Back in early 2009, a Democratic legislator told me he was concerned about rumors that then-Congressman Nathan Deal was planning to jump into the race for governor. At the time, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine was the self-proclaimed GOP front-runner, yet few believed he could beat ex-Gov. Roy Barnes in a general election. But Deal was different, the Democrat warned. "He's not one of these ideological yahoos," I was told. "He's a serious guy."
Well, now that this serious guy has been our governor for a month, I admit to being cautiously optimistic that, our lousy economy aside, Georgia is headed in a better direction than it has in a while. And not just because I might soon be able to buy a bottle of bourbon on Sunday — although let's be careful not to underestimate the near-biblical magnitude of that change.
Now, don't get me wrong. This newspaper endorsed Barnes for governor and still believes he was the better choice, but that's heavily litigated river water under the bridge right now.
Which reminds me that, just last week, we ran an article about how Atlanta officials and the state are beginning to work in partnership to plan a massive reservoir project on property the city owns in Dawson County. It's too early to say definitively whether the project will happen, or even if it's the best solution for the region's water problems. But it's a good sign that Deal, in stark contrast to his ample-posteriored predecessor, is actually looking to get shit done as governor. And when's the last time Georgia and its capitol city worked together on anything?
At a recent luncheon, Deal predicted success for the state's bid to snare federal funding to dredge the Savannah River, allowing Georgia's main seaport to handle more freight traffic, leading to economic growth statewide. But this wasn't the usual empty talk. Deal cited his personal friendship with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Congressional colleague, as well as efforts by Mayor Reed to open other doors for state officials in Democratically controlled Washington. Isn't it refreshing to have elected leaders who possess clout and connections that don't end at the state line?
There have been other encouraging signals from the governor's office. Deal's surprisingly even-handed delegation of oversight duties for the troubled Atlanta Public Schools in tapping House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams to keep him updated, for one. His suggestion that Georgia's lock-'em-up criminal justice policies are in need of reform, for another.
Of course, the state budget process has only just started and plenty of tough decisions lie ahead, but it's heartening that state House and Senate leaders and the governor aren't at each others' throats, as in years past.
Now, if Gov. Deal can only avoid indictment for his many dodgy business dealings, Georgia might yet be in pretty decent shape.