Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has headed into scandalous headwinds as he approaches the gubernatorial runoff.
Cagle asked Clay Tippins, who lost in the gubernatorial primary, for an endorsement. Tippins secretly recorded their conversation and released it to the media. Why? Tippins says he believes Georgia politics is corrupt. He says whether he is on the ballot or not, he is still committed to exposing corruption. Tippins believes the Georgia GOP is presenting weak candidates as the Democrats become hungrier for victory. He thinks if the Republicans do not clean up from within, the voters will do it for them.
Tippins is also a huge proponent of school choice in Georgia and went to the state legislature to advocate for a school choice bill being blocked by state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, his uncle, who presides over the Senate Education Committee. In their conversations, Clay Tippins learned Cagle also was blocking school choice legislation.
However, Sen. Tippins ultimately revealed the legislation passed March 29 because Cagle wanted to block former state Sen. Hunter Hill, a gubernatorial foe in the May 22 primary, from getting several million dollars from the Walton Family Foundation to help his campaign. The foundation supports school choice. The senator also claims Cagle wanted that money for himself and thought if he pushed the legislation, he could get that money.
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The legislation involved privately funded scholarships for poor families to go to Georgia private schools. It is one of the few ways Georgians can direct the spending of their tax dollars. A citizen of Georgia can donate to a state sponsored scholarship fund, get a dollar for dollar tax credit, and help poor kids go to better schools. The Walton Family Foundation is a huge proponent of these scholarships as was Hill during his time in the state Senate. Cagle has been a consistent opponent until this year.
When Clay Tippins went to meet with Cagle after the Georgia primary, he asked Cagle about passing the school choice legislation. On the recording, Cagle blasted school choice advocates and claimed the legislation is terrible policy designed to ruin public schools. But Cagle said he had to pass the legislation because otherwise the Walton Family Foundation would flood money into Hill’s campaign. Cagle did not go so far, in the recording, to claim he wanted the money for himself, but Tippins’ uncle, the state senator, insists Cagle told him that in their own conversation.
The recording is problematic on two fronts. First, the state scholarship program has been proven to be one of the best ways to get poor kids in Georgia a better education. The program is hugely popular across demographics. Cagle has campaigned as a supporter but reveals privately how much contempt he has for the program. If he gets elected governor, we can be pretty sure school reform will be set back in Georgia.
Second, Georgia law makes it a felony for an elected official to advance legislation in exchange for anything of value. If Sen. Tippins is right that Cagle wanted a campaign donation, Cagle arguably committed a felony. If Cagle is telling the truth that he wanted to stop an opponent from getting money, he also arguably committed a felony because that too would be a valuable benefit to him. Whether there was a crime or not, he certainly gave Democrats a scandal to amplify with the press. How long before the Democrat district attorneys in Dekalb or Fulton counties convene a grand jury?
Erick Erickson is host of Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB Radio.