Congressman Deal of Georgia is Out, Then in Again

“I’m leaving Congress because I’ve had a front row seat to the damage that inexperience in the executive branch of the federal government has done to our nation…a growing debt that will bankrupt our children’s future, an ever increasing grasp by government that snatches away our freedom, and an effort to bargain away the rights of our state for a few crumbs of federal tax dollars that are packaged as stimulus.”  Congressman Nathan Deal, March 1, 2010

“Just two days after I announced my intentions to leave Congress, the majority party stepped up the schedule for the proposed health care bill. Having been deeply involved in all health care legislation for the past decade, I knew it was important to stay and vote down this bill.” Congressman Nathan Deal, March 4, 2010

It’s been a roller coaster week for the Republican caucus of Georgia. Within two days of each other, two seasoned Georgia congressmen in safe Republican districts announced their intent to leave office.  Then on Thursday, with the possibility of a quick vote on the Senate version of Obamacare, Deal changed his mind and decided to stay in Congress, possibly through the end of March.   

So how did this all unfold?

The resignation of Republican Congressman John Linder was totally unexpected.  He was speaking at the opening of a new office and one person in attendance said, “You should have heard the room — just silence. He stopped for one picture and then left. I think Camie Young of the Gwinnett Daily Post knocked some people over bolting from the room. The way he just dropped it I thought I had missed something”  

John Linder, the Father of the FairTax, will complete his term and continue his work on the FairTax.  People are already lining up to run for Linder’s seat.  State Sen. Don Balfour and State Rep. Clay Cox are in. Ralph Reed is considering as well. A stealth candidate could be Col. Michael D. Steele. Steele is from the district and is retiring from the Army this spring. This 27 year veteran of the Army has led men in Iraq, and was a company commander whose heroism in Mogadishu in 1993 is recorded in Mark Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down.”  

Until last Saturday, Deal’s seat in the 9th District was the only open seat in Georgia.  One Georgia politician said on Saturday, “The 7th District race is going to make the 9th District race look like a bunch of senior citizens are running.” But the shocks kept coming through the week.

On Feb 28, the Deal campaign gave a heads up on a Monday morning announcement. Speculation was rampant. On March 1 at 9 a.m. sharp, Congressman Deal took the steps of the Gainesville Civic Center to tell his constituents he would be resigning from Congress effective March 8, 2010. He then traveled the state to tell his the rest of Georgia he’s “in it to win it” in the race for the Governor’s mansion. This has become a pattern in the 2010 Georgia Governor’s race.

Eric Johnson was the Senate Majority Leader in Georgia and resigned in September to run full time. At year’s end, Secretary of State Karen Handel resigned her post to run full time.  A statement released from Deal’s campaign at the time said, “Nathan Deal has taken an oath to serve the people of Georgia and has a clear record of completing his terms.”

Some wondered about the timing, Cox Radio’s Washington Bureau Chief Jamie Dupree said there were hints of Deal’s resignation. Deal’s departure would immediately close a House ethics inquiry into a business Deal owned. Some were outraged Deal’s resignation makes it easier to pass health care reform.
Deal does not want the headline to read, “Obamacare passes by one vote, and Nathan Deal helps to pass.” He told me on Friday, “You count the yes votes, it take a majority plus one of yes votes, I don’t think they [the Democrats] have the yes votes, but they are going to push for the next couple of weeks.” Deal believes he needs to be there to see this through
The resignation announcement for March 8 sped up the race to replace him. The announcement he’s staying in a little longer puts those candidates in limbo but for those currently serving in the Georgia General Assembly, it helps them by allowing them to complete the budget process.
Upon resignation, Governor Perdue has to request a special election within 10 days and then set a date for it not less than 30 days after that. The special election could “win the incumbency” and then on July 20 the Republican and Democrat primaries will be held.

There is a possibility to hold the special election for Deal, provided he does resign, and the primary on the same date which would be a benefit for Deal’s race for Governor as his base support in the 9th district would be highly motivated to get out and vote.

So with all the work still to be done in Congress, why resign at all? The answer is money.  Campaign contributions for all the top-tier candidates for governor for both parties in Georgia are running about $10 million behind where they were in the last two election cycles. This is a campaign that is going to rely more heavily on “pressing the flesh” than in years past.  Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has been the front runner on money and polling but has showed some signs of cracks in his support. Deal, Handel and Johnson want to be the beneficiary of that downturn.

The final concern on this “flip-flop’ on resignation is what is says about Deal’s campaign.  Are they meeting the needs of the people, or are they too thin-skinned to take some criticism over their decisions?  That will be for the voters to decide.