Gainesville — In front of hundreds of supporters on the Hall County courthouse plaza, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal announced for governor this morning, emphasizing his own experience as a state senator and 17-year member of Congress.
While he didn’t use the phrase, the 66-year-old Deal — the oldest of six Republicans now in the race — appears to be running as the adult in the room.
“If you want a governor who does his own thinking, writes his own speeches, and ties his own shoes, if you want all these things in your next governor, have I got a deal for you,” the congressman said.
The announcement was designed to quickly establish Deal as a major candidate in the race: a large workday crowd, a full stage complete with potted ferns and bunting, and cute elementary school students who danced to thumping music.
Deal admitted that he gave no thought to running for governor until the withdrawal of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, with whom he shares a north Georgia political base.
The congressman, who said he had not spoken to Cagle since his surgery on Monday, acknowledged that he held a conference call with House Republican leaders to ask them for support that Deal termed “vital.”
“I hope that in the very near future we’ll hear them express some opinions as to which candidates in the race they have preference for,” Deal said after his speech.
Details of the campaign have yet to emerge. “This came about in a very short period of time. A matter of just a few days,” he said. Paperwork to allow him to begin fund-raising is to be filed today. Chris Riley, his congressional press secretary, will resign to work on the campaign — though titles haven’t been determined yet.
In his speech, Deal laid out the issues he intends to concentrate on:
— On education: “Sociologists tell us that we can determine how many prison beds we must build based on the achievement level of third-graders. I want us to use those statistics to know how many college classrooms we will need.”
— Transportation: “From my conversations with my friends in the General Assembly, I know that they are greatly disappointed that they could not pass major transportation legislation this year. As governor, I will work to bring the members of the Senate and the House, and the DOT board….together to resolve our transportation problems.”
Note that he included the board that governs the state Department of Transportation. Deal didn’t mention a sales tax for road-building, but “new ideas and innovative funding.”
— Deal pointed to his experience as a former House subcommittee chairman dealing with health issues, and called for “a workable Medicaid program,” and the expansion of the state’s trauma care network.
— He also called for resolution of a decades-long legal battle between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over water, noting that his Ninth District includes most of Lake Lanier, which supplies most of metro Atlanta’s water. “It’s time for us to stake our rightful clam to the waters which by the bounty of God fall upon and flow through our state,” he said.
Underlining his experience in a conversation with reporters, Deal did not mention by name Secretary of State Karen Handel and state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, two statewide office-holders already in the race. But it was clear they were on his mind.
“I have legislative experience. Other than Eric Johnson, who does have legislative experience, the other two do not. I think you have to understand the working of the legislative process in order to effectively manage the executive branch,” Deal said.
(Johnson, the former Senate president pro tem, joined the GOP race for governor early this week. The two other candidates are state Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton and Ray McBerry.)
Now, as to that “adult in the room” bit. Said Deal:
“For those who might say that I am more senior in terms of age to the others in the race, I take that as a compliment. As a general rule, age brings maturity and hopefully it brings wisdom. I don’t wish to put labels on anybody else.”
Dean is a former Democrat who switched parties in 1995, three years after his first election to Congress. Asked if he thought that would hurt him, the congressman said, “It didn’t seem to hurt Sonny Perdue, and he switched parties after I did.”
Several of those mentioned as successors to Deal in Congress — all Republican — were seen working the crowd. Among them were state Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville and Max Burns — the former congressman, who moved to north Georgia after he was ousted from his seat by U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah).
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