By Maria Saporta
In three separate events this week with Gov. Nathan Deal, it was refreshing to see the new governor at play.
Monday evening, Deal attended the United Way of Georgia reception. Tuesday morning, he was at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues Breakfast. And on Wednesday, it was the annual meeting of the Buckhead Coalition.
At each of those events, it was clear that Deal actually enjoys being around people and does his best to make them feel comfortable. Both of those traits set him apart from his predecessor, the former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The United Way event was particularly telling. Deal spent more than a half hour greeting nearly every one who was there, while patiently and gracefully shaking hands, lending his ear and posing for photos — one by one.
At Tuesday’s breakfast, a more formal event, Deal laid out his priorities — education, job creation, economic competitiveness, transportation and securing the state’s water resources.
Then after the breakfast, Deal stood outside the Georgia Ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center and answered questions from more than a dozen broadcast and print reporters — demonstrating that he was accessible and was willing to answer the questions of the day.
Deal also showed he could handle the strict instructions given by former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition.
During the election, Deal revealed that Massell had sent him (and presumably all the gubernatorial candidates) a questionnaire. The last question was: if he was elected governor, would Deal agree to be the keynote speaker at the Buckhead Coalition’s annual meeting for 15 minutes.
“I’m here to fulfill that campaign promise,” said Deal, who added that now was a Buckhead resident (given that the Governor’s Mansion is on West Paces Ferry Road).
He then repeated several of his priorities. After mentioning transportation, Deal told the crowd that Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation , was a personal friend — both Republicans who had served in Congress at the same time.
Deal said he wanted the state’s transportation leaders to go to Washington, D.C. to meet with LaHood “to see what is available in terms of federal assistance to relieve these congestion problems.”
Remember, it was LaHood who came to Georgia 18 months ago when he told state leaders that they needed to get their act together if they wanted to receive federal funds.
But it was Vincent Fort, a Democratic state representative from Atlanta, who actually had the best story to tell about Gov. Deal. Sitting at my table at the Buckhead Coalition, the liberal legislator said that in the eight years that Perdue was in office, he had only been in the governor’s office once.
“I already have been in the governor’s office twice in the two weeks that Nathan Deal has been in office,” Fort said. Although Deal and he probably disagree on most issues, Fort said he felt the new governor was willing to listen to him and was open to discussing ideas.
Yes, it has only been a couple of weeks since Deal has been in office. But so far, Deal has demonstrated that he does not want to have a closed and unfriendly administration.
Let’s hope that doesn’t change any time soon.