During the period of its Republican ascendancy, Georgia has always been a special place for the Christian right. It was, after all, Ralph Reed’s stomping grounds until his career took a turn for the worse with a lurid scandal involving casino gambling. It has also been the home base of former congresswoman and national anti-abortion icon Karen Handel, who, believe it or not, lost a gubernatorial runoff in 2010 because she wasn’t extreme enough on abortion. Georgia’s delegations to Washington have recently included such colorful religious wing nuts as Paul Broun Jr., an anti-evolution (“a lie from the pit of hell”) member of the House Science Committee, and Jody Hice, who denies the major world religion called Islam is a religion at all.
So it’s no surprise at all that Brian Kemp ran for governor last year as a “politically incorrect conservative” on a ticket with longtime Georgia Christian Coalition leader and insurance commissioner, Jim Beck, or that Kemp cheerfully signed legislation adding his state to the list of Constitution defiers banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is usually around the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
But both Kemp and Beck, and with them the Christian right, have had a very bad week.
Kemp received a firm slap in the face from one of Georgia’s most important cash cows, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:
Gov. Brian Kemp postponed an annual trip to Los Angeles to promote Georgia’s film industry on Tuesday as a growing number of movie executives and celebrities criticized his decision to sign the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill into law.
Abortion rights activists had threatened to protest the May 22 event, and Georgia film executives were worried that tepid turnout and no-shows from studio chiefs could do lasting damage to the state’s movie-making business.
You have to appreciate that the film industry is a really big deal in Georgia, having an estimated $9.5 billion economic impact in fiscal year 2017, when 320 movie and television productions were shot in the state. So Kemp is caught in a dilemma involving two causes dear to the hearts of the conservatives of his state: ending legal abortion and making a quick buck.
But longtime Christian-right stalwart Jim Beck is in more immediate trouble, the AJC reports:
Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck was accused Tuesday by a federal grand jury of stealing more than $2 million from his former employer.
The 38-count indictment charges Beck, an ex-insurance lobbyist and long-time leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, with fraud and money laundering in an elaborate scheme to defraud the Georgia Underwriting Association. With the stolen cash, the Republican allegedly paid his credit card bills and taxes — and even funded the 2018 campaign that landed him in office.
Beck’s, whose lawyers said he denies the charges, is expected to surrender to U.S. Marshals on Wednesday in downtown Atlanta, said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.
This is an additional headache for Kemp, because under Georgia law he must decide whether an elected official under indictment should be suspended from office:
Under state law, if Beck doesn’t resign or ask to be suspended, the governor can act after a 14-day waiting period if he determines the charges relate to the performance of his duties as commissioner. The governor would appoint a three-person commission to look into the charges. If they believe the charges relate to his duties, the governor must suspend the official and name a temporary replacement.
Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t immediately comment Tuesday on what he’ll do.
He may have been praying to his angry God for guidance.