Invoking DeKalb school crisis, Nathan Deal questions 'wishy washy' critics

Gov. Nathan Deal's visit to a DeKalb County school turned into a celebration of his decision last year to replace most of the county's board - and an attempt to knock Democrat Jason Carter's role in the crisis.

Deal's back-to-school tour took him to the gleaming new Chamblee High School, where Deal and other Republicans rolled out new attacks against the Democratic state senator in quick fashion.

At the school, Deal said "the future of all of these young people here was really hanging in the balance" in December 2012 when a watchdog agency threatened the system's accreditation after concluding the school board was mired in deep dysfunction.

The governor suspended and then replaced six of the nine school board members last year, and the accrediting agency cited the new leadership in January when it announced the system was off probation.

"People here in DeKalb County certainly remember that this was a tough time for the school system itself and that people needed to take decisive action. They couldn’t afford to run and hide from the issue," Deal said. "They could not be wishy-washy on it. I was not. I took decisive action and it proved to be the right thing to do."

Minutes later, the Georgia GOP sent a release quoting Lisa Kinnemore, a member of the state school board and a Republican operative, praising Deal's decision.

"While some people played politics, Governor Deal worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to put our children first," she said. "While some people ran and hid, Governor Deal led."

Neither named Carter in their attacks, but the dotted line they were trying to draw was pretty clear. Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber later sent a release saying Carter "waited to see which way the political wind would blow rather than standing up for students in his district." Earlier, it claimed the DeKalb Democrat "was nowhere to be found" during the accreditation crisis.

If that's the case, by the way, we must have excellent eyesight.

We wrote a story at the height of that 2013 political battle that Carter supported a compromise that sought to avoid a court battle. That plan would allow the governor's office to monitor the school board's process in a "tightly-controlled agreement" if the legal challenges were dropped.

“The governor and I may have policy differences, but I believe in my heart that he would take very seriously the constitutional questions about this law,” Carter said then. “It’s a very tough task to ask the governor to remove people who are duly elected.”

Those differences are presumably why he didn't appear at the news conference announcing the suspension, pictured above. But Carter's campaign points us to a press release he sent to constituents after that decision pledging to "do everything I can to support this board and its work." Said the release:

"I know that there are differing views on the law that allowed the governor to remove the elected board members and replace them, but we can all agree that we have to move forward and do what is best for the children of DeKalb County. That’s what I intend to do."

In a statement, Carter spokesman Bryan Thomas said the attack was a "desperate attempt to deflect from the governor's abysmal record on education" and that Carter set aside party politics and encouraged the community to move forward together.

"Sen. Carter worked aggressively on behalf of the kids and families in DeKalb County, just as he will for all Georgia families as governor," said Thomas. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.