National right-wing state-level freedom caucus launches at Georgia Capitol

By: - December 14, 2021 8:18 pm

Sen. Greg Dolezal announces the launch of the Georgia Freedom Caucus in front of a group of state legislators from around the country. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

State lawmakers from around the country came to Georgia’s Capitol Tuesday to announce a network of state freedom caucuses modeled after and supported by the one in the U.S. House.

Cumming Republican Sen. Greg Dolezal, chair of the new Georgia Freedom Caucus, said the goal is to promote conservative values in state legislatures around the country.

“The state Freedom Caucus will work in each state and among states to secure rights, to defend liberty, to protect each state’s sovereignty,” he said. “The Biden administration is determined to change seemingly every aspect of the American way of life, open border policies, embracing the tenets of critical race theory, and spending our nation into oblivion. We need a local statewide effort to fight that.”

Behind him were about 40 state legislators from Wyoming, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, Arizona, Iowa, Illinois, Texas, Alaska, Idaho and Nevada.

“Georgia is the first, but it’s not going to be the last,” said Republican strategist Andy Roth, president of the umbrella group State Freedom Caucus Network. “All of these men and women behind me have been isolated and ostracized by special interests by the establishment in both parties, and all because they believe in freedom, in limited government. The State Freedom Caucus Network was created to give them a loud voice in our state Capitols. This means they will now have the resources and the manpower to fight back.”

Georgia’s contingent includes Rep. Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg, Rep. Charlice Byrd of Cherokee County, Rep. Emory Dunahoo of Gillsville, Rep. Sheri Gilligan of Cumming, Rep. Timothy Barr of Lawrenceville and Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson. Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta also stood with the group Tuesday.

Singleton said the new caucus is following the national group’s lead and not publishing a list of members, though they are free to reveal that they belong to the caucus.

“Every state is going to be different, in Georgia there’s a long history of retribution against members that don’t toe the line,” Singleton said. “Our membership is much deeper and wider than expected, certainly by leadership. There’s a hunger and a desire to drive the state, there are a lot of legislators that really want to see legislation that they care about, that they believe in, like educational freedom, they want to see those types of things passed. And we’re much stronger if our full strength is not known.”

Roth said Singleton was the primary reason for the network to begin in Georgia. The outspoken conservative has often found himself at odds with the powerful House Speaker David Ralston and now finds himself drawn into a heavily Democratic district, which Ralston denies is political payback.

The new caucus could be a headache factory for more moderate Republicans like Ralston. The U.S. House Freedom Caucus famously clashed with former House Speaker John Boehner during the Obama administration and helped open the way for more conservative-leaning Republicans like Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene to be elected. Greene is a member, according to the about page on her House website.

In next year’s legislative session, the caucus’ top priorities will be lowering the state income tax and keeping so-called dangerous ideologies out of schools, Dolezal said, adding that he views blocking bad legislation as equally important to supporting good bills.

“I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘You know what Georgia needs tomorrow? More law and regulation,’” he said. “So, we’re going to make sure that we’re also working with our colleagues to stop legislation to increase the size and scope of government, that reduces the liberties among citizens of Georgia.”

Jones, who is running for lieutenant governor, said the caucus will also serve to protect conservatives.

“Not only was this organization necessary to push towards our individual liberties and freedom but also push against a culture of cancellation that seems to be spreading across our many states in our country, the cancel culture as we call it,” he said. “We’ve even experienced that here with Republican conservative legislators because we spoke out and spoke up against what we call the majority, our party, and I think it’s a sad day when elected officials, the very people that represent constituents across the state, can’t really voice their opinions in these hallowed hallways.”

Jones was stripped of his position as chair of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee earlier this year after he called to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

The launch comes at a fractious time for the state GOP, as pro-Trump Republicans battle it out with establishment conservatives, most visibly in the Republican primary for governor.

Democrats won’t be bothered if Republicans want to fight among themselves, said Congresswoman Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“While the GOP spends the next year engaged in a nasty and divisive internal battle, Democrats are united and laser focused on delivering on the issues that actually affect the lives of everyday Georgians — getting relief to hardworking people, expanding access to health care, and rebuilding our infrastructure from the ground up,” she said.

Dunahoo objected to suggestions the group represents a further crack in party unity, arguing that good conservative legislation will make the Republican party more popular.

“I believe that we’re going to be much stronger as a conservative party, and that we’re not against anybody,” he said. “We want to join a team that makes it stronger, and that’s the ultimate intention of this organization.”

In addition to the announcement at the Capitol, the new caucus members were set to fete former Freedom Caucus chair White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who faces charges of criminal contempt of Congress for failing to appear before a committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, at a Buckhead gala Tuesday night.

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.