both issues, likely factored into the governor’s decision to veto the bills.
While conservative lawmakers spoke loudly, the sound of Georgia’s economic powerhouses may have been louder in Deal’s ear.
The state’s business community and economic giants including Apple, the Walt Disney Co. and the NFL campaigned against the religious bill — which many viewed as a slam at gay marriage — and warned it would jeopardize Georgia’s economy.
In his veto announcement, which came five days after a North Carolina law curtailing LGBT rights provoked a political firestorm there, Deal focused on legal precedent and creating a “welcoming state.” His entire gubernatorial career has been staked on Georgia’s business reputation.
Meanwhile, Bullock noted that the so-called “campus carry” bill has been kicked around the legislature for years, failing to make it as far as the governor’s desk until now. He said this suggests it could be lobbying interests, and not the strong beliefs of the legislators that helped the bill pass this time around.
“I believe that some of the legislators that voted for it wouldn’t feel that strongly about it,” Bullock said. “It’s not something they would necessarily go to the wall for.” So the political cost of Deal’s veto might not be overwhelming.
His veto contrasted with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who allowed a bill permitting colleges’ faculty and staff to carry handguns to become law without his signature Monday.
Richard Pacelle, head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said Deal likely faced more pressure for a veto than Haslam, due to Georgia’s diversity compared to Tennessee.
“Georgia is a state that many people think will be purple in the near future, whereas Tennessee will likely stay red,” Pacelle said.
Deal initially didn’t object to the “campus carry” bill. But after lawmakers approved it over protests from the powerful Board of Regents, which governs the state university system, and all 29 campuses’ presidents, he asked legislators to exempt on-campus day cares and other spaces. Legislative leaders rejected the suggestion, a direct challenge to Deal’s authority with more than two years remaining in his term.
Eric Tanenblatt, who served as chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, said he doesn’t think any legislator should have been surprised by Deal’s two high-profile vetoes. The governor spoke publicly about his concerns, but the legislature didn’t respond, Tanenblatt said.
“The governor needed to follow through on his word,” Tanenblatt said. “I think he’s sending a signal to the legislature: ‘This is what I said was important, and I hope you take me seriously.’”
Rep. Rick Jasperse, a Republican from Jasper, sponsored the gun bill. He said he thinks Deal’s reputation with conservative lawmakers will take a hit, but they plan to move forward working with the governor.
“The way I look at it, this is a great civics lesson,” Jasperse said. “With the legislature, I’m out here listening to the people then the governor gets to do what he wants. Does he lose credibility? I think maybe a little, but I feel we still have to work with the governor.”
House Speaker David Ralston, who staunchly supported the campus carry bill, said, “We’re a big party and sometimes we respectfully disagree.”
But, he said, the campus carry issue isn’t going away.
“Obviously we know we have a disagreement on this, but that’s an issue I’m not going to quit fighting for - to protect the rights of Georgians under the Second Amendment.”
John Watson, who also served as a chief of staff to Perdue, said governors have to evaluate the long-term effect of any bill along with lawmakers’ wishes and potential response. In this case, Watson expects Deal to preserve a good working relationship with House and Senate leaders.
“I believe there still will be areas of common ground and a common desire to work together,” Watson said.
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