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Political Pulse: Immigration bill doesn’t go down easily

POSTED: March 8, 2012 11:30 p.m.

I'm not cool enough to sit in the Georgia Senate press gallery. In the House press gallery, all are welcome, but in the Senate, you've got to be elite and get there early enough to sit on the bench called the "media corner."


So on Monday, I watched the Senate work from the gallery, seated above with the commonfolk and every Atlanta school kid on a field trip that day.

But looking down, I saw something I wouldn't see on the press level. I saw a black, leather-bound book with gold-lined pages, open and face down on Butch Miller's desk: a Bible.

That's how emotional Senate Bill 458 was. The bill aims to send a message to the University System of Georgia that illegal immigrants are not welcome in Georgia's public colleges and universities. It passed out of the Senate on Monday with the support of all but two Republicans.

As the bill came up for debate, its author, Barry Loudermilk, asked to put the issue on hold. For a second, it seemed the issue wouldn't come up that day, and I moved down to the Senate floor to ask Miller about it. What I found was an internal struggle - by Miller and among Republican members of the Senate.

Miller talked about the impact of the bill on people's lives and posed this scenario: A child's parents bring him to Georgia illegally as an infant or maybe older. He graduates from high school and goes to college. Then, halfway toward earning his degree, someone says, "you're not allowed to finish."

"How do you say that?" Miller said.

It's an argument President Pro Tem Tommie Williams later made on the floor of the Senate before sitting down and voting in favor of the bill. But in that moment when the bill didn't seem like it might be debated Monday, Miller said it was because Republicans were trying to come up "with a good law," one that didn't penalize children who were brought here.

"We're looking for some opportunity to do what would be fair and reasonable and acceptable to all concerned," Miller said.

Miller told me the Bible on his desk was there because of SB 458. Earlier in the morning, he spoke against the bill in a meeting of Senate Republicans.

Another Republican argued that no matter how they got here, once illegal immigrants graduate from college, they won't be able to get a job, rendering their education useless. But Miller wondered aloud to me if that would always be true. By the time those kids graduate, there could be a new federal guest worker or a naturalization program in place.

"There may be other opportunities," he said. "We don't know what's coming down the road."

Miller, a prominent businessman, often talks in "money lines." And on this subject, this is what he said it was.

"Constitutionally, we charge the Board of Regents with the responsibility of making these decisions. And then, we go and meddle in these decisions," Miller said. "If you give a body the authority and the latitude to make these decisions, you need to let them make these decisions."

(My colleague, Lee Johnson, will have more on the Board of Regents' take on Monday's debate in Sunday's edition of The Times.)

As for Miller, when the bill came back up at the end of the day - essentially the same as the one tabled earlier in the day - he voted in favor of it. He said he had no choice.

"There were no good options," he told me as he drove back to Gainesville.

A few notes on the 9th District U.S. House race:

  • I ran into Clifton McDuffie on Tuesday night at the Hall GOP election night watch party. He announced his bid for the new 9th District seat back in October. He says he filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission this week and plans to ramp up his campaign soon.
  •  Rep. Doug Collins also launched a YouTube channel to promote his campaign for Congress this week. In one video, he discusses how he stood up to Georgia's former House speaker and will vote "no" if "leadership's wrong." In another, Collins mentions that he's the "consistent conservative in action." Expect that a lot from his campaign this year.

Ashley Fielding is the senior political reporter for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with her:
afielding@gainesvilletimes.com
facebook.com/ashleylfielding
@HallCoPolitics



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