Duncan’s power play nixes key Deal appointments to Regents

Kemp now can fill coveted higher ed roles
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.    Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Gov. Brian Kemp will soon have a chance to appoint supporters to dozens of additional posts – including a trio of coveted Board of Regents spots – after Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan challenged his predecessor’s lame-duck board appointments.

Duncan asserted last week that 64 board appointments made by Gov. Nathan Deal were not properly submitted. The fallout crystallized on Thursday when Kemp put forth a new list of names that exclude many of Deal's appointments.

Among those not on the list were three Board of Regents members that Deal reappointed a week before he left office: Dean Alford, Don Leebern Jr. and Richard Tucker.

A spot on the 19-member board is one of the plum appointments in state government and Leebern’s departure, in particular, was significant.

The second-longest serving member of the Regents in state history, Leebern has long been intertwined in every major higher education system decision - particularly those involving his alma mater, the University of Georgia.

Kemp also didn't resubmit other Deal appointments, including to the economic development agency and other boards. He did, however, include several Deal allies – most notably David Herring, the former head of the state's executive security agency who will remain on the state pardons board.

Kemp, who took office last month, already has the power to stock boards with allies and donors. But the move gives him an additional trove that was seemingly filled by Deal – until Duncan’s lawyers uncovered a technical flaw.

In a letter last week, Duncan wrote that Deal violated a Georgia law that requires the Senate to approve a governor's appointments to boards, commissions and bureaus – a vote that's typically approved with little debate or controversy.

When appointments are made in between legislative sessions, the law mandates that the governor must "submit" to the Senate a list of the names. Deal's office sent that list to Duncan on Jan. 14, the day the lieutenant governor was sworn into office.

In a memo accompanying the letter, Duncan attorney Regina Quick argued that the list of appointments Deal made between Nov. 17 and his final day in office on Jan. 14 
wasn't properly submitted because it was sent to the lieutenant governor before he took the oath of office. Deal and his allies did not contest it.

The maneuvering reflects a changed dynamic under the Gold Dome, where Republicans with fewer ties to Deal now control the levers of power. And it’s a sign of Duncan’s attempt to play a muscular role in the new regime.

They are also rebukes to the three Regents members Deal tried to reappoint in January. Each now will apparently serve until the legislative session ends in April before vacating their jobs – unless they get reappointed by Kemp.

Alford and Tucker are both Regents veterans with business backgrounds and ties to the GOP establishment.

But the highest-profile among the three is Leebern, a Columbus liquor magnate who was first appointed to the board in 1991 and played a central part in legendary feuds between UGA administrators and athletics officials.

He was one of the chief allies of then-UGA president Michael Adams during a tug-of-war between him and supporters of Vince Dooley, who at the time was the school’s long-serving athletics director, over finances in the early 2000s.

The multi-millionaire has also had a history of controversy on the board, including scrutiny for distributing a wine bearing the UGA logo in violation of state policy and, against NCAA regulations, financing a posh weekend in New York for former members of the UGA gymnastics squad in 2004.