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Gov. Deal aims to cement legacy in second term
Lawmakers say governor may spread his wings with ambitious agenda
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Your guide to the 2015 Legislature, plus a link to streaming video of Gov. Deal's inauguration Monday.

Coming Monday

• Sen. Butch Miller is a rising political star as Deal’s floor leader.

• Joe T. Wood Jr. recalls his time as a Hall legislator.

While Gov. Nathan Deal has not yet revealed specific plans for his second term — those details will come this week during several speeches he is prepared to deliver, including Monday’s inaugural and Wednesday’s the State of the State address — the broad aspects of his agenda become clear in his last go-round as Georgia’s chief executive, and likely his last hurrah in politics.

With that in mind, state lawmakers have acknowledged Deal is likely to swing for the fences in his final term as he tries to burnish a legacy that has, at times, been dogged by charges of unethical behavior.

“Most governors in their second term they usually do that,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville. “They kind of spread their wings.”

Of course, going for broke can set the governor up for massive disappointment. But Rogers thinks Deal will keep his agenda focused on a few specific items.

“I don’t think Gov. Deal will be anything like a Sonny Perdue,” he said, referring to Deal’s predecessor.

Deal declined to speak with The Times about his agenda, but local state lawmakers said he is likely to push for more education reform, and that the public school system is likely to continue to receive more funding, particularly as tax revenues increase.

“But every governor wants to reform education,” Rogers said.

Lawmakers say it’s also clear Deal will make transportation funding a major focus of his second term, with an emphasis on shoring up infrastructure to support economic growth likely taking shape in 2015.

For Deal and other Republicans, transportation spells construction, and construction spells jobs.

Having won re-election last November, Deal is now free to explore a wide-ranging agenda with less worry about political threats from inside his own party or from upstart Democrats.

And Deal will have Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, serving as a top floor leader in the General Assembly, pushing and defending the governor’s legislative priorities.

But despite having the backing of Republicans — who dominate the state legislature and are leery of opposing Deal to a great extent for the fear and risk of propping up Democrats — there do remain a few liberal stalwarts with their own opinion about the governor’s legacy.

Former Atlanta Falcons football player Dewey McClain, now a Democratic state representative from Lilburn and president of the Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council, an AFL-CIO affiliate, said he is working to pass a bill to raise the minimum wage in Georgia to $15 an hour.

McClain said Deal has pegged part of his political legacy on making the Peach State the No. 1 place to do business, but that getting a minimum wage bill passed would ensure the governor’s place among workers.

“I want him to say that (his legacy) was a win-win for businesses and workers,” McClain added.

Deal might get some applause from government employees this year. Local state Republican lawmakers have indicated their willingness to support salary raises for some state workers, including teachers.

But, ultimately, Deal’s legacy is likely to be determined only after he’s left office.

“Most anybody when they run for a second term ... they’re going to try to get certain things accomplished,” said state Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville. “Gov. Deal has done a lot that he has received credit for, and some which he hasn’t.”

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