Governor-elect Nathan Deal has announced the remaining members of his transition team and they include lobbyists, his campaign accountant and attorney, his daughter-in-law, several outgoing Republican state lawmakers and one former political foe.
The 26-member committee is supposed to advise Deal as he prepares to take the reins of power from fellow Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in January. Among other things, the panel will help Deal decide who to hire for his cabinet.
Several of Deal’s panel members have been lobbyists, including: Dan Lee, a former state senator who has lobbied for numerous clients at the State Capitol; Rob Leebern, a D.C. lobbyist and former congressional staffer; Joe Tanner, a lobbyist and former Georgia Department of Natural Resources commissioner; and Monty Veazey, a lobbyist, former state representative and president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.
Lobbyists were also among the names of a few panel members Deal announced last week, including: Pete Robinson, chairman of Troutman Sanders’ lobbying arm and a veteran of the Capitol lobbying corps, and John Watson, Perdue’s former chief of staff and the founder of a major Atlanta lobbying firm. A spokesman for Deal said all the lobbyists on his committee would stop lobbying while serving on the panel.
It is not uncommon for politicians to seek advice from lobbyists as they get ready to take office. For example, after Democrat Roy Barnes was elected governor in 1998, one of his top transition advisors was Tommy Lewis, a longtime lobbyist for Georgia State University.
Still, Deal’s choices raised eyebrows among government watchdogs Monday.
“The ordinary voters can’t afford lobbyists and don’t have special access,” said Emmet Bondurant, a board member for Common Cause. “Corporations don’t hire lobbyists to represent any interests other than their own financial interests, whatever their interests happen to be, whether it is tax breaks, subsidies, or appropriations for special projects that will produce business for them.”
But lobbyists have other skills that could help politicians, said Audrey Haynes, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. She pointed out that Leebern served as Saxby Chambliss’s chief of staff when Chambliss was in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“In Georgia, that is where you find a lot of political experience,” Haynes said of the state’s lobbying corps.
Deal also put Jimmy Allen and Randy Evans on the panel. Allen served as an accountant for Deal’s campaign while Evans worked as the campaign’s attorney. Denise Deal, Deal’s daughter-in-law and the finance director for his campaign for governor, has also been selected to serve on the panel.
Deal also reached out to several Republican lawmakers who could help him build bridges with the state Legislature. Perdue has sometimes had a rocky relationship with the House. Among the members on Deal’s committee are: Georgia House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta, and former Georgia House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, who recently resigned from the Legislature. State Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, who did not seek reelection this year, and Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, are also on the panel.
Deal also tapped former Senate President Pro-Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, whom Deal defeated in the GOP primary for governor. McGuireWoods Consulting, a major lobbyist firm with offices in Atlanta, announced Monday that it had hired Johnson.
Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this report.