Standing before a crowd of more than 500 supporters, Nathan Deal on Friday announced his "quest to be elected governor of Georgia."
Deal, 66, a nine-term congressman who used his speech to quietly assert his role as a leader, said he "does his own thinking, writes his own speeches and doesn’t use a Teleprompter, and ties his own shoes."
The son of schoolteachers told his audience that the need for college classrooms, not the number of prison beds, should be determined from the performance of elementary students.
"I understand the challenges faced by classroom teachers and I will listen to their opinions," Deal said. "I believe we must restore the joy to teaching and rid the teacher of burdens that serve no useful purpose."
Deal alluded to the recent failure of the General Assembly to pass a transportation funding bill during its recent session.
"As governor, I will work to bring the members of the Senate and House, the DOT board and the representatives of cities and counties, both large and small, together in order to resolve our transportation problems," he said.
Deal acknowledged the need to expand the availability to trauma centers around the state. He also said the state Medicaid program needs to adequately compensate providers.
The congressman also called for an end to the state’s 19-year battle with Florida and Alabama over water.
"It’s time for us to stake our rightful claim to the waters which, by the bounty of God, fall upon and flow through our state," Deal said, adding that the water war has already lasted longer than the Civil War.
There was no introduction of Deal, who stood alone on the podium with his wife, Sandra. The crowd included a number of supporters from throughout the 9th District and some former college and high school classmates of Deal.
Deal was elected in 1980 to the first of six terms in the Georgia state Senate, where he served as chairman of the judiciary and ethics committees. In his final term, he was elected president pro tempore of the Senate.
Throughout his state Senate service and for his first term in the U.S. House, Deal was a Democrat. In April 1995, following the Republicans’ ascent into the majority in Congress, Deal became a Republican.
He has long been mentioned as a candidate for statewide office but only recently surfaced as a potential challenger for the 2010 gubernatorial race.
Deal said he began strongly thinking about running after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, an early Republican favorite, withdrew for health reasons. Until then, Deal said he had planned to defer to fellow Hall Countian Cagle, who shares much of the same North Georgia political base.
Deal is a senior member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over vast sections of the economy, including health care and energy issues. He is the top Republican on the health subcommittee and served as chairman during the Republican majority. He has helped lead negotiations on issues such as Medicaid reform and health insurance for low-income children.
He also has been involved in immigration, sponsoring legislation in 2005 that would end automatic birthright citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants.
Gainesville City Council member Robert L. "Bob" Hamrick and his wife, Carolyn, were among those on hand for Deal’s announcement. He said the election of Deal would be good for the community.
"It just speaks volumes for the leadership in our community that someone like Nathan would step up and run for the highest office in our state," Hamrick said. "He has served well in government both locally and on the national scene."
State Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, said Deal’s biggest obstacle is becoming known to voters in Central and South Georgia.
"I think he’s going to have a lot of support from (state) House and Senate members helping him get introduced to the right people," Neal said. "I don’t think it will take very long for people to become attracted to him."
Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said Deal will appeal to the law enforcement community.
"As a sheriff in the state of Georgia, I think Nathan brings experience on all levels of government," Cronic said. "He brings some insight that others don’t."
Deal becomes the second candidate to announce this week. State Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, announced his bid on Monday after originally running for lieutenant governor.
Others already in the GOP race include Secretary of State Karen Handel, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, state Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, and Ray McBerry, a McDonough businessman who challenged Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2006.
A spokesman for Oxendine, Jeff Breedlove, welcomed Deal to the race.
"Today is Congressman Deal’s day," Breedlove said. "Commissioner Oxendine and Ivy send their every best wish to him and his family and welcome them to the campaign trail. We know there will be times to debate the issues, but today we wish them every happiness."
Ben Fry, a spokesman for Johnson, offered similar comments.
"We welcome him to the race and look forward to a good, healthy and friendly debate about the issues facing Georgia and who is best equipped to become the next governor," Fry said.
Calls to the Scott and Handel campaigns were not returned.
Announced Democrats include former Georgia National Guard commander David Poythress, Attorney General Thurbert Baker and state Rep. DuBose Porter, the House minority leader.