By Aaron Gould Sheininfirstname.lastname@example.org and Jim Tharpeemail@example.com
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) said Monday morning he will resign from Congress to “devote my full energies to the campaign for governor.”
Deal is one of seven Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for governor. He will resign from the U.S. House on March 8.
Deal, whose departure apparently voids a U.S. House ethics investigation into his business dealing with the state, announced his resignation at the Gainesville Civic Center before a crowd of about 100 supporters, who applauded his remarks.
“This is not a time for untested leadership in the governor’s office,” Deal said. “The economic future of our state is in peril.”
Deal becomes the second member of the state’s 13-seat congressional delegation to announce his departure in the past few days. U.S. Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) announced on Saturday he won’t seek re-election in November.
Deal’s decision to resign from the U.S. House now, however, would set up a special election to fill the remainder of his term, which lasts through the November elections. At least six Republicans are already campaigning for the seat as Deal had already announced he would seek the governor’s office rather than run for re-election to Congress.
According to sparse independent polling, Deal is running among the top three candidates for the GOP nomination as governor, along with Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
A Rasmussen Reports poll last week showed Deal, Oxendine, and Handel beating former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democratic front-runner, in a head-to-head match-up. Former state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah was running even.
Deal has been the subject of two inquiries by congressional investigators into a Deal’s role in a business with the state that earned his company $1.5 million from 2004 through 2008. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in August that Deal and a business partner obtained the lucrative state business without competition and that Deal personally intervened with state officials to fight proposed changes to the operation.
Deal denied any wrongdoing in his business dealings.
The Office of Congressional Ethics and the U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct had contacted the state Department of Revenue for documents and interviews regarding Deal’s role in the business, records obtained by the AJC showed.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Monday that Deal’s resignation would essentially scuttle the investigation.
“Once he resigns from the House, the inquiry will end. The House won’t have jurisdiction over him any longer,” said Sloan, whose organization filed the ethics complaints with the U.S. House in response to the AJC’s original report.
Asked Monday whether his resignation from Congress had anything to do with the investigation, Deal said, “That’s absolutely not true. I am resigning because I know there is work to be done and the leadership of this state hangs in the balance.”
Deal had previously said he welcomed “an opportunity to state the facts” to congressional investigators, but that now apparently will not happen. Deal said Monday “I have no control over that.”
Deal’s resignation throws the race to replace him into overdrive – one race to win the incumbency, immediately followed by a second race to secure the Republican nomination for the full term in July. Republican candidates in the race number six, seven or eight – depending on how seriously you take all of them.
Deal would also become the third candidate for governor to resign his current public office in order to concentrate on running. Karen Handel ditched her job as secretary of state, and Eric Johnson resigned his state Senate seat.
However, Deal’s resignation would carry no financial advantage. Because he holds a federal office, he was not restricted from fund-raising during this legislative session.
When Handel resigned as secretary of state, in December, Deal’s campaign released a statement making it appear as if resignation was not in his plans.
“Nathan Deal has taken an oath to serve the people of Georgia and has a clear record of completing his terms,” the statement said.
His opponents did not waste time in criticizing him now.
“It is regrettable that Nathan Deal has left Georgia without a voice in Washington during the vital healthcare debate,” said Oxendine spokesman Tim Echols. “We are hopeful that this isn’t an attempt to circumvent an investigation into the state-funded program that benefited his auto salvage business.”
But Deal’s supporters hit back at Oxendine, saying the insurance commissioner’s numerous controversies require swift action.
“Nathan simply acted on pressure by prominent Republican leaders to ‘drastically re-commit’ himself to winning, out of growing concern that the insurance commissioner could win the Republican primary on name ID alone and Roy Barnes beats the shakedown artist Oxendine like a drum in November,” said Chip Lake, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), a Deal supporter who has been in a very public spat with Oxendine over the past few weeks.
Here is Deal’s full statement from Monday’s news conference, as released to the media:
One of the highest honors of my life has been the privilege to serve the great people of North Georgia in the Congress of the United States.
My wife and my family join me in thanking you for your support and confidence which have allowed me to lead the fight to preserve the values that have made our nation great.
Having entered the campaign to become the next Governor of Georgia, I have worked very hard to balance the responsibilities of my current office with the demands of sharing my vision for our state.
The Bible teaches us that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
I firmly believe that now is the season for me to devote my full energies to the campaign for governor.
I believe the people of my district, like all Georgians, know that this is a time that demands leadership. These are critical days for Georgia and my experience at the local, state and national level have uniquely prepared me to lead Georgia as we lead the nation out of the recession.
As governor, my first priority will be getting Georgians back to work while making sure that essential state services are maintained. Our state needs leadership on education, water, transportation, health care and public safety, which must be balanced against the financial crisis facing our state government.
Make no mistake, our Georgia values are at risk. I have stood up against those who do not share our conservative values and, I assure you, they have the governorship of the state of Georgia squarely in their sights.
I’m leaving Congress because I’ve had a front row seat to the damage that inexperience in the executive branch of the federal government has done to our nation…a growing debt that will bankrupt our children’s future, an ever increasing grasp by government that snatches away our freedom, and an effort to bargain away the rights of our state for a few crumbs of federal tax dollars that are packaged as stimulus.
My experience has prepared me to be a governor who understands these dangers. This is not a time for untested leadership in the governor’s office. The economic future of our state is in peril. I am committed and ready to serve this great state.
I love this state and I love its people. My Georgia roots are deep. As I have traveled from the mountains, where I live, to the piedmont, where I grew up and went to school, to the coastal plain, where I was born, my resolve to be governor has grown even stronger.
I will be a governor who will listen to you and consider your needs. Like the deep veins of granite and marble that undergird our state, I am rock solid in my dedication to the task at hand. I will lead with strength, tempered by a servant’s heart.
I invite you to join me, my family and an ever-expanding circle of friends on this quest to be the next Governor of Georgia. Together, we can reaffirm the values that have made us great, enrich the lives of our families and leave our children a state that is a prosperous beacon of hope for the future.
I ask for your vote. I invite you to share my vision and encourage you to join my campaign for governor.
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