“Consistency is the foundation of virtue.” ~ Francis Bacon
As opposed to the fluff pieces I’ve read, Governor Deal leaves a strong but mixed legacy. Undoubtedly, much was accomplished in the eight years that Nathan Deal was Governor (2010-2018), but not everything done was righteous or above board.
Deal himself was a dichotomy. Deal was exceptionally well qualified to be Governor, having previously also been an Assistant DA in Gainesville, a Superior Court Judge, and State Senate President Pro-tem, as well as a Congressman. But in 1995 while a Congressman, Rep. Deal suddenly became a conservative Republican after having been a moderate Democrat throughout his career to that point.
As opposed to some politicians, he governed with dignity and rationality. However, out of self-interest he unethically short-circuited the state elections investigation of 2011 looking into his misuse of campaign funds, and that was not his first ethics issue. When he left Congress to run for Governor, he was being heavily investigated on ethics charges related to him lobbying to protect his family business. That investigation ended when he ran for Governor and was possibly the underlying reason why he ran.
As Governor, one major bi-partisan accomplishment was the creation of a Council which recommended prison reform initiatives which Deal was able to get through the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
Per Deal, “I intend for Georgia to continue leading the nation with meaningful justice reform.” (New Republic,3-31-15) and it has.
Under Deal, the state spent $17 million to reduce recidivism and rehab low risk offenders. Through an aggressive juvenile justice reform effort, felony placements fell by 62 percent.
Per the New Republic: “Georgia’s incarcerated population dropped… from 56,432 to 53,383.”
This action saved the state $10 million annually.
Deal also had the political courage to veto the so-called “religious liberty” bill which would have enabled bigots to use religion as a cover for their discriminatory practices. By doing so, he ensured that Georgia would not lose the opportunity to grow via large new businesses, as well as expansion of existing ones like the film industry. Let’s hope Kemp does the same if it lands on his desk.
Other bills and executive orders were not as well received by Democrats and many independents, including 2015 and 2017 laws permitting guns to be carried virtually everywhere (including churches and schools) and various anti-immigration measures.
Another particular area of contention was Deal’s unwavering, vehement opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, one of his final acts as a Congressman was to vote against the ACA (Obamacare).
On a purely practical level, failure to expand Medicaid under the ACA can be criticized as a bad decision. At present, there are 34 states which have expanded Medicaid, which is 90 percent paid for by federal dollars. In effect, Georgia taxpayers are subsidizing health insurance coverage for the working poor in New York, California, Illinois and the other expansion states. Let’s hope Kemp wakes up and fully expands Medicaid for all under 138 percent of the poverty level (he has not yet).
Further, an earlier GSU report indicated early on that 70,000 jobs for Georgians would be directly or indirectly created by expansion. Plus, seven rural hospitals have recently closed due to financial issues, particularly serving medically indigent patients. Most of these patients would have been covered via Medicaid expansion, providing these rural hospitals with much needed additional funding.
Even more important is the moral issue as to how a very religious state can let its low-income working citizens go without medical care. Deal simply ignored the situation, repeatedly stating that Georgia could not afford it.
If this were true, how could all these other states afford it, including poor red states like West Virginia? It’s simply a matter of priorities and lowering the number of uninsured Georgians was not a priority for Deal. That is why today, we have the fourth highest number of uninsured, right after the much larger states of Texas, Florida, and California (US Census Bureau, 2017).
Yes, Governor Deal accomplished a lot of good things, but with over 13 percent of Georgians still uninsured, his opposition to progressive programs like Medicaid expansion will haunt the state for years to come. Hopefully, Kemp will wake up and rectify the situation.