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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.
When Nathan Deal takes the oath of office today as Georgia's 82nd governor, it will complete a remarkable journey in public life for one of Hall County's most influential leaders.
Barring a snowstorm that may ice up the works, Deal is expected to be sworn in at the state Capitol today before a large group of local friends, family and associates.
Those who know this good and decent man well have supported his candidacies for state legislator, U.S. Representative and governor whole-heartedly, and will bask in the moment. The alliances he has formed over the years here, in Atlanta and in Washington speak volumes about his character, and will serve him well as governor.
Deal's journey began in Millen, where he was born and raised. After earning his law degree at Mercer University and serving a stint in the Army, he moved to Gainesville and became a lawyer and prosecutor, forming the long-term associations that would elevate him into politics.
His campaigns for state and federal office were built on the foundation of trust and friendship he forged in those early days. That base of support showed this year when Deal got stronger hometown backing in each round of voting — primary, general election and runoff — than did his key opponents. He earned 80 percent of the vote in Hall County in November and similar numbers in other North Georgia communities. None of his foes could come close to that kind of support; in fact, he even bested them in their own backyards.
That says it all: Those who know Deal best rushed to cast a vote for him.
This despite an election campaign that focused on ethical charges and personal finances that at times threatened to derail his run for governor. But something in the man shone through, not just to his longtime supporters here but to other voters statewide who didn't know him as well. He wasn't the flashiest candidate, nor the most erudite. His TV ads didn't include catchy jingles or catch phrases that rolled off the tongue.
Instead, Deal came through as a solid leader more at east governing than campaigning: substance over style, experience over excitement. His 18 years in Congress and 30-plus years in the public arena convinced voters that he was no Johnny-come-lately, and that his ambitions and the state's were one and the same. He isn't someone who moved here from elsewhere and set up shop for a life in politics. He is grounded in the soil of his home state, which is why he left a safe seat in Congress to serve his fellow Georgians.
Those qualities will serve Deal well as he takes the state's highest office in troubled times. The economic downturn has hit Georgia hard, leaving 10 percent without jobs and stifling the growth our state has enjoyed for the past several decades. And while tax revenues are ticking up a bit, the budget remains an ongoing challenge for Deal and legislators as they seek to balance the pivotal needs of government while keeping the state out of the red.
Meanwhile, the state continues to face education, transportation and water issues that have not been addressed effectively and were left for the next governor to handle.
There is hope, though, that a new generation of leaders will serve us better. For years, Georgia's one-party rule by the good ol' boy network of Democrats finally ceded power to Republican upstarts at the start of the 21st century. But some of those leaders clearly weren't up to the serious task before them, and spent several years squabbling among themselves as key problems remained unsolved.
Yet today begins a new day. House Speaker David Ralston is a fellow North Georgian who showed in his first session with the gavel that he can put aside the political vendettas and frat-boy atmosphere that marred the GOP's first decade in power. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Chestnut Mountain begins his second term as a seasoned, sober voice in the Senate. Now we have a speaker, a governor and a lieutenant governor who will work together reasonably and effectively, minus the grandstanding.
The fact that all three hail from North Georgia is a testament to our area. Ours is a can-do community populated with strong leaders in government, business and public agencies who value solutions over blind ideology, pragmatists who come together to make a positive difference. In spite of a few recent examples of irresponsible actions, our town, county and region have turned out a high number of strong public servants at all levels. That leadership is evident in a community that continues to grow and prosper despite the challenges faced by our state and nation.
That spirit of solid leadership will reach its apex today when Deal raises his right hand to take office. He is the first governor from our community in the modern era, and a leader this generation of Hall Countians always will know as a faithful, honest and capable public servant.
Best wishes, Governor. You have made Gainesville, Hall County and all of Northeast Georgia proud.