February 29, 2024 11:32 am
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With election season, Coastal Georgia lawmakers turn attention to libraries

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Craig NelsonThe Current

Savannah’s five-term state senator, Ben Watson, has joined 18 other Georgia Republicans in the state’s upper house as a sponsor of legislation that takes aim at the oldest and largest library association in the world.

The measure, SB 390, would bar city, county, and regional library trustees and the State University System of Georgia from using “any public or privately donated funds on any materials, services or operations offered by the American Library Association or any of its affiliates.”

Georgia state Sen. Ben Watson Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

Caption

Georgia state Sen. Ben Watson

Credit: Justin Taylor / The Current

Watson’s stance on an issue that has become part of Georgia’s culture wars is a surprise and indicates that even Republican incumbents are under pressure to tweak and burnish their political credentials in advance of Georgia’s primary elections in May.  

The library bill was introduced just hours after Chatham County Republican Beth Majeroni took to the podium at a clubhouse bar at The Landings that was packed with her supporters and formally announced her candidacy for Watson’s seat. 

It’s only the second time in Watson’s 14-year career in the state House and Senate that he has faced a primary challenger. Majeroni represents the insurgent wing of the state party and is running to the right of the Savannah physician. 

Majeroni has campaigned for years to remove or restrict sexually explicit books and instructional materials from Chatham County schools. 

Beth Majeroni following the formal announcement of her candidacy for the state Senate seat (District 1), Skidaway Island, Georgia, Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Caption

Beth Majeroni following the formal announcement of her candidacy for the state Senate seat (District 1), Skidaway Island, Georgia, Tuesday, January 23, 2024

As recently as September, she urged Watson in a meeting to join efforts to get a library-related bill passed. But he shied away from doing so, saying it would be “hard” for him in his capacity as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.”

She told The Current that he’s now trying to play catch-up on an important issue, adding: “It’s about time.”

Watson did not reply to a request seeking comment about SB390 and his apparent changing views on library oversight. 

Two other Coastal Georgia Republican senators, Mike Hodges of Brunswick, and Billy Hickman of Statesboro, are also listed as sponsors of the bill. 

Library associations under fire

For center-right Republican lawmakers in Atlanta seeking to shore up their right flank as election season heats up, the American Library Association is an obvious target. 

The group’s promotion of equity, diversity and inclusion in library resources and its campaigns against censorship and book-banning have drawn the ire of conservatives.

That fury intensified in 2022, after the ALA’s recently elected president, Emily Drabinski, wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “I just cannot believe that a Marxist lesbian who believes that collective power is possible to build and can be wielded for a better world is the president-elect of @ALALibrary. . . . I am so excited for what we will do together. Solidarity! And my mom is SO PROUD. I love you mom.”

Drabinski, a native of Idaho and a librarian at the City University of New York, later deleted the tweet.

In seeking to curb the ALA’s influence in the state, the bill co-sponsored by Watson, Hodges and Hickman targets the state’s current certification process for librarians.

That process, the bill says, has become “intertwined with and heavily influenced by” the ALA, which uses it to promote its ideology and whose president, the bill states, has declared herself to be a Marxist. The legislation calls on the Georgia Library Association to end its affiliation with the ALA.

The Georgia Library Association did not reply to a request for comment.

Another library-related bill introduced last week, co-sponsored by Hickman, would require the State Board of Education to establish standards by which local education boards could restrict the use of instructional materials in classrooms and distribution of books and other materials in public school libraries.

One of Watson’s constituents, Jeanne Hutton of Tybee Island, angrily described Watson’s support of any library-related bill as election-year pandering.

In an email to the senator, Hutton likened supporters of such legislation to the con artist of the storied Broadway musical, The Music Man, who poses as a boys’ band organizer ginning up fears of corruption among Midwestern townsfolk in order to swindle them.

The proposed legislation “flimflam designed to win votes, not improve the intellectual lives of our children,” Hutton told Watson.

The Current is an independent, in-depth and investigative journalism website for Coastal Georgia. Read the original article.