By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Crawford: It was a pretty good year for the governor
Placeholder Image

He had to fight his way through a massive winter storm just to be sworn into office and he was immediately confronted with an economy that just refused to get better. Somehow, Nathan Deal survived and made it through his first year as Georgia's governor.

How would you sum up his initial run at being the state's top elected official?

For a politician who was trapped inside the Washington Beltway for 17 years — and far removed from the rough-and-tumble of state politics under the Gold Dome — it turned out to be a fairly good rookie year for the governor.

He did stumble a time or two on some of the thornier issues like immigration. He certainly can be criticized for restructuring the HOPE scholarship program in a way that could give high school graduates from suburban schools an advantage over students from rural systems.

Like his predecessor, Deal did not come into office with any bold, sweeping vision for Georgia's future. But really, given the unyielding nature of the economic downturn, it is obvious that the money just isn't there right now for big ideas and probably won't be for a while.

Even with all of these shortcomings, Deal had some noteworthy accomplishments he can point to during that first year in office.

Although he's not a drinker, he did not get in the way of the General Assembly's passage of legislation that paved the way for Sunday package sales of alcoholic beverages in grocery and convenience stores. Georgia has finally moved into the modern era on this issue and Sunday sales will also generate some modest growth in tax revenues for local governments.

Deal played a key role, behind the scenes, in killing a proposal for the Department of Transportation to team up with private developers and contractors on spending $1 billion for a series of managed toll lanes along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb County.

I think it's obvious by now that these public-private ventures are never going to get off the ground. This can be illustrated by the fact that nine years after the legislature passed bills legalizing these types of projects, not a single shovel of dirt has been turned on any public-private highway initiative.

Through the questions he raised about the wisdom of these arrangements, Deal pulled Georgia out of something that, over the long run, was probably not going to work very well for the state's taxpayers or commuters.

The governor can take full credit for his efforts to restore some reasonableness and sanity to the way we sentence criminal offenders. People who commit serious crimes should be put in prison, but Georgia has been locking up too many people for too long a period of time, which is one of the unfortunate legacies of the Zell Miller era.

As the prisons have filled up, the cost of operating our corrections system has grown to nearly $1 billion a year. Deal was perceptive enough to realize that this hard-line approach to punishment had become too expensive for taxpayers to bear.

The governor showed refreshing political courage in trying to turn the state in a different direction on this issue. He appointed a top-notch commission of judges, legislators and prosecutors who recommended some significant changes in how our courts sentence persons convicted of crimes. We would all benefit if the General Assembly can follow through on putting some of these recommended changes into law.

While he deserves credit for all of those accomplishments, Deal probably generated the most good will this year from one simple thing: He was not Sonny Perdue.

Perdue alienated many people, both Democrats and Republicans, during his eight years in office because he was a bit of a pompous blowhard. One of his least-endearing traits was to turn red-faced and start bellowing angrily at people who disagreed with him.

Deal has a much more accommodating, low-key personality. Even Democrats who disagree with his political philosophy compliment him for his willingness to at least listen to another side of the issue without throwing a temper tantrum.

I lost count a long time ago of the number of people I've heard describe the governor with these words: "At least he's not Perdue."

If nothing else, Deal proved that sometimes nice guys can finish first.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that reports on government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

Regional events