As they near the end of their last term, Georgia’s governors usually start running out of gas. By that time, they have finished working on most of their major policy goals—and if they haven’t, there is little chance they’ll get it done during that last 11 or 12 months in office. There’s a name for it: lame-duck governors.
Those tendencies were on display with Nathan Deal last week as he and the General Assembly moved into the final regular session of his tenure as governor.
Deal had a couple of major speeches to deliver, including the annual “State of the State” address to a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This is the big speech where a governor tries to paint a grand vision for the future of the state and fire up lawmakers to help him put the finishing touches on that big picture.
We didn’t hear any of that from Deal. He devoted his speeches to looking back at what had been done during his first seven years, not to what he might want to do in his last year. There were no grand visions here.
Deal wants to put $25 million in the state budget to upgrade some rural airports, but that’s not going to get many people excited outside of those rural communities that will see their runways lengthened.
He’s creating a new deputy commissioner position in the Technical College System to coordinate the state’s economic development activities, but that’s not anything that’ll put you in the history books.
He will allocate $22.9 million to implement the recommendations of a special commission he appointed to look at mental health services for children. That’s a worthy project, of course, but it is not exactly what you build a legacy around.
And that was pretty much it. Deal either recognizes that there isn’t much he could persuade an election-year legislature to do, or at the age of 75, he is ready to slow down and take it easy for a while.
The biggest achievement that might happen this year—and there’s no guarantee of it—is that the retail giant Amazon would put Georgia on its shortlist of locations under consideration for the construction of a second corporate headquarters. If that should come to pass, Deal said he would gladly call a special session of the General Assembly for lawmakers to approve even more financial goodies on top of the $1 billion or so that the state is already willing to throw at Amazon to entice them here.
Deal urged legislators to take it easy and wait until then. “Let me assure you that if Georgia makes the list of final three contenders for HQ2, I will call a special session so that we can make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude,” Deal said. “To do so before we know where we stand would be presumptuous on our part and premature.”.
In other words, the governor seemed to be saying, take it easy and don’t do any heavy lifting until you really have to. That could easily serve as a motto for his last year in office.
Deal did make a token effort to leave the impression that he is fully engaged as he hits that glide path to retirement in North Georgia. In an appearance before the Georgia Chamber, he gamely avowed that “there is nothing lame about this duck.”
But his words gave him away. There was little in any of his speeches to suggest that Georgians should look for big things coming out of this administration in its final months. Deal may not be a lame duck, but he definitely looks like a duck who’s scouting for a place to land.