Nathan Deal on Wednesday sharply rebuked his conservative critics who say the governor has abandoned a two-year-old no-tax pledge by endorsing the state’s looming transportation referendum.

Then just a candidate for governor’s mansion, Deal signed in 2010 a pledge saying he “would oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Now, some–including Americans for Tax Reform, the group that holds pols accountable to the pledge–say that the governor’s support for a one percent regional tax to buoy government transportation spending is an explicit betrayal.

But Gov. Deal defended his support Wednesday night at a gathering of Atlanta fundraisers by arguing semantics: “First of all, the pledge relates to new taxes that were going to be initiated by the legislative action.”

Still the governor said he never forswore his freedom of speech.

“I never signed a pledge to give away my First Amendment rights,” Deal said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And my First Amendment rights are to advocate whatever I see fit. and as an individual, I do advocate for it.”

– James Richardson