Nathan Deal proof that nice guys can fin­ish first

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - DICK YAR­BROUGH

Idropped by Gov. Nathan Deal’s of­fice re­cently for a visit. In lit­tle over a mon­t­hand-a-half, our 82nd gover­nor will be our new­est for­mer gover­nor. My tim­ing could not have been bet­ter. The gover­nor seemed happy to see me. (Not the kind of re­ac­tion I usu­ally get from many of our pub­lic of­fi­cials.) What was sup­posed to be a 30-minute ap­point­ment stretched to al­most an hour. Good for me. Bad for those in charge of sched­ul­ing his time.

I asked the gover­nor his re­ac­tion to the just com­pleted gover­nor’s race. “I am glad it is over,” he laughed. Aren’t we all. On a se­ri­ous note, he said it was ob­vi­ous that our cur­rent elec­tion laws will be a ma­jor de­bate go­ing for­ward. The gover­nor cau­tioned that what­ever changes are con­sid­ered will likely be ex­pen­sive and can’t be ac­com­plished overnight or per­haps even within the next two years. But it is an is­sue that is not go­ing away. Be pre­pared.

In my not-so-hum­ble opin­ion, Deal has been a good gover­nor. There were a few bumps in the road along the way — an ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion while still a mem­ber of Congress, ques­tions re­gard­ing pay­ments to his daugh­ter-in-law’s fundrais­ing com­pany dur­ing his re-elec­tion cam­paign and the fa­mous — or in­fa­mous — Snow­maged­don de­ba­cle of 2014.

To­day as he pre­pares to leave of­fice, Deal’s ap­proval rat­ings are ex­tremely high. A re­cent sur­vey by the At­lanta news­pa­pers showed that more than 85 Repub­li­cans in the state ap­prove of his per­for­mance as well as 48 per­cent of Democrats. Want fur­ther proof of his pop­u­lar­ity? In one of the most ac­ri­mo­nious par­ti­san elec­tions in mem­ory, Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date and for­mer House mi­nor­ity leader Stacey Abrams ran tele­vi­sion ads tout­ing her good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the gover­nor.

And why not? He leaves of­fice with the state in ex­cel­lent fi­nan­cial health. The state’s Qual­ity Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion for­mula for K-12 was fully funded for the first time ever and he has in­sti­tuted a ma­jor over­haul of our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, mak­ing it one of the best if not the best in the na­tion. (Note: I am a mem­ber of the State Board of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice.) He has also ap­pointed more judges in his time in of­fice than any gover­nor in his­tory.

He proudly points out the ex­pan­sion of the HOPE Grant, a schol­ar­ship that pays 100 per­cent of tu­ition for stu­dents to at­tend tech­ni­cal col­leges to learn skills that are in high de­mand for Ge­or­gia’s work­force as well as es­tab­lish­ing the REACH Ge­or­gia Schol­ar­ship, a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship that pro­vides schol­ar­ships to promis­ing mid­dle school stu­dents from low-in­come fam­i­lies.

He has dealt with the tough de­ci­sions a gover­nor has to make without en­gag­ing in the shrill name-call­ing and den­i­gra­tion that seem to be a part of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment. He ve­toed the Re­li­gious Lib­erty bill passed by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. He re­stored the tax cut to Delta Air Lines by ex­ec­u­tive or­der af­ter leg­is­la­tors dropped it in re­tal­i­a­tion for Delta halt­ing a dis­count pro­gram with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. (The Leg­is­la­ture re­stored the tax break dur­ing their re­cent spe­cial ses­sion.) In both cases, the re­sponse to his de­ci­sive ac­tions was re­mark­ably mute. It is ob­vi­ous that the gover­nor walks softly but has a big stick and knows how to use it.

How has he man­aged to get things done without threats and tub-thump­ing? “My wife (first lady San­dra Deal) is al­ways re­mind­ing me to be nice,” he laughs. Then adds, “I think you should al­ways try to ed­u­cate be­fore you ad­vo­cate.” The gover­nor says he tries to let the pub­lic and law­mak­ers know what he is propos­ing and why, and then get­ting their in­put.

One of the ex­am­ples he uses is the com­pre­hen­sive trans­porta­tion bill passed in 2015 to main­tain and re­pair Ge­or­gia roads and bridges that re­quired an in­creased gaso­line tax and an ex­tra fee on ho­tel stays.

On the other hand, an at­tempt at an Op­por­tu­nity School Dis­trict, which would have es­tab­lished an of­fice for a sec­ond state su­per­in­ten­dent who would have re­ported to the gover­nor, was soundly de­feated by vot­ers in a ref­er­en­dum. “We got out ahead of our­selves on that one,” he ad­mits. Since then, the Gen­eral As­sem­bly has passed a sim­i­lar con­cept cre­at­ing a “turn­around of­fi­cer” to work with un­der­per­form­ing schools but un­der the con­trol of the lo­cal school dis­tricts.

With a change in ad­min­is­tra­tions upon us, the state looks like the prover­bial duck — glid­ing smoothly on the sur­face but pad­dling like the dick­ens un­der wa­ter. It is called the tran­si­tion pe­riod. Gov.elect Brian Kemp has a team on hand work­ing with those in Gov. Deal’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and get­ting ready for the hand­off. “I am not there to in­trude but will help if the gover­nor-elect asks,” Deal said. “Gov. (Sonny) Per­due was ex­tremely help­ful to me in our tran­si­tion and I hope I can do the same for Gov.-elect Kemp.” I would sug­gest Kemp lis­ten closely to the man. He has big shoes to fill.

With that, we switched gears and talked about how Deal got from his boy­hood home in San­der­sville to the high­est of­fice in the state. More on that next week.

You can reach Dick Yar­brough at [email protected]­; at P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, 31139 or on Face­book at www.



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