Atlanta science march leaders claim ‘endorsement’; Deal’s office says no

Gov. Nathan Deal’s office says a letter it sent to organizers of the Atlanta March for Science is not an endorsement of their event, which the organizers say is aimed at opposing the “increasing cynicism” of President Donald Trump’s administration toward climate change and what they describe as a “cavalier” attitude toward facts. The governor’s office says the letter was sent by an aide in its constituent services department. Dr. Jasmine Clark, a microbiologist who organized the Atlanta event — which supporters describe as nonpartisan and patriotic — said it was “a really big deal” to receive the letter from the governor. “We reached out to his office for an endorsement,” she said, “and we got this letter.” (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

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Gov. Nathan Deal’s office says a letter it sent to organizers of the Atlanta March for Science is not an endorsement of their event, which the organizers say is aimed at opposing the “increasing cynicism” of President Donald Trump’s administration toward climate change and what they describe as a “cavalier” attitude toward facts. The governor’s office says the letter was sent by an aide in its constituent services department. Dr. Jasmine Clark, a microbiologist who organized the Atlanta event — which supporters describe as nonpartisan and patriotic — said it was “a really big deal” to receive the letter from the governor. “We reached out to his office for an endorsement,” she said, “and we got this letter.” (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

The Atlanta March for Science aims to send a message to Donald Trump’s administration about “increasing cynicism” toward climate change and a “cavalier” attitude toward facts. So to say organizers were stunned by Gov. Nathan Deal’s response to an invite to the event would be an understatement.

In a letter postdated for the April 22 event, the governor wrote it was a “pleasure to be a part of your event” and commended the planning committee for “spreading knowledge about science and its advancements.”

“It was a really big deal,” Dr. Jasmine Clark, a microbiologist who organized the Atlanta event, said of Deal’s response. “We were very surprised. We were also really excited. It was a mixture of surprise and excitement all around.”

The governor’s office says Clark and her colleagues were reading too much into what could be described as a customized form letter.

The organizers say Deal’s letter was not the type of response they expected for the Earth Day gathering, which was inspired by the Women’s March that attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Washington, Atlanta and other U.S. cities the day after Trump’s inauguration.

But they also stressed in their letter to Deal that their march was nonpartisan and “motivated by sincere patriotism.” But they added that its purpose to raise a warning flag about a disdain for “uncontroversial scientific findings,” such as climate change and the need for immunizations.

In some GOP circles, those findings are anything but noncontroversial.

Trump has called global warming a “hoax” and urged a rollback of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that has infuriated some government scientists. Federal researchers working for NASA, the Department of the Interior and other agencies have created “renegade” social media accounts for fear of being silenced.

And while Deal has tried to sidestep the debate over climate change — he's said it's a federal and international policy issue — he's raised concerns about environmental regulations that were adopted during President Barack Obama's administration.

Deal’s office said the message was sent by an aide in the governor’s constituent services department and was not intended to be an endorsement or a show of support for the march. He is not planning to attend the event, a spokeswoman said.

“The governor’s office receives hundreds of correspondence and requests for letters a week, and we rarely if ever reject constituent requests,” his office said in a statement.

Indeed, Deal receives a flood of requests for photos, letters and resolutions each year. The office said it has processed more than 300 letter requests since February and rejected less than 1 percent.

Clark, for her part, was not deterred by the attempts to downplay his dispatch.

“We reached out to his office for an endorsement, and we got this letter,” she said.

She said organizers are planning for more than 20,000 demonstrators to attend the event, though the planning committee has yet to pin down the location.

The event, she said, intends to “show the people who are in charge of policymaking that there are a lot of people out there who are really interested in having evidence-based policy over ideology.” She added that she’s happy to count Deal as an ally.

“We’re happy to have this support from him,” she said. “As long as he believes in our mission, to us it was a really big deal. We were really glad and sincerely thankful for the endorsement from the governor’s office.”