Secret recording: Casey Cagle admits backing bad policy for political gain

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Casey Cagle

Georgia Lt. Governor (and Republican gubernatorial frontrunner) Casey Cagle has been secretly recorded by Republican rival Clay Tippins. On the tape Cagle can be heard confessing to blatant levels of political cynicism.

On the recording, Cagle admits to Tippins that he backed “bad public policy” in order to prevent a foundation from donating $3 million in campaign funding to another rival, Hunter Hill, in the recent Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary.

Although it is not clear if the $3 million would ever have materialized, it is clear Cagle was willing to support legislation he disagreed with for short-term electoral advantage.

Cagle openly told this to Tippins while Tippins was recording the conversation on his iPhone.

Oops.

“It ain’t about public policy. It’s about $%&*! politics.”

In a recording obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, Casey Cagle shows remarkably little judgement as he willingly explains to a recent electoral rival something he would never want to be revealed in public.

Lt Governor Cagle had for many years been opposing a system of tax breaks for parents paying for private education. One of his partners in this effort was Georgia Senator Lindsey Tippins, Clay Tippins’ uncle. Clay Tippins visited Cagle at his DeKalb County headquarters to ask him why he had flip-flopped on the issue and (despite the calculated cynicism he was about to confess to) Cagle willingly told Tippens everything he wanted to know.

It is a complex story, and a bit of background is necessary to understanding it fully. Casey Cagle, Clay Tippins, and Hunter Hill all ran against each other in the May 24th Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary. The top two finishers, Cagle and another candidate (Secretary of State Brian Kemp) have progressed to a run-off on July 24th. Many observers think that Cagle feared Hill as a runoff opponent, and much preferred Kemp.

$3 million in outside money late in the race backing Hill might have been enough to get him into the next round, and Cagle was desperate to prevent this.

The cost of preventing the outside money from pouring in? A reversal on private school funding, known as the SSO bill.

According to the transcript:

Cagle: So, I just told Lindsey point-blank. I said, “Lindsey, the SSO bill, I’ve got to have it.”…

Tippins: Why? You turned on him. And there are reasons for that. Why did you have to have it?

Cagle: Exactly the reason I told Lindsey, that you need to listen to: It ain’t about public policy. It’s about (expletive) politics. There’s a group that was getting ready to put $3 million behind Hunter Hill.

Hunter Hill ultimately finished third in the primary, and Cagle will now face his preferred opponent Brian Kemp in the runoff. But now that his political calculus has been made public, Cagle may find the price of his success an extremely steep one.

The fallout for Casey Cagle

Georgia’s one party consent law makes what Clay Tippins did to Cagle entirely legal. Caught red-handed, Cagle is issuing no denials, and is instead doing his best to limit the damage.

In an interview with the Journal-Constitution and Channel 2, the two media outlets who revealed the original recording, Cagle said, “In terms of the importance of doing something good for Georgia, we did. And I’m proud of what we accomplished.

“Just like President Trump didn’t get everything he wanted on the budget deal or the tax cut, it was certainly for the greater good. My record speaks for itself.”

One of Cagle’s perceived weaknesses is his status as a political insider. Comparing his own record to cynical Washington DC horse-trading might not play as well with Georgia voters as he hopes it will.

A runoff in the heat of the Georgia summer is bound to feature a very low turnout, and as a result, only the most dedicated and motivated voters are likely to show up. Cagle cannot afford to alienate a single member of his base, nor can he afford to energize detractors to vote against him. But this recording may do just that.

Meanwhile, at the Abrams campaign…

For Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, Christmas seems to have come early. Not only did she win her primary by more than enough to avoid a runoff herself, but now her most likely opponent in November is in the process of self-destruction. Widely viewed as a long-shot to win the Governor’s Mansion in a state as red as Georgia, the odds of Abrams winning will have shortened significantly following the revelation.

One thing that is far from clear in the reporting so far is why Clay Tippins decided to record and then expose his conversation with Casey Cagle in the first place.

On the Politically Georgia podcast, Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Blustein expressed a plausible theory: Tippins was motivated by clean, old-fashioned hate.

“Let’s be clear about this, they were not allies in the entire campaign,” Blustein explained. “Not only did Clay Tippins go after Hunter Hill, but he also went after Casey Cagle relentlessly…He called him a career politician… He viscerally seemed to dislike Casey Cagle on the debate stage. This was not some sort of adversary. He was a deep-seeded rival.”

Whatever Tippins’ motivation for wanting to sabotage Casey Cagle’s gubernatorial campaign, it appears to have worked to some extent. Just how successful he will be is still to be determined.

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