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Friday, May 16, 2014 - 3:39am

Governor Deal: No Need To Debate Primary Opponents, I Stand On My Record

We know Governor Nathan Deal's staffers are paying attention to our political coverage at GPB.

Last week, we profiled Deal's Republican opponents for the gubernatorial nomination — David Pennington and John Barge.

The Governor’s staff heard the conversations and reached out to us wondering why Deal wasn't included.

We told him what we also told you last week — GPB never got a response to our interview request.

So Thursday, Governor Deal finally did sit down with GPB. He started by saying that he’s proud of the record he’s running on from his first term in office.

"When I became governor, the unemployment rate in our state was hovering in the 10 to 10-and-a-half percent range, we're now down to seven, the lowest we've been in five years," Deal said.

"We were seeing jobs disappear. In the time, less than three and a half years, we have created about 243,000 private sector jobs in Georgia."

Those numbers track the national economic trends, stemming from the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing recovery.

"We were faced with two real crisises [sic] when I came into office. The first one was we were told that we had only enough money in our rainy day fund to operate state government for about two days," Deal said.

"We’ve now increased the rainy day fund to in excess of $700 million," he said. That's enough to run the government for about two weeks, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

The other crisis Deal cites is the significant state budget shortfalls he has faced in prior years. Those shortfalls led him and lawmakers to pull back on education funding.

"We have not had the money up until this year to make significant new contributions back into our K-through-12, but this year [we've put] over a half a billion dollars into K-through-12 education, which has allowed school boards to go back in a re-set their calendars for next year, more of them have eliminated furlough days," Deal said.

Deal's record on education has been the main target of state school Superintendent Barge, one of the two men challenging the governor in the Republican primary.

But Deal doesn’t seem to be taking that challenge very seriously — he declined to debate Barge and Pennington on GPB-TV earlier this week, something for which the governor makes no apologies.

"I don't think a debate serves any useful purpose," he said. "My record is my best explanation of where I stand on issues."

And, if the governor wins Tuesday's primary, that record would come into play in the general election against Democrat Jason Carter, particularly when it comes to healthcare.

Deal's decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act means that some Georgians make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized private insurance through the federal exchange.

Deal said it's actually up to President Obama and Congress to fix that.

"If the federal government is going to give subsidies in a private insurance marketplace to people that are above the levels of income that the gap people are in, it makes no sense to me why they would not simply extend that subsidy program down to wherever a state's Medicaid program leaves off," he said.

Of course, that would require Congress and the president to agree on a change to the law, something that is unlikely to get through the Republican-controlled House.

Another thing that could work against Deal in the general election is his signature on a recent bill expanding gun rights. The law now says licensed gun owners can bring their weapons in some churches, bars, and government buildings where they were not previously allowed.

An Atlanta Journal Constitution poll found 59 percent of people in the state don’t like that.

"The reality is far from the perception that the media has made the public believe that it is," Deal said. "We've not expanded the right of people to carry guns into churches, unless the church itself decides they want that."

But the new gun law offers no such option to the managers of government buildings. Any government building that is not protected by a metal detector is now a place where people can bring their weapons.

"I think it's also important to remember that if the rights are expanded, they are only the rights of people who have been fingerprinted, who have had a background check, and have gone through the process of being licensed to carry a weapon," he added.

Deal said he’s ready face Carter, even though he thinks the national Democratic Party is going to pour a lot of money into the race this year.

But first there is the primary on Tuesday — Friday is the last day for early voting.

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