Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal came out on top of one of the most toughly contested primaries in recent memory, and then won a run-off vote against former Secretary of State Karen Handel by a margin of less than one percent.
After a few months slugging it out with Democratic candidate Roy Barnes, Deal is ahead in the polls by a few points. We caught up with him by phone two weeks ago on his way to a campaign event.
What would you say are the most important issues facing the state right now?
Nathan Deal: It's the same issue that we face across the nation, to improve our economy, and specifically to improve job opportunities in the state of Georgia. Many other things are associated with that, such as improving the quality of our K-12 education.
The central issue that is most pressing on Georgians is the lack of job opportunities, and the fear on the part of those who are employed that they may lose their job in the future.
Unemployment still floats around 10 percent, what would you do specifically in your first year to help stimulate job growth?
Nathan Deal: I believe what you have to do is figure out what it is going to take to get people to come to our state and create new jobs, or the ones who are here to be willing to expand their job base. Currently, Georgia is in the bottom half of states in terms of friendly business climate for taxes.
We proposed early in the campaign what we call a real prosperity plan that dealt with tax reform. On the corporate side, it would cut corporate taxes by one third and it would wave taxes on new and start up businesses until they got established.
We believe that's one of the ways we can improve our job climate. It would then put us, instead of being in the bottom half, it would put us in the top one third, actually ranked number 16 in the nation. That would make us ahead of every state in southeast on the corporate side.
I think that would be a great recruiting tool and a great reason to ask people, when they're looking for places to send jobs, businesses and manufacturing, to say this is the state in the southeast with the most friendly tax climate for business.
The Tax Reform Council has been meeting since August, and will present their recommendations to the Legislature in January. Because you have a tax plan of your own, would you be ready to accept their recommendations, if they differed from your own?
Nathan Deal: Like everybody, I'm watching the work that they're doing and they've certainly reached out all across our state and I think that's good.
As you know, it's going be an up or down vote as to the package that they recommend, and the ability to amend their proposal doesn't exist in the format in which it's going to be presented to the General Assembly.
I think it's premature for me to say I would whole heartedly support or would oppose. I would hope I would be in a position to support it, and I know that these are very responsible individuals that are on the council.
I look forward to them presenting something that will be acceptable not only to me, but hopefully to the General Assembly and the public at large.
The big story this year has obviously been the ascension of the Tea Party into political power and influence. Do you feel that as a Republican you've been able to bridge the divide the right wing and the Tea Party? Have they given you support or are they leaning toward the Libertarian candidate?
Nathan Deal: I think we have a lot of support from people who are associated with the Tea Party movement in Georgia. These individuals share many of the common goals that I have, and that is smaller government, less government spending and more freedom for individuals. Those are principles that have always been embodied in the Republican point of view. On those core principles on which the movement was founded, they should be favorably inclined to my party and to me based on the campaign I have run and the issues that have been part of my campaign platform.
I read this week that there had been a couple of members of the state GOP committee that had stood down because they didn't feel that you were a good representative of the party. Do you feel like there's some dissension in the ranks, or is this just the usual political process?
Nathan Deal: I'm not familiar with who has done that. There's always going to be those who prefer their candidate and it was a very difficult primary, but I believe, by and large, we had a victory dinner here in Atlanta last night and it was a very successful event. Every one of the major candidates who had been in the governor's race was there. We're working as a team.
I look forward to making sure our party moves forward with unity. The worst thing that could happen to our state would be to go into a season of gridlock.
We're gonna have a Republican General Assembly, we're gonna need a Republican governor who will work with them and not a governor who will veto every substantive piece of legislation that a General Assembly controlled by Republicans would put on his desk. I'll work cooperatively.
I have a great relationship with Speaker Ralston and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. I believe you're gonna see Republicans unite and I look forward to being not only the nominee but the next Governor.
You and Mr. Barnes have been running pretty closely in the polls, what do you see as the differential when November 2nd rolls around?
Nathan Deal: The latest poll I've seen has me up by several percentage points, but I'm running as if I'm behind or tied. That's the campaign mode we're in is to work extremely hard to get our message out. When people look at the questions that are being posed in terms of what is your philosophy on government, I have not made what I consider to be unrealistic promises.
I believe that we cannot afford to raise taxes on Georgia families and Georgia consumers; that we need to be able to streamline government operations and prioritize it, and put our money where our most important issues are. That means to be able to live within our means and still do as good, if not a better job.
In my proposals for things like education reform, it's simply to give flexibility to local school systems. They can decide how they want to spend their money. If we give them that freedom, we know they'll produce great results.
Do you feel that some level of local control is what's missing right now? Obviously the Georgia school system has seen better days. Is that part of a broader solution you see?
Nathan Deal: I have said that we have too much money to put in what is called categorical grants. They're put in silos where you can only spend the money in those silos, things like transportation can only be spent there, staff development can only be spent for that purpose.
I believe if you let school systems decide whether they really need another school bus versus keeping teachers in a classroom and avoiding furloughs, they will make the right choices and I trust them to make those correct judgment calls.