ATLANTA — A secretly made audio recording reveals that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle backed a controversial education bill that he admitted was poor policy to prevent a rival candidate for governor from getting millions of dollars in support.
Another rival recorded Cagle’s remarks and gave the audio to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher.
Republican Clay Tippins made the recording while meeting with Cagle two days after the primary, in which Cagle finished first and Tippins finished fourth.
The two discussed whether Tippins would endorse Cagle in the July 24 runoff.
They also talked about the private school tax credit bill Cagle supported in the legislature -- a bill Cagle himself calls bad.
“What I’m doing is providing a window into Casey Cagle’s character,” Tippins said.
In the recording, Cagle says it wasn’t about policy, just politics.
“Is it bad public policy? Between you and me, it is. And I can tell you how it is (in) a thousand different ways,” Cagle said.
Tippins is the second member of his family to oppose the bill in question. His uncle, Sen. Lindsey
Tippins, was chairman of the state Senate education committee when Cagle pressured him to support it in March.
It passed easily, but Sen. Lindsey Tippins voted against it and resigned his chairmanship in protest.
Two months later, Cagle offered his version of the confrontation to Clay Tippins.
“Exactly the reason I told Lindsey that you need to listen to: It ain't about public policy. It's about sh** politics. There's a group that was getting ready to put $3 million behind Hunter Hill,” Cagle said in the recording.
Cagle feared the Walton Family Foundation would make the money available for Hill’s gubernatorial campaign if Cagle didn't push through legislation upping the amount of money Georgians could contribute to student scholarship organizations, called SSOs.
“(Hill) ran out of money in his own campaign. He had nothing to spend down the finish line, but had he had $3 million behind him, against me…?” Cagle said.
Minutes later, Cagle returned to his earlier conversation with Sen. Lindsey Tippins.
“I said, ‘Lindsey, you need to understand this bill is going to happen. It's going to happen.’ Because it had to, to keep the money away from Hunter,” Cagle said. “I mean, I was playing defense. I'm being honest with you.”
Clay Tippins acknowledges some people will see him as a sore loser.
“I lost an election, but the passion that I have for making sure that we have transparent government -- it wasn't about an election,” Tippins said. “I'm taking a stand against a guy who, in his own words, pushed bad public policy -- his view is it's bad public policy – over sh** politics. And I hope other people stand with me on that.”
Tippins said he hopes what people hear on the tape will make them angry.
“I was in the military. People died to make sure we have a government that's responsible for people. It angers me when I see evidence of this thing. It angers me of the brazen nature of this thing. I hope they're furious. I was. That's why I did this,” Tippins said.
Cagle declined Belcher’s request for an on-camera interview but sent the following statement saying he “openly and honestly” answered his rival’s questions and that voters shouldn’t doubt where he stands on education policy.
“I had a good meeting with Clay. He had a lot of questions and I openly and honestly answered them all. I’m a longtime and consistent supporter of conservative reforms that expand school choice. 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. For me, I would like to see scholarships focused more directly on children in financial need.
“Every bill of import has political implications, but my record shows that throughout my career I’ve fought to give parents and children options so they can find what’s best for their family. I’ve supported charter school legislation, I created the College and Career Academy system and I’ve supported the tax credit for private school scholarships.
“Voters should have no doubt where I stand: As governor, I’ll advocate for and sign legislation that expands education options and opportunity.”
The Walton Family Foundation declined comment on the recording and said it has not spent any money in the Georgia gubernatorial race. Even if the foundation had made millions available, that kind of money would have gone to a so-called super PAC, where the source is shielded from public inspection.
Listen to the full audio recording below:
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