Mike Bowers Recants

A lot of bad old memories were revived and perhaps mitigated by a New York Times profile by Richard Fausset of former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers, who has emerged as a most unlikely ally of his state’s LGBT community in opposing a “religious liberty” law pending in the legislature, which is being supported by most of Bowers’ fellow Republicans.

Bowers, as you may recall, was the very name and face of homophobia for years as the prosecutor in the 1986 case in which the Supreme Court upheld state sodomy laws, Bowers v. Hardwick (ultimately overturned in 2003). He was also a bit of a symbol of the Rovian scheme of cultural issues leading to party-switching in the South: he conveniently became a Republican in 1994 after being elected Attorney General three times as a Democrat. And then he became a famous public hypocrite for carrying on an adulterous affair (also against Georgia law) that was revealed just as he announced an ultimately unsuccessful race for Governor in 1997.

I dealt with Bowers occasionally in my years in the Georgia governor’s office, and experienced his extraordinarily profane use of language (right up there with Bob Strauss), which was combined with an aggressive sense of sanctimony when it came to public corruption (he was indeed the scourge of many scoundrels) or what he perceived to be private immorality. A lot of people were privately happy to see him go down in flames over his own scandal.

But something’s obviously changed, and the most interesting thing in the Times piece is the reaction of Robin Shahar, a young woman Bowers nearly hired in the Attorney General’s office until he found out she was about to have a religiously-sanctioned same-sex commitment ceremony. She’s very pleased with Bowers’ new outlook, but not quite ready to forgive.

Bowers allows as how he’s changed. “I know I’m different. I’m not as mean as I used to be. I know that.” He also seems to have figured out the law that really matters:

At the end of an interview last week, Mr. Bowers expressed regret for the pain he had caused. He flipped open a Bible and pointed to what he says is a guiding principle: Jesus’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

Another slow learner.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.