Deal appoints loyalist to be Georgia’s attorney general
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday tapped one of his top deputies, Chris Carr, to become the state’s next attorney general.
A list of powerful figures quickly lined up to support Carr, sending a blunt message that he will have big business and political backing when he asks voters for a full term in 2018.
Carr, the state’s economic development commissioner, will take office on Nov. 1 as head of the Department of Law, administering a staff of more than 300 tasked with enforcing state laws and investigating public corruption. He is Deal’s highest-profile appointment since the governor took office in 2011.
Carr, 44, will become only the sixth person to hold the state’s top law position since 1945. Attorney General Sam Olens, who was elected in 2010 and won another four-year term in 2014, announced his resignation Wednesday after the Board of Regents named him Kennesaw State University’s president.
Olens’ appointment had long been at the center of swirling rumors at the statehouse, and Deal moved quickly Wednesday to appoint his longtime ally to the coveted position.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal- Constitution, Deal said that Carr’s administrative skills and “servant’s heart” helped him make the decision.
“He has a lot of common sense, and that’s what any public servant needs,” Deal said. “He’s intellectually brilliant. He understands the consequences, and he understands the different perspectives.”
A graduate of the University of Georgia’s law school, Carr worked in public policy and Republican politics after a stint at the Alston & Bird law firm. He was a top aide to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson before Deal named him to lead the state’s economic arm in 2013. He said he would stand for election as attorney general in 2018.
Carr said his understanding of state and legislative issues and his management of a state agency with more than 200 employees helped him prepare for the job.
“That’s the kind of experience I can bring to bear at the Department of Law to represent the state of Georgia and the interests of the people of our state,” Carr said. “People will judge me on the job that I do, and I’ll get up every day with a solemn responsibility to represent Georgia.”
The appointment flings Carr headlong into a pitched election battle. Several Republicans, including state Sen. Josh McKoon and outgoing state Rep. B.J. Pak, have been mentioned as possible contenders. So has state Rep. Stacey Evans, a Smyrna Democrat considered a rising star in her party.
Carr comes armed with a string of early endorsements lined up with the help of Deal and Isakson. He’s a protege of both Republican leaders, and their advisers see him as a potential candidate for higher office down the line. His ties to Isakson remain strong: His wife is the Republican senator’s current chief of staff.
Among Carr’s supporters is former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat who is bucking party lines to back the Republican. Barnes said he got to know Carr when he was working for Isakson, a fellow Cobb County native whom the ex-governor also endorsed for re-election.
“I’ve known Chris for a long time. I think it’s a good appointment. I think he’ll do a great job,” said Barnes, who added that he might also back Carr in 2018. “If folks do a good job, whether they be a Democrat or Republican, then I’ll endorse them then. I have nothing but confidence that he’ll do a good job.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also sent the AJC a note supporting Deal’s choice for attorney general.
The appointment plunges Carr into a bitter battle over the “religious liberty” legislation in Georgia, which could become the focus of his election battle in two years.
That’s because McKoon is a leading advocate for such legislation, which was embraced by social conservatives who said it would protect the faithful from government interference. Powerful business groups made defeating it a top priority, calling it veiled discrimination against gays and other groups, and they cheered Deal’s veto of the measure this year.
Many of those influential big business forces are already lining up behind Carr. Georgia Power Chief Executive Paul Bowers and AGL Resources executive Hank Linginfelter, the chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, both sent statements endorsing Carr as a pro-business force.
And Deal called Carr the “face and the voice of economic development in Georgia” who helped create more than 83,000 jobs on his watch.
Also in Carr’s corner is outgoing U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Coweta County Republican and favorite of grass-roots conservatives. He called Carr a “trusted conservative who knows how to make government work.”
Westmoreland will likely be cited as evidence that his support extends beyond the GOP establishment.