In just a matter of days, Georgia’s 82nd governor will relinquish the helm for the ship of state to its 83rd, and in doing so the latest, and likely last, chapter in a long and distinguished story of public service will have been written.
Nathan Deal, the middle Georgia boy who moved to the hometown of his beloved Sandra and made it his own, walks away from the governor’s office with an enviable record of achievement as the state’s chief executive.
Eight years as governor caps a long history of service in elective office for Deal that includes 17 years in the U.S. Congress preceded by a 12-year stint in the Georgia Senate. But for all that came before, the remarkable success he has enjoyed as governor will forever define his political career.
In his first State of the State address in 2011, Deal spoke of the need to address some of the issues that would ultimately define his years in office: the need to rebuild the state’s finances as Georgia emerged from the recession, the necessity for more funding for education; improving the business climate; building infrastructure.
In that speech, presented as Georgia tried to emerge from years of economic downturn, Deal said, “Some may have lost optimism, but I have not. I believe that the citizens of this great state are ready to rally in this time to achieve great things … and to create a better Georgia. As elected leaders we must sound the call and demonstrate a new form of statesmanship.”
As governor, Deal did indeed display the sort of statesmanship that once was expected of political leadership, and as a result he did “create a better Georgia.”
At a time when our political structures sometime seem to be cruelly ineffective, Deal proved capable of avoiding the sort of partisanship and political divisiveness that seems to have become the norm. His was a moderate approach to a Republican agenda, but the causes he pushed were of the nature to benefit all Georgians, regardless of party.
On the economic front, Georgia has seen unprecedented job growth and creation under Deal. That the state has repeatedly been named as the best in the country in which to do business is a direct result of his proactive efforts to improve Georgia’s business climate and make it more attractive for the sort of economic development that will pay off for decades into the future.
While it would be totally appropriate to think of Deal as “the business governor,” to do so would be to diminish other significant achievements during his administration.
The outgoing governor has certainly made his mark in education: overseeing the first full funding of the state’s QBE formula for financing public schools, shoring up the HOPE program, devoting a higher percentage of state revenues to education than any recent governor, promoting programs designed to educate a workforce for future jobs rather than jobs of the past, making changes in the state educational hierarchy to assure increased accountability.
Certainly the designation as “education governor,” would be appropriate.
The area of judicial and court reform isn’t one filled with attention getting buzzwords or flashy media attention, but in this arena Deal may have accomplished more than any of his predecessors. Rebuilding a criminal court system that was skewed too heavily toward maximum punishment despite evidence that such was not always the most effective approach, the governor spearheaded a reform effort form the judicial foundations up – creating accountability courts, reforming the juvenile court system, reducing recidivism, freeing up prison bed, creating better programs from helping convicted criminals re-enter the workforce.
As a result of the initiatives of the former prosecutor and judge, the state is saving millions of dollars by not having to continue the process of building more and more prison facilities, the people who are going to prison are those who truly belong there, and many offenders are getting treatment where that is a more appropriate option than incarceration.
Deal’s approach to rebuilding Georgia’s courts has caught the attention of others at both the state and national level. Other states have enacted similar changes, or hope to do so. In August, Deal met with President Trump as well as governors and attorney generals from various states to share the success story from Georgia.
While the typically conservative Republican mantra has been strong support for incarceration to prove a tough position on crime, Deal avoided the GOP stereotype and presented the need for judicial reform as a bipartisan issue affecting all Georgians.
“Smart on crime is not the same as soft on crime,” the governor said at his meeting with the president and governors.
“Smart” is a good word to use in evaluating the governor’s tenure in office. He smartly identified crucial needs and addressed them in a manner that resulted in achievement rather than rhetoric. At the same time, he avoided unnecessary political minefields, such as with his veto of a controversial religious liberty bill.
“Business governor?” “Education governor?” “Judicial reform governor?” Deal has proven to be all of these and more. For the rest of the state he will be viewed as an “exceptional governor,” but for those from our area he will be remembered with great pride as “our governor.”
Well done, Nathan Deal, well done!