U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., spoke on the Senate floor on Tuesday to honor two-term Governor Nathan Deal and thank him for his eight years of leadership that have led to positive results for Georgia.
Isakson also thanked First Lady Sandra Deal and Deal’s longtime chief of staff, Chris Riley, calling the trio the “A-Team” who have overseen a successful administration since 2011.
Under Deal’s tenure, Georgia has been named “number one for business” for a historic six consecutive years. Georgia has led the way in criminal justice reform and economic growth, among other highlights. Due to term limits for the office in the state, Deal will depart in January 2019 at the end of his second term.
Isakson’s remarks follow below.
“Mr. President, I am here to do something every senator does at one time or another in their career, and that is pay tribute to another politician, one back in my home state of Georgia who is retiring at the end of this year after serving two terms as governor of the state of Georgia.
“I am going to say great things about him because he is a great guy, he is a personal friend, and he has done a wonderful job, but I will tell you what else I am going to do. I am going to do something a little different.
“When we elected Nathan Deal in Georgia, we had no idea at the time that it was a three-for-one.
“When Nathan, his wife, Sandra, and his chief of staff, Chris Riley, came, the three of them were a new A-Team in Georgia. Do you remember the A-Team on television? When you had a real disaster coming and you needed real help, you would call these guys, and they would come in from nowhere and solve your problem. They were tough. They were smart.
“Well, Nathan is that way too. He is tough, and he is smart. He is also crafty enough to realize that your wife always knows better, and he gave her a role in education in Georgia, and she has improved it a lot.
“Chris Riley, his chief of staff and his pilot and a good friend, did a tremendous job and was a great liaison to all of government, whether it was other states or Congress, the Senate and the House.
“Nathan has been a great governor of our state. Georgia is now the number one place in the country to do business. We have been selected six consecutive years… as the best place in America to do business.
“Georgia is thought of by many people as ‘Gone With the Wind’ and the old south, but Georgia is now the 8th largest state [in population] in the United States of America, having moved under his administration from 10th to 8th. Our votes in the electoral college are now prized, our role in politics is rising, and our influence in the country is rising–all because of that.
“He has also brought new jobs to Georgia–not just repeat jobs or old jobs where we have added on but new jobs. Nathan was smart enough to realize that, when America started investing in cyber technology and when we found out that Fort Gordon, which is in Augusta, Ga., was going to be the cyber command of the United States of America, our governor didn’t sit there and say, ‘Isn’t that great?’ and go brag about what we were doing in the federal government; he established a cyber center in Augusta, Ga., and invested $50 million initially to get it started.
“Today, there are young people who are starting careers in Georgia in cyber technology, which is going to be a proving ground for jobs in the future, all because of Nathan’s realization that if you build it, they will come. And if we built Fort Gordon, which the federal government did, and if the cyber command represented by the U.S. Army and the Signal Corps is going to be our cyber watchdog, then if we have cyber educational tools, like STEM subjects, in our elementary and high schools in our state, we will be so much better off.
“Nathan did something else that very few governors do. He built on another governor’s success and made it even better. Zell Miller, a former member of this body and the person I succeeded after he left, created the HOPE Scholarship of Georgia, which everybody has heard about.
“In Georgia, most of our kids [from our state] who enter a college go on a full scholarship paid for by the Georgia Lottery. It is called the HOPE Scholarship. Running for governor on that proposal, Zell beat me, and he made me a big believer.
“It has worked great, but Nathan said: You know, that is not good enough. We don’t want to just help the top students who have ‘B’ averages or better; we ought to bring up the bottom students so they have a chance to go and grow and maybe one day go to college. So he created something called REACH. REACH is a program he designed to reach out and bring in those who were not getting the help they should get. It stands for Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen, and it is scholarships that go to kids who had no chance of having it happen, who subscribed to building themselves up and making themselves better.
“Now, in Georgia, we have a lot of kids on the HOPE Scholarship, but 1,800 of those on the REACH Scholarship are kids who might have never been in college under a scholarship otherwise. His wisdom, his knowledge, and his ability to bring that REACH Program together is building future contributors who otherwise might have been future wards of the state.
“Ironically, we are now debating the criminal justice system in the Senate. We are going to have some votes later on today on that and big debates about it all day long. We have been talking about both sides of the issue. Are you letting them out too early? Are you not letting them out too early?
“Nathan Deal was the originator of reform of the criminal justice system to see to it that those who were getting ready to get out anyway–let me repeat that–those who were getting ready to get out anyway had an opportunity that when they got out, they would have more of an education or better preparedness for work because of the programs created by Governor Deal so that they could volunteer in prison if they wanted to, not just as a bribe for them to study or do something well, but to give them a chance and sell them on the promise of a job and a future rather than just being a recidivist on early release.
“By doing so, there are some amazing statistics that have happened in our state in terms of the number of people who have gotten released who are getting jobs who weren’t before and the increase in the number of African Americans in prison who are getting out and going to work rather than going back to prison. People he has reached out to in our prison system–we have had a decrease in our [prison] population not because we didn’t convict them, not because they aren’t serving their time, but because those who, when they got out… under the other programs we have, they got an education in their last couple years in prison and got out and made something of their lives.
“That is the way you do things. It is easy for any of us to take the easy thing to do, but the hard thing to do is something a lot of politicians won’t reach out for, but Nathan Deal has.
“Something else hard to do is getting kids to read. I have three children and eight grandchildren. I was chairman of the board of education in my state, and I know some kids love to read, but a lot of them hate it. I used to always tell kids: You know, if you can’t read, you can’t do anything. If you can read, you can do everything.
“Nathan’s wife, Sandra, who is one of the most wonderful women you could ever possibly hope to meet, dedicated her services as first lady to reading comprehension for kids. In eight years, she visited 1,000 schools in our 181 school systems and 159 counties. The reading scores in our state have gone up, not down. The focus on reading has gone up in our schools. Because of Sandra’s leadership and her example, because she got in and did it, they are doing wonders.
“When the federal government came out with our program on parks–you know the little passbook you get now when you go to a federal park and you get it stamped, kind of like a passport–she did the same thing for our state parks, partnering with the federal government to increase the use by our kids and our families of the parklands they pay for as taxpayers.
“I could go on and on and on, but to do so might be to talk too much. But you can’t say too much about somebody who has contributed eight years of their life to their state and brought home so many things–first in economic development, first in job creation, first in really making a difference in education, first in reforming the criminal justice system, first in getting cyber technology as the main heart and soul of Georgia’s focus in the future–all those things.
“And his two partners on the A-Team–Chris Riley, his chief of staff, and his wife, Sandra–deserve equal credit with Nathan. I know I am supposed to brag about just Nathan, but I want to brag about all of them because I know them and worked with them daily. Those three as a combination make a great team.”