Deal takes oath of office as governor in weather-plagued inaugural

John Nathan Deal, warm and dry inside the chamber of the House, took the oath of office as Georgia's 82nd governor Monday, a rite demanded by the state constitution but nearly derailed by Mother Nature.

Deal, 68, used his inauguration to stress the limited role and ability of government to be the end-all to everyday life.

"So today as we embark on this journey to lead our state forward, I call on all Georgians to assume responsibility for themselves and their family," Deal said. "I call on communities and civic and religious organizations to continue and expand their efforts to serve the needs of people in their area. State government cannot and should not be expected to provide for us what we can provide for ourselves."

Deal took the oath of office at 2:42 p.m., followed by the other statewide constitutional officers -- Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Attorney General Sam Olens, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, School Superintendent John Barge, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

The cold, icy weather forced several changes in Deal's plans for his inauguration. But if he was disappointed in the turn of events, he didn't make it known in his inaugural address to a special joint session of the General Assembly and a few hundred relatives and friends.

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"Let us refocus state government on its core responsibilities and relieve our taxpayers of the burden of unnecessary programs," Deal said in an 18-minute speech that warned of the need to cut spending and promised to limit government's role in everyday life. "Let us be frugal and wise. Let us restore the confidence of our citizens in a government that is limited and efficient. Together let us make Georgia the brightest star in the constellation of these United States."

The new governor begins work with a fully stocked administration. Deal made his final two appointments on Saturday when he named William Rogers to head the Georgia Real Estate Commission and Bobby Cagle as commissioner of the Department of Early Care and Learning. Those were his 46th and 47th appointments, including executive staff and agency heads.

Deal could still aim to put his own imprint on a variety of boards and commissions, including the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, but otherwise he has remade the state bureaucracy to his liking.

In fact, the newly minted governor began that process later Monday. Deal's first official act was to swear in Philip Wilheit Sr. to fill an unexpired term on the Board of Regents. Wilheit, a former chairman of the state Chamber of Commerce, has been a Deal confidant for years and charged his campaign for governor.

Deal also signed two executive orders: One to continue the state of emergency for Georgia due to the snow and ice storm, and another to re-enact ethics rules created by now-former Gov. Sonny Perdue to ban gifts to his staff and executive agency ads.

In his speech Monday, Deal laid out key areas that have earned his attention and are likely policy priorities. First among them was public safety and the need to punish criminals. But Deal, echoing sentiments offered last week byHouse Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, hinted that changes could come for how the state handles nonviolent drug offenders.

"As a state, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions," Deal said. "It is draining our state treasury and depleting our work force."

On education, Deal said the best efforts of past governors have not had the desired effect, as Georgia's K-12 system "has failed to make the progress we need. This failure is a stain on our efforts to recruit businesses to our state and is a contributing factor in the frightening crime statistics previously mentioned."

He asked that all Georgians join him in working to improve education in Georgia and promised, without specifics, to make improvements.

Deal is likely to lay out more of his priorities on Wednesday when he releases his first state budget recommendation and then returns to the House chamber to deliver the State of the State address.

Beyond what he said Monday, Deal has offered few insights into other priorities. He has repeated his campaign call for a cut in corporate income taxes, and a special tax council recently released a plan that includes Deal's goal. The new governor, the eighth Mercer University graduate to win the office, has also said he wants action this year on new reservoirs and that a top priority will be preserving the HOPE scholarship. Both won mention in his inaugural address, and his vow to save HOPE earned him a standing ovation.

Deal became the first governor to be inaugurated in the House chamber since the abbreviated first term of Herman Talmadge, who won a disputed election by the state Legislature in 1946and was sworn in just before 2 a.m. on Jan. 15, 1947. Talmadge served 77 days before a court awarded the office to Lt. Gov. M.E. Thompson.

Deal, the first governor from Hall County since Allen Daniel Candler in 1902, also takes office facing continued personal financial challenges. Deal recently placed his financial holdings into a blind trust and refinanced a loan of $1.35 million that requires annual $100,000 payments each December.

The loan is what remains of an original $2.4 million loan Deal took to help open a sporting goods store operated by his daughter and son-in-law. The 3-year-old business failed in 2009. Deal not only had to repay the loan, he lost a separate $2 million investment in the Habersham County business, Wilder Outdoors.

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