Gov. Nathan Deal was the picture of confidence last week as he presided over the traditional lighting of the state Christmas tree.
Deal was positively beaming as he and his wife Sandra welcomed visitors to the capitol and wished them well for the holiday season. He looked like a public official supremely at ease with himself.
Behind the scenes, however, there are signs that the governor may be getting a little nervous about his upcoming campaign for a second term in office.
One indicator of this nervousness is the governor’s official Web site.
For nearly three years, Deal’s Web site included the texts of every executive order he had signed since taking office in 2011. These public records were readily available to anyone with a computer and an Internet hookup.
At some point around the Thanksgiving holiday, the records suddenly disappeared. If you go to Deal’s official Web site now, you will no longer find a link to the executive orders and the texts of those orders have vanished.
When I asked the governor’s communications office why these public records had been removed from online access, I received this terse email: “All executive orders are available for review in suite 201.”
The only way now you can see Deal’s executive orders is to trek to the Capitol, seek out the designated room, and request print copies of those orders. This isn’t much of an inconvenience if you’re going to be at capitol anyway, but if you’re an interested citizen who lives far from Atlanta and wants to check online what the governor has been doing, you’re slap out of luck.
Here’s why this matters: there are occasions when the governor takes an official action and the public doesn’t learn about it because no news release is sent out by Deal’s office. The only way you can really find out what’s been happening is to check the executive orders he signs — but it is more difficult now for the public to see those orders.
I would guess that the governor’s aides are trying to keep the lid on information that might be troublesome in an election year.
For example, Deal signed an executive order Oct. 4 authorizing the removal of the statue of former senator Tom Watson from in front of the capitol.
The removal of the Watson statue caused some grumbling among southern heritage groups, which include conservative voters who are likely to turn out in next year’s Republican primary.
Deal’s action to move the statue was not publicized in a news release and some reporters only learned about it while doing a routine check of the governor’s executive orders.
There have been other attempts to keep Deal insulated from potential bad news.
The state Board of Natural Resources, which is appointed by the governor, was scheduled to adopt new rules in December that would have eased the environmental restrictions on the operation of large hog farms.
Such a decision could have left Deal open to criticism that his appointed board had made it easier for Georgia’s drinking water supplies to be polluted with hog waste. Prior to the natural resources board meeting, the hog farm rule was pulled from consideration and probably won’t see the light of day until after the elections.
That kind of skittishness is an indication that you have a public official who is nervous about his re-election prospects. Deal obviously does not want to become the second governor — Roy Barnes was the first — to lose a bid for a second consecutive term in office.
Should he even be nervous?
Deal is a Republican governor in a conservative state that is very GOP friendly. The Affordable Care Act does not poll well among many Georgians, and aside from Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, I don’t know of any elected official who’s been more critical of Obamacare than Deal.
Deal has been a very pro-business governor, which means he will get a flood of campaign contributions from business executives and chamber of commerce officials. He most likely will have far more money in his campaign account than any of the candidates who challenge him.
I don’t see many reasons at this point for Deal to be so nervous, but he and his people are still playing it very cautiously.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.