The casual political observer might be asking this question after taking in the events of the past few weeks: When did Nathan Deal become a liberal Democrat?
The governor has turned state politics on its head with a couple of controversial vetoes.
The first was his cancellation of the “religious liberty” bill. He followed up that action by vetoing two bills much beloved by the gun community: One would have allowed firearms to be carried on college campuses, and the other would have made it easier to bring assault rifles to church services.
Deal released a lengthy statement explaining his veto of the “campus carry” bill that was well-reasoned and eloquent, ending with these words:
“From the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning where firearms have not been allowed. To depart from such time-honored protections should require overwhelming justification. I do not find that such justification exists.”
Deal’s vetoes brought him a lot of love on social media sites from persons of the liberal persuasion who put up postings that said, “Thank you, Governor Deal.”
That would be fine if Deal was a Democrat, which he was before switching parties 20 years ago. But he’s not. He was elected to two terms as governor after campaigning as a conservative Republican, and his party colleagues understandably are very unhappy with him.
State Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, for example, said this after Deal’s gun vetoes: “Nathan Deal is the reason Donald Trump is the nominee for president. People are sick and tired of stinking politicians telling them what they’re going to do when they get in office, and then when they do that, they do the exact opposite.”
Cooke is not the only Republican lawmaker expressing such disgust with the state’s chief executive. There is so much anger, in fact, that Deal may have a difficult time getting his policy agenda approved by the Legislature during his final two years in office.
Deal still wants to secure passage of legislation that would revise the way public schools are funded and base teacher salaries on performance rather than seniority.
With so many Republicans peeved at him for those vetoes, that may become an impossible goal.
“His legislative agenda’s going to get much more difficult to pass the next two years,” said Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, one of the primary sponsors of the gun bills.
Republicans control two-thirds of the seats in the General Assembly, and a majority of those lawmakers disagree vehemently with the governor on his vetoes. It’s natural to think Deal’s policy proposals could be dead on arrival when the next session gets underway in January.
But remember: The governor has quite a few levers he can pull to get the machinery working his way.
One of them is his ability to veto individual items in the state budget.
Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, was one of the most outspoken critics of Deal on the religious-liberty issue and gave the governor no end of grief.
When it came time to sign the state budget, however, Deal neatly vetoed $100,000 that the Legislature had included for the National Infantry Museum. That museum just happens to be located in McKoon’s hometown of Columbus.
Rep. Dusty Hightower, R-Carrollton, has been one of the strongest gun-carry advocates in the Legislature and comes from the same part of the state as Cooke. You might think that Cooke and Hightower would team up next year to get back at Deal for vetoing the gun bills.
That won’t happen, however. There was a vacancy in the Coweta Judicial Circuit caused by the retirement of Judge Quillian Baldwin, so Deal simply appointed Hightower to replace Baldwin as the Superior Court judge.
Now that he’s a judge, Hightower is not in the Legislature anymore to cause trouble. He’s also not going to criticize the man who just appointed him to a well-paid judgeship.
Those are the kinds of things that governors can do to ease the hurt feelings of lawmakers, and Deal does them very well.
That’s why he can get everyone all hot and bothered over his vetoes and still have a good chance of getting his agenda approved.
Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.