Gov. Nathan Deal was sworn in for a second term Monday inside the state Capitol in Atlanta with the promise of “a new term, a new vision, a new mandate,” and said he would spend the next four years committed to criminal justice and educational reforms.
Deal’s inaugural speech made clear he seeks to continue “building upon the foundation we have laid,” rather than outlining a broad change in agenda.
“It was sort of a look back and a look forward,” said state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, adding the inaugural was an opportunity for the governor to tout his accomplishments.
Deal’s State of the State address scheduled for Wednesday is expected to contain more detail about the governor’s priorities for the legislative session.
“That’s really when he’s going to lay out his agenda,” Hawkins said.
Deal said the inaugural was less about him than about “celebrating the will of the people of Georgia” and “paying homage to democracy.”
Deal recapped his administration’s work on criminal justice during his first term, including changes to sentencing requirements and the opportunities afforded by drug courts.
“Our prisons have always been schools,” Deal said. “In the past, the inmates have learned how to become better criminals. Now they are taking steps to earn diplomas and gain job skills that will lead to employment after they serve their sentences.”
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said reforming the criminal justice system is about doing what’s right.
“The big part is we’re giving somebody a second chance,” he added.
The inaugural featured a performance of “Georgia on My Mind” by students at a Clayton County charter school.
Deal said the students of Utopian Academy benefited from a state commission to authorize charter schools, which was established by a constitutional amendment. Without that change, Deal said, some of the students “would still be sitting in schools that are underperforming.”
“In several years, many of them will be the first in their families to attend college,” Deal said. “These are exciting new beginnings, and we will work in this term to plant more of these opportunities.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams said she and other Democrats will be paying close attention to the details of any proposal related to education. She said discussion of a recovery district to manage failing schools, which Deal has urged lawmakers to consider, hinges on why schools struggle.
“The responsible question is ‘Why are they failing?’” Abrams said. “If it’s a failure caused by underfunding by the state that requires one solution. If it’s a structural issue, that’s a different solution.”
While Deal offered few specific details about his agenda this year, local state lawmakers said transportation funding and economic development projects will also be a significant part of the plan.
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said he also expects Deal to focus on improving health care and growing jobs in his next term.
Miller will serve as a floor leader in the Senate, working directly with the executive branch to push Deal’s agenda.
“The governor intends to build on his successes,” Miller said.
Additional spending is likely to come this year as state tax revenues increased in 2014 over 2013.
Deal, 72, was re-elected along with the rest of the Republican slate in November, maintaining the party’s complete control of Georgia government.
Deal was sworn in by his son, Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, before presiding over the oath of office for several top elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville.
Former Govs. Sonny Perdue, Roy Barnes and Zell Miller were in attendance.
State lawmakers representing Hall County voters said they looked forward to working with Deal this session.
“Now that you’ve laid the foundation, you might as well step and build the wall stronger,” Dunahoo said. “I think it will be interesting to watch.”
State Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, said lawmakers are ready to work as a team with Deal.
“I think, honestly, we haven’t seen a governor with this kind of success ... in a long time,” Barr said.
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he expected lawmakers to work with Deal closely on several items of legislation, but there’s always room for negotiation.
“Most of the time we’ll agree, but sometimes we’ll disagree,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.