Moore, who is entering his third week in office, stood before the House on Monday morning and apologized to his fellow lawmakers, the voters in his District 22 and the entire state of Georgia — though he also criticized those who publicly bashed him.
“It is unfortunate that the language in this bill has been used by my political opponents to cause fear in Georgia’s families. What happened last Friday did not move us forward as a state, and certainly did not move us forward as a party,” Moore told the House. “Although my intent was pure, and my mistakes were honest, I am ultimately responsible for all my actions.”
The 37-year-old freshman Republican’s House Bill 1033 would have decriminalized the crime of loitering and made it so some sex offenders could linger at schools and other places with children.
The proposal caused a widespread public outcry of both officials and residents who called for Moore to step down from office, only weeks after he won a runoff Feb. 4 to finish out the term of the late Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton). On Friday, more than a dozen state lawmakers, some of them high-ranking leaders, stood before the House and, with words like “callous” and “egregious,” firmly condemned the bill.
In his speech Monday, Moore said he had received hundreds of angry emails, text messages and phone calls since then.
“Some quite threatening,” he said. “So to my political opponents: touché. You must see me as an actual threat.”
Moore called the bill a “rookie mistake” that could have been avoided if his fellow legislators would have come to him to offer guidance instead of chastising him in front of the House and in the media. He also said he never knew the media was going to be able to see the bill before a vote was approaching.
“Those who spoke publicly aired what should have been a quiet, private, constructive conversation the night before,” Moore told the House. “This controversy could have been avoided with proactive communication.”
Moore has said the purpose of the bill was initially to preserve Fifth Amendment rights to silence, because Georgia’s loitering laws made it illegal to not give police your name. Speaking to the House on Monday, Moore conceded that the controversy could have been avoided if he sought guidance from his colleagues before turning in the bill.
“In hindsight, this rookie mistake was silly,” he said. “I am mature enough to admit that … I am a passionate, driven person. But if you believe that I need to slow down, just mention a number to me: 1033.”
Since news of Moore’s bill broke Friday and his statements that he didn’t think it was dangerous went public, outrage has spread even among his supporters. Others defended Moore, with some opinionated articles online alleging the statements made by House members were part of a smear campaign directed at Moore not because of the bill, but his politics in general.
Reportedly, by the time House Bill 1033 became public, Moore had already begun to raise eyebrows at the Capitol by a number of “no” votes he made. One of those votes was on the state budget, making Moore one of only four House members to vote against it. Moore explained on his website he voted against the budget because it helped implement the Affordable Care Act.
Those pushing the idea of a conspiracy pointed with suspicion to the announcement Friday that Meagan Biello, a Cherokee teacher who lost to Moore in the runoff, was running against him again in the May primary.
Several of the lawmakers who spoke against Moore’s bill Friday gave to Biello’s campaign during the runoff, according to filings with the state ethics commission. Detractors accused House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), who gave $1,300 to Biello’s campaign, of orchestrating the attacks on Moore.
Ralston, though, told reporters the condemnation of Moore’s bill had nothing to do with Biello.
“When I sent her that contribution, I had no idea he was going to introduce a bill that would repeal restrictions on pedophiles and sex offenders in Georgia, and if I would have known that I wish I could have sent her more,” Ralston said Monday. “This had nothing to do with that.”
Ralston added Moore had been guided by leaders and given literature on how to be successful in the House days before he turned in the bill. The speaker said it was troubling that Moore didn’t outright condemn the bill during his apology.
For Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), who spoke out against the bill Friday but had not contributed to Biello, the bill was a problem for him — no matter who presented it.
“I have a track record of being intellectually consistent and calling out wrong when it is wrong,” Turner said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter if it is the speaker or Rep. Moore, if I believe the source is wrong, I have shown I will speak out.”
Biello said Friday she had already made her decision to run, but Moore’s bill spurred her on.
A Facebook page was created saying Ball Ground Mayor Rick Roberts was running against Moore, because “I love cops and kids,” but Roberts said it was a hoax he had nothing to do with.
In Moore’s speech before the House on Monday, he made no specific mention of the theories of an orchestrated attack by Ralston and other leaders such as House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire), who spoke against the bill Friday and had also donated to Biello.
“I have politely declined all advice to use this speech to rouse my political opponents,” Moore told the House. “Instead, I would rather this be the first step of a second chance. Please allow me to take it, and please take it with me.”