There’s no retreat to the rocking chair on the front porch for former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Since leaving the governor’s office in 2019, Deal, a Republican, has started a political consulting firm with former chief of staff Chris Riley and begun teaching a class in political science at the University of North Georgia. And he’s worked hard on staying healthy.

Former Gov. Nathan Deal

Deal started his career with a private law practice before becoming a prosecutor, judge, state senator and member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s 9th District. In March of 2010, he resigned from the House to run for governor.  He served two terms.

Atlanta Senior Life chatted with Deal and his wife, Sandra, recently at their home in Demorest, which is north of Gainesville.

Q. What’s been keeping you occupied since you departed the Gold Dome?

A. Ten days after I left office, I was on the operating table having surgery on my back. I had never had major surgery. I went through physical training and am now continuing with a personal trainer. The result of all this is that I have lost over 30 pounds and that has helped quite a bit with mobility.

{My new business with Chris Riley] is not really a lobbying firm. It’s consulting. We did not want to get into the lobbying aspect. Chris has been running the operation and doing an excellent job. Much of it is just consulting with people wanting to know how to deal with state government. What agencies should they contact? What information should they be prepared to present for requests they’re making of various state agencies?

[In my teaching job,] they allowed me to design the class as I saw best. So what I did in broad terms was I decided that young people needed to understand things that are below the surface, the things that are not normally found when they read the traditional textbooks. Such as, we all know about the three branches of government, but do we know the historical basis for how that came about? So I decided to go back into early English history and hit the highlights about principles and how they involved, and then brought them up to date.

Q. What did you find in interacting with the students?

A. What I discovered is that most young people don’t know how state government functions. Most of them know we have a governor. Some of them know we have a lieutenant governor but they’re not real sure what a lieutenant governor does. But they have very little conception of how state government works, which is through agencies and departments. I was very fortunate to get people who work in those agencies and departments to speak to my classes.

Q. Looking back on your eight years in office, what are you most proud of?

A. For most people, when they think about my administration, they think about the tremendous criminal justice reforms we were able to make and we did so beginning in the very first year of my administration. They truly were revolutionary for our state and have actually been copied in many other states and to some extent the federal government has picked up on it in their legislation.

When I came into office in January of 2011 we were still in the middle of the Great Recession. Georgia was one of the last states to come out of it. We had to decide what to do to keep the economy afloat. I made the decision early on that we were not going to tax our way out of the situation, [but] we were going to grow out way out of the situation. And that’s exactly what we saw happen.

In 2013, we were named the Number One state for business. We had never had this distinction before, and we did it without raising taxes.

Q. Any regrets?

A. Well there are always regrets of things you would have liked to have done and didn’t accomplish, but those are very few.

Q. Could you talk about the jobs piece of growing our way out of the recession?

A. What we started doing was asking employers if they still had jobs, even with a 10.6% unemployment rate. The answer we got back was that yes, we have jobs available, but too many people don’t have the skills we need to fill those jobs. I set out with a determination that we were going to eliminate that. We were going to educate people. We were going to fill the jobs that were available and the job needs of the future and train our young people to fill those jobs now.

Q. How do you think your successor, Brian Kemp, has done as governor?

A. He has had a very difficult time because of the circumstances that have confronted him. He has done a good job in my opinion. He’s trying hard. It would be difficult for anybody in today’s political climate to be able to do any better in my opinion than what he has been able to do.

Q. How do you feel about the fractured state of the Republican party in Georgia and across the country?

A. It would be difficult for anybody who claims to be a Republican to be happy with the circumstances they find. I think you’d find anyone from the highest educated political analyst all the way down would say that unless your party is united, you’re not going to be successful. You cannot be a splinter group.

I think the one thing missing in this environment, that’s also missing from the political environment as a whole, is that people don’t want to compromise on anything. Rarely do you find one solution that’s going to suit everybody. That’s why you have to compromise. I mean compromise is the way we got our government, honestly.

Q. What could be done to re-ignite that sense of compromise?

A. My wife has the answer to that and I’m going to ask her what her advice is. 

(Sandra Deal): I would say you can always be nice regardless of what the situation is. You don’t have to be ugly to people to disagree with them or be angry at them.

Q. How do you think Georgia handled the pandemic?
A. I think they handled it about as well as could be expected and better than most people expected. I think with Governor Kemp that’s been one of his strong points quite frankly. He had confidence the people of Georgia would do what they needed to do and, by and large, they have. He was in a position to lift the mask mandate before most other states and not have calamitous results from that.

Q. What’s your feeling about the controversial new voting law endorsed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats in Georgia?

A.  My feeling is that we ought to let a federal judge make a decision on it. That’s what we have courts for, and all of this business of trying to prejudge what a judge will do with it, I think is very improper. I mean everybody can speculate but the truth is a judge is going to look at the details of it.

I think it was very improper for the AttorneyGeneral of the United States to preface his comments about filing the lawsuit by saying the intentions of the General Assembly were to do such and such, which is to suppress voter registration, etc. That’s not something that a prosecutor should say. You’re trying to prejudge the intentions rather than the effects. A judge won’t look at the supposed intentions of the Legislature, but the effects of legislation they passed.

 Q. Any comment on the merits of the legislation itself?

A. There again I don’t know. I wasn’t involved in any of it and haven’t really studied it to any great extent.

Q. What should Georgia be doing to keep moving forward as a state?

A. It’s a challenge for every generation and every administration. I think we are very fortunate in that we have a lot of basic ingredients in our state. We have a good work force. We have a lot of assets. We need to focus on those, analyze those assets, and use them to our best advantage.

We do have social issues, but that’s not unique to the state of Georgia. We just have to deal realistically with those issues. The only way we can do that is to listen to each other. You can’t demagogue on either side or bully on either side. You need to find where you have common ground.

Mark Woolsey

Mark Woolsey is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.