Governor Nathan Deal has enjoyed a general level of policy success during his first two years in office in a way that would not necessarily have been predicted during a long and often bitter gubernatorial campaign. He has formed coalitions within his own party and across the aisle. He has worked with Democratic Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to fund a port expansion in Savannah and fix the transportation grid in Atlanta. He was able to bring key Democrats on board to push through reforms to the HOPE Scholarship program, Georgia’s third rail of politics.
He’s implemented sentencing reform and tax reform. He’s set the state on a course to build new reservoirs for Atlanta while racking up legal victories protecting the state’s right to water from Lake Lanier. On most decisions of policy, the governor has pleased the partisans and won tacit approval from many Democrats. By most measures, the Governor has had a successful first two years in office.
Where the Governor continues to fall flat, however, is over the subject of cronyism. Governors certainly have the prerogative to appoint the people of their choosing. It would be unnatural to expect a Governor to appoint his adversaries, though Governor Zell Miller once did that by appointing his former opponent Johnny Isakson to head the State School Board. Generally, however, Governors will appoint those close to them who have exhibited loyalty and trust. This is nothing new.
Deal’s use of appointments and re-appointments has thus far exhibited that “independent boards” is an oxymoron. Longtime Republican activist Warren Budd was not reappointed to the state’s Department of Natural Resources board after he openly complained that the location of reservoirs under the Governor’s plan were too heavily weighted north of Atlanta and served interests of connected developers.
The Executive Secretary of the State Ethics Commission and her chief assistant were removed from their positions as they sought subpoenas in ethics cases against the Governor. The Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff went so far as to call Budd’s removal a “teachable moment” for others who serve at the pleasure of the Governor.
On Friday leading into the 4th of July holiday week, the Governor somewhat quietly appointed three close political allies to the board of the Georgia Ports Authority. Ken Cronan of Gainesville, the Governor’s business partner for decades; James Walters of Gainesville, the Governor’s banker, landlord and campaign donor to the tune of $30,000; and Hugh Tarbutton of Sandersville, also a large campaign donor, according to the AJC.