Opinion Columns & Blogs

Standing firm in the face of money

Our own state senator, John Kennedy, deserves a measure of praise this week. He sits on the Regulated Industries Committee in the Georgia state Senate and, as one of the Senate Republican leaders, has seen a large number of lobbyists for the casino industry directing money his way.

Sen. Kennedy returned their checks. It is rare for a politician to do that. I even know a few legislators in the Georgia General Assembly who took the checks, but opposed the casino. Sen. Kennedy was having nothing to do with it and he joined his colleagues on the committee to kill the casinos. That was a very good thing.

This fight will be had again. The casino lobbyists have targeted Atlanta for destruction and no matter how many studies come out showing just how much it would increase crime, human trafficking, addiction and bankruptcies, they will not be persuaded. Their latest effort had been to claim a casino would save the HOPE scholarship, while concurrently agreeing to reduce the amount of money that would flow to the scholarship. The flow was reduced and redirected to, more or less, bribe other legislators into supporting it. Some wanted more money for rural health care. Others wanted funding for trauma care. But each time the allocations were changed, the more they put the scholarship in jeopardy.

One of the forgotten side effects of the casino legislation was the demand that the so called “destination resort” have an entertainment venue. As anyone who has been to a casino anywhere the country can attest, casinos are willing to pay large sums to attract notable performances. Doing that in Atlanta would undercut the Tabernacle, the Fox Theater, the Atlanta Civic Center, and many other venues. In fact, the local business community in Atlanta had become increasingly vocal against the casino prior to its demise for the legislative year.

State Rep. Allen Peake is also making news for medical marijuana. Rep. Peake hopes to expand the categories for which the drug can be used to include autism, Tourettes, and other illnesses. The Legislature is undoubtedly getting ahead of the science on this, but even Rep. Peake’s colleagues recognize his tenacious commitment. His legislation has made it out of the House, though it always makes it out of the House. The Senate is always the problem and will be again this year.

One matter that will again not get through the Legislature is the state version of the religious freedom restoration act. The Republicans have decided to serve money and fear Hollywood will yank its film industry out of Georgia. While maintaining that “it would never happen here,” Georgia just spent over $200,000 of your money to pay a doctor in a court settlement.

The doctor had been lured away from California to become a regional director of Georgia’s Department of Public Health. But when people found out he spent his weekends serving as a lay minister, the state demanded he hand over copies of his sermons. When he refused, they fired him. They will now pay him for that. This is a case that should never have happened to begin with. It was highly inappropriate for the state to ask for his sermons.

More and more across the country the “it will never happen here” excuse is falling flat in the face of increased harassment of Christian small businesses. Having researched the issue for my book “You Will Be Made to Care,” there is no doubt the targeting is intentional. If the state will not act, the Trump administration needs to.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.