In his first interview since vetoing an anti-LGBT so-called “religious freedom” bill two weeks ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the backlash in North Carolina and Mississippi over similar bills should give supporters of such legislation second thoughts over bringing it back next year, and warned he would veto it again if it comes back in similar form.

Deal to the AJC:

“I don’t want to go through the same process all over again. I’ve made my position very clear. I tried to write a very thoughtful veto message,” he said. “It expressed my concerns and it expressed my reasons for vetoing it. And those reasons won’t change in my mind.”

Deal wouldn’t weigh on what next year’s “religious freedom” bill should look like (and rest assured, there will be another one), but he pointed to the uproar in other southern states as an example of what not to bring back:

“It’s time to take another deep breath. I see what’s happening in North Carolina. I see what’s happening in Mississippi,” he said. “And I would hope that many of the ones that are pushing for it would not want the state of Georgia to go through that kind of scenario.”

He also said the criticism he’s received from religious conservatives and Republican lawmakers who supported the bill has taken its toll:

“Well, I think all of us want to be liked by everybody,” he said. “But when you come to issues like that, you can’t be liked by everybody because people have such divided opinions about something. My job as governor is to do what I think is best in the overall interest of the state of Georgia and its citizens as a whole. And that’s what I did.”

Here’s a full transcript of Gov. Deal’s interview with the AJC:

Q: It seemed like the religious liberty veto was one of the hardest decisions you’ve had to make. What was your thought process?

Deal: “I knew it was a divisive issue. Everybody knew that from the beginning. The reality was that nothing that that bill sought to prevent was not already prevented by the current law of our state or of our federal government. But it had attracted a lot of connotations, rightly or wrongly, that were associated with it. And there were words and language that was in the bill that could lead to the conclusion that it was intended for purposes other than what those who were supporting it said it was intended for.

“It’s always a difficult situation to make those judgment calls. I just wish people would look at it, as I said in the beginning, and take a very deep breath. It’s time to take another deep breath. I see what’s happening in North Carolina. I see what’s happening in Mississippi. And I would hope that many of the ones that are pushing for it would not want the state of Georgia to go through that kind of scenario.

Q: Are you glad that Georgia isn’t going through the same backlash as North Carolina?

Deal: “That’s a difficult situation for them, obviously.”

Q: It looks like the measure is going to come back in some form or fashion. What do you hope to see out of the bill?

Deal: “I’m not going to try to prejudge whether it will come back or what it’s going to look like, because I don’t think we know.”

Q: Does it concern you that the bill will come back?

Deal: “I don’t want to go through the same process all over again. I’ve made my position very clear. I tried to write a very thoughtful veto message. It expressed my concerns and it expressed my reasons for vetoing it. And those reasons won’t change in my mind.”

Q: You’ve received a lot of praise and a lot of vitriol for your stance. Does the criticism take a toll?

Deal: “Certainly.”

Q: How so?

Deal: “Well, I think all of us want to be liked by everybody. But when you come to issues like that, you can’t be liked by everybody because people have such divided opinions about something. My job as governor is to do what I think is best in the overall interest of the state of Georgia and its citizens as a whole. And that’s what I did.”

Q: You’ve got another tough decision with the campus carry bill that, either way, will lead to more vitriol. Where are you leaning?

Deal: “I can’t tell you yet – we’re in bill review.”

Q: But what about in terms of this being another divisive issue, after lawmakers refused to make changes you sought?

Deal: “Admittedly, it’s another tough decision. Would I have preferred they not put that on my plate (without the changes). Yes, I would have preferred that. But they did. And I have to come, once again, to doing what I think is in the best interest of all the citizens of the state.”

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