Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle pushed a bill he thought was “bad” in “a thousand different ways” in the Georgia General Assembly to hurt the election chances of Republican gubernatorial foe Hunter Hill, then a state senator, according to a taped conversation released by another former rival.
The revelation was made Thursday through reporting from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which obtained audio of a discussion between Cagle and Clay Tippins, a former Republican candidate who was knocked out of the race in the May 22 primary.
Tippins secretly recorded the conversation and released it to the AJC, which has published both the audio and a transcript of the conversation, and WSB-Channel 2. The conversation between Tippins and Cagle happened on May 24.
The talk between the candidates centers on Tippins’ uncle, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, formerly the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and a bill that raised the cap on tax credit for donations to private schools to $100 million — a bill that Cagle said was bad policy for the state, but that he pushed anyway for political reasons.
In the past, Lindsey Tippins, Cagle and other Senate leaders supported a lower cap for the payments, which help fund private schools by allowing individuals and corporations to receive a tax credit equal to their donation.
Cagle told former candidate Tippins that he picked his uncle for education chairman in the past because the two men see eye-to-eye on a vast majority of issues, and that education is for Cagle his “biggest issue, and it’s the issue that I’m the most passionate about, that I care the most, it’s where I focus my efforts.”
But in the end, Cagle pushed for a much higher limit on tax credits against Sen. Tippins’ wishes.
“It ain’t about public policy. It’s about (expletive) politics,” Cagle said in the audio. “There’s a group that was getting ready to put $3 million behind Hunter Hill. Mr. Pro-Choice. I mean, Mr. Pro-Charters, vouchers.”
The vote staved off an education policy super PAC, The Walton Foundation, that was preparing to put $3 million behind the gubernatorial campaign of Hunter Hill, who finished third in the primary behind Cagle and runner-up Brian Kemp.
The news likely shreds any chance the lieutenant governor had of landing endorsements from either Tippins or Hill, who both viciously attacked Cagle in the primary race.
Together, they took more than 35 percent of the primary vote in May, and their supporters could have a huge effect on the race.
The news could also embarrass Cagle’s colleagues who supported the bill in the state Senate, many of whom have publicly backed the lieutenant governor, including a handful who spoke on Cagle’s behalf at his primary night party in Gainesville.
In a prepared statement, Cagle said he had a “good meeting” with Clay Tippins and “openly and honestly answered” his questions about the bill.
“I’m a longtime and consistent supporter of conservative reforms that expand school choice,” Cagle said in the statement. “When a school choice bill failed in 2017, I promised advocates I’d work to get a bill passed in 2018. That’s exactly what I did. I kept my word. The bill wasn’t perfect — and I said that to Clay — but we reached a broad agreement, while no side got everything it wanted.”
He noted that “every bill has political implications” but said his record shows he’s supported good legislation for students and families.
Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, a supporter of Cagle and the president pro tem of the state Senate, called into question the ethics of Tippins for secretly recording a conversation that edged up against entrapment.
“I don’t know Mr. Tippins, and I don’t think that I’ve ever met Mr. Tippins, but I would say without question any individual that enters into a conversation with the express purpose of recording and entrapping individuals is less than honorable and ethical,” Miller told The Times on Friday, June 8, “and his character should be measured accordingly.”
Meanwhile, the candidate who apparently had the most to lose from the act said the revelation was sad.
“This type of behavior does nothing but hurt Georgians who benefit from honest representation and good, conservative policy,” Hill said in a statement. “I worked hard in the state Senate to advance conservative reforms like school choice with the intention of benefiting our citizens. It’s sad to see those same policies being sold to benefit a career politician’s political ambitions.”
In a statement, Kemp said the revelations raise “serious ethical and legal questions that must be answered immediately” about Cagle’s record.
Tippins told the AJC that he released the recording for transparency’s sake.
“I hope voters are furious. I was,” he said to the AJC. “That’s why I did this.”