For Gov. Deal, 2013 poses risks, rewards

Name of Publication: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Excerpt of Article: 

Posted: 6:13 a.m. Monday, Jan. 14, 2013

By Greg Bluestein

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This year is arguably the most important of Gov. Nathan Deal’s term.

A strong showing could discourage potential rivals from running against the Republican when he seeks another term in 2014. But the road to re-election is already lined with fiscal pitfalls and political traps that could complicate his agenda and echo beyond.

As lawmakers convene on Monday for the start of this year’s 40-day session, the governor faces a gantlet of pressing challenges that offer few easy solutions.

His role in the debate over the proposed new $1 billion Falcons stadium will be scrutinized. His relationship with the state’s growing tea party caucus will be watched. And his possible solution to a looming health-care budget shortfall could shape the state’s finances for years to come. ...

This is a crucial time for the governor. A poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows a narrow majority of voters - about 51 percent - give Deal a favorable approval rating. About 5 percent of those voters say they strongly approve of his first term in office. Twenty-one percent disapprove of his performance - 4 percent of them do so strongly - and the remaining respondents said they didn’t know.

Deal’s most solid support came from fellow Republicans, voters from his North Georgia base and, perhaps surprisingly, those between age 18 and 24. They gave him a 63 percent approval rating. The groups least impressed with the governor are black voters, Democrats and those who labeled their race as “other,” according to the poll conducted in December by Kennesaw State University’s Survey Research Laboratory. ...

The tea party movement also could test Deal’s political capital. The governor has so far enjoyed a smoother relationship than his predecessor with the legislative branch, and many lawmakers praise his negotiating skills. While tea party leaders have yet to gain much traction under the Gold Dome, the growing band of lawmakers who identify with the fiscally conservative movement could prove to be an obstacle to Republican leaders who push for new taxes or fees.

“The tea party is emboldened and very engaged on the issues,” said Kerwin Swint, a political scientist at Kennesaw State University. “They’re not going anywhere, and he and everyone else is going to have to deal with them.”