December 31, 2018 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
With Georgia poised to swear in a new Governor for the new
year, expect to see a flourish of tributes to our current Governor, Nathan
Deal. There is a long list of
accomplishments that can be noted during his eight-year tenure as Georgia’s
head of state.
He’s the Governor that took over during the depths of the
recession with two days’ worth of cash on hand in the state’s checkbook and is
leaving with about $2.5 billion in the rainy day fund. Double digit unemployment is now at historic
lows and under the national average.
Teacher furloughs have turned into the first full funding of the Quality
Basic Education formula in decades, if ever, depending on who does the
Georgia remains “the number one state to do business”
according to industry trade publications, as economic development announcements
continue throughout the state. We’re
investing roughly an extra billion dollars per year in transportation
infrastructure, and taking transit governance and planning seriously. Perhaps his
most lasting legacy will be that of criminal justice reform, where Georgia has
become a national model for common sense solutions with respect to sentencing
as well as rehabilitation and re-entry.
These and other accolades are well deserved because they
were well earned. But this column isn’t
about Nathan Deal as much as the team he assembled to execute his agenda. Governor Deal would be the first to tell you
that none of his accomplishments are uniquely “his”. He’s worked well with the legislature on
crafting legislation that matched both his agenda and that of the general
assembly at large. Some initiatives were
his and some legislative. It’s been a
The head of the Governor’s team is his long-time Chief of
Staff Chris Riley. He’s been part of the
Governor’s staff since the early 90’s, when Deal was a member of Congress. He’s been the Governor’s sole Chief of Staff
for eight years, an unusual move in an era where it can be quite lucrative to
be the sitting Governor’s former
Chief. Riley has been steadfast in his commitment
to both Governor Deal’s agenda and to Governor Deal.
For those unfamiliar with the inside baseball of political
offices, the Chief of Staff most often has to assume the role of “bad cop”. Elected officials must smile and say “yes” as
often as possible to promote the positive side of the office. It most often falls to the Chief to say “no”
to those that just need a few dollars from the state budget for their pet
project, an appointment, or other favors that government can provide.
Capitol insiders have long been aware that Riley has had the
full authority to speak on behalf of the Governor, and he was quite comfortable
with his “Dr. No” reputation. Someone,
after all, had to make sure that major agenda items were funded while balancing
budgets and adding surpluses to rebuild the once empty rainy day fund.
With this great power has come great responsibility, and
thus, a portion of the credit for the Deal legacy. It should be a bit of a change from the usual
grumbling and animosity from those who too often found themselves on the
receiving end of one of those “no’s”.
Governor Deal has earned a legacy, and Chris Riley deserves mention and
public credit for his role in that.
There are many others on the team, too many to list
here. Yet Economic Development team
headed by Pat Wilson and his predecessor, Attorney General Chris Carr, have
earned a shout out. The penny pinching from the Governor’s staff begins with
Office of Planning and Budget Director Teresa MacCartney. And those of us in the press fondly remember
the less than understated quotes from former Deputy Chief of Staff for
Communications Brian Robinson, as well as his equally helpful if a bit more
restrained successor, Jen Talaber Ryan.
In the end, Governor Deal will be remembered as a great
leader of this state. I tip my cap to
him, to Chris Riley, and all of those who have worked in the Deal
Administration over the past two terms to bring us the Georgia we have today.