Those who are working on Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election campaign for 2014 might be feeling a little nervous right now.
Two recent polls – one from a Republican-aligned polling firm and one by a Democratic firm – show that Deal does not get very high marks for the job he has done as governor.
The Democratic poll found that only 36 percent of Georgia voters approve of Deal, while the Republican poll put the governor’s approvals at 38 percent.
When an incumbent officeholder’s approval numbers slip below the 50 percent level, that can often be a sign of trouble. When those approval numbers go south of the 40 percent level, you’ve really got problems.
In making his case for a second term, Deal can say he’s accomplished some positive things as governor, such as revising the criminal sentencing laws and at least slowing down the cutbacks in state funding for K-12 schools.
But there are other areas that Deal’s opposition would surely emphasize in an election campaign.
For example, there’s the cronyism that has highlighted his first term in office.
Deal’s first official action on his first day as governor was to appoint a major campaign contributor to the prestigious Board of Regents. In succeeding months, the State Properties Commission that Deal chairs voted to locate a $13.6 million state poultry lab at a Gainesville industrial center in which Deal’s campaign chairman is a partner.
More recently, Deal was involved in the controversy over creating a state job with a $150,000 salary for Chip Rogers, who was then the Senate majority leader. That generosity caused widespread criticism and motivated contributors to stop giving money to Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Deal likely will campaign under the claim that he boosted economic development and “created jobs,” but a smart opponent could argue that Deal actually caused great harm to the state’s economy through his actions as governor.
For one thing, Deal signed HB 87, a law that was intended to stop undocumented immigration into the state.
Instead, the new law blew a huge hole in the state’s largest business: agriculture. Farmers could not get their crops harvested because they couldn’t hire enough migrant workers; the workers stayed away from Georgia as the word circulated about HB 87. The economic damage to the state’s agribusiness sector was estimated at $300 million to $400 million in the law’s first year.
The immigration law also imposed burdensome paperwork requirements on businesses and licensed professionals who were forced to spend large amounts of time filling out bureaucratic forms, digging through official records and having documents notarized to “prove” they were United States citizens.
Just a few weeks ago, thousands of nurses faced the prospect of not being able to work because the documentation requirement slowed down their license renewals. City and county governments complained that the immigration law was fouling up the yearly process of renewing business licenses.
Deal is also costing the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs by refusing to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the federal healthcare act.
Other Republican governors have agreed to this Medicaid expansion, including the governors of Ohio, Florida and Arizona.
By refusing to expand Medicaid coverage, Georgia will deny health insurance coverage to an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 uninsured residents. The state will lose out on $3 billion to $4 billion a year in federal funding. A recent study by Georgia State University said the boost in federal money would create up to 70,000 jobs over the next decade.
Even with those weak points, Deal is still the horse to bet on in 2014. The political heavyweights will either run for Saxby Chambliss’ open Senate seat or for one of the congressional seats that becomes open because of the Senate race.
But if an ambitious Republican like Secretary of State Brian Kemp or Attorney General Sam Olens wants to make an early run at the governor’s office, they have some strong issues they can use against Deal.
If an ambitious Democrat like state Sen. Jason Carter or state Rep. Scott Holcomb wants to run in the general election, they likewise have plenty of material they can use against the incumbent governor.
Deal is vulnerable in some areas. Is anyone willing to step up and run against those vulnerabilities?
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com.)