Posted: 6:00 pm Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

The storm that Nathan Deal has to get right 

By Jim Galloway

021214 snow main BG10

Gov. Nathan Deal was all smiles Wednesday morning as he opned an Emergency Operations Command briefing with praise for how agencies were handling the winter storm that moved into Georgia overnight. Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

If ever there was a winter storm that Gov. Nathan Deal had to get right, the one you’re in right now is it.

Yes, those 12-hour commutes two weeks ago were uncomfortable and even dangerous. And the memory of your kid overnighting on the floor of the school gym is still sticky.

But there is no doubt that the hazard posed by a far-from-finished ice storm is more dire. So are the political ramifications of a sheet of ice that stretches from Bremen to Augusta.

Ultimately, Snowjam ’14 was merely about metro Atlanta. The current storm covers the northern half of the state, with I-20 as a rough dividing line. And that’s precisely the footprint of the Republican party in Georgia.

Deal has both Republican primary opposition and a well-financed Democrat, Jason Carter, waiting for him in November. Lose this storm, and GOP control of the state Capitol could be truncated to a dozen years.

“Seventy percent of the Republican primary electorate is located in the Atlanta media market, which is basically everything north of Macon,” said Joel McElhannon, a GOP strategist who was iced into place in Athens. “The main swath of this storm is where you find your biggest concentration of both Republican primary voters and general election voters.

“It’s a huge amount of the total electorate that is being impacted here. So it’s very important that [Deal] gets it right, and I think he is getting it right,” McElhannon said.

And so Wednesday showed us an energized, 71-year-old governor storming the state Capitol and burning up Twitter and Facebook like a teenager.

Nathan Deal on the phone with local officials. “I haven’t talked to everybody yet. I had to leave a few voice mails,” he told reporters. Nathan Deal in conference with his weather squad — his right-hand man from the Snowjam debacle, the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, present but subdued.

Nathan Deal introducing the National Guard captain and one of his staffers, who drove to Macon to rescue four stranded students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind. “I’m sure it made the families of those children very happy to know their children were going to be escorted home safely,” the governor said.

Nathan Deal closing a session with reporters with a bit of Reaganesque optimism. “We are a resilient state. We are a resilient people. And we will bounce back,” he said. “And life will return to normal as soon as this storm is over with.”

Yes, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made the most of his mulligan, too. By riding with salt trucks and sticking to the details of running a city, rather than fencing with CNN over what could’ve, should’ve been done – and who should have done it.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Reed went to great pains to demonstrate that he prized his city’s people far above his city’s reputation. He cut last-minute public service announcements for the Internet and TV – extended weariness clearly showing on his face. Personal, phoned robo-call warnings to the elderly, who might not use the World Wide Web, were a nice touch.

But Reed has already won his second term. Deal has not.

Weather events such as these become influential political windows precisely because we have nothing to do but sit on the couch, twiddle our thumbs, and pay attention. Television and the Internet become our reality.

Rusty Paul is the new mayor of Sandy Springs, and a reformed Republican strategist who still suffers from occasional lapses.

If there is a political difference between the current storm and the last, Paul said, it’s the fact that – this time — the governor has become its public face. “He’s probably doing some of the things he did last time, but in today’s world it’s not enough just to be active. You have to be seen being active,” Paul said. ”People are engaged politically in real time. If they don’t see things happening, they perceive nothing is happening.”

Inaction, or the perception of inaction, is how storms are lost. “That’s what Kasim and Nathan are doing differently this time. They’re being seen at work,” Paul said. “They know it’s not humanly possible to beat back Mother Nature. But you doggone well better be seen battling her.”

Paul and I closed our conversation just before noon – he had a city to run, and I had a press conference called by the governor. By the time I returned to the desk, an email from the mayor of Sandy Springs had arrived:

“While you and I were talking, [I] got a call from governor’s office asking if GEMA had been in contact and if we needed anything.”

Mother Nature can be a powerful force — particularly in election years.

23 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Also note that Deal, in the Thursday press conference, says he is holding on to the declaration of emergency to get those federal dollars for cleanup match.  However, he was not wiling to expand Medicaid because, after 3 years, it would require a measly 10 percent Georgia match.  Of course, the snow fell on the rich as well...

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I note that "Nate" continues to blame the people for the mess of two weeks ago.

parbogey
parbogey

Well done to the Governor and the Mayor this time around.  And, honested, you are aware the state and city do not own enough equipment to clear every street in the metro in one day, right?

honested
honested

Trucks were ordered off they highway (why didn't that happen the first time?)


People were encouraged to stay home (see above).


More airtime was given to preparations.


Otherwise, things are exactly the same as before. 

Disagree?


Ok, then tell me why even though traffic was almost entirely absent, EVERY road is not clear and ready for travel NOW as the weather event comes to an end?

DS
DS

So far, so good. Fingers crossed. It helped that decisions were made well in advance, in time to do some good.

But can we not look at this through the lens of politics for a change? Gov Deal should handle this well because it's his job, not because he's trying to enhance the reputation of his party. When things weren't handled as well in January, I criticized him for his performance, not because of his party. I think he had good intentions, so I didn't hit it too hard, but I thought it could've been handled better.

Anyway, I say "well-done" to the governor for his performance this time around.

Enoch19
Enoch19

Galloway and the AJC have been shilling away trying to somehow pin the last snowstorm's gridlock on Deal.  I see he is still at it. I suppose if he keeps at his story long enough someone might believe it.  i don't.  Whether Deals response were perfect or not, nothing he could have done would have allowed a million and half cars on the road in at one time to avoid gridlock.


Now, to protect himself from the political attacks from Galloway and the AJC, Deal will overreact to every storm, every weather event.  Each time there is an overreaction, it will be Galloway's fault and the AJC's fault as their politics will be wasting our money and dissipating our productivity for a long, long time.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I disagree with Gov. Deal's politics, but I do believe he has acted well in serving the people of Georgia in this ice storm.


From a spiritual perspective, I cannot help but ponder that if the ice storm of two weeks ago had not been such a dismal failure in terms of our leaders' actions, our leaders may not have become so very proactive during this more possibly catastrophic storm. Perhaps, our leaders' learning that prior lesson well, as a precursor to this storm's arrival, was destined to save more lives.

Kamchak
Kamchak

Daily whine about "typical liberal ajc bias" in 3...2...1....

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

There are not enough Democrats to capitalize on the weather and attempt to blame the Republican Governor to overcome the other voters who concentrate on such things like the budget, education, legislation, and other executive duties.

EdUktr
EdUktr

The storm that Governor Deal has to get right? 

For partisan Democrats like you, Jim, there is no getting it right.

Shar1
Shar1

Basically, Reed and Deal have just told people to stay inside and closed down schools and state government.  Their strategy is no different than last week's - wait until it melts.  They just shut down the state rather than stranding thousands of people when Nature shut us down.


No one is fooled that these two actually did anything.

honested
honested

@parbogey  

Ok.

So aside from the absence of stranded traffic, what is different?

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

No disrespect to Mr. Galloway... but you have to be joking, right?  You really think that Governor Deal says "How high?" when the AJC tells him to jump?

I think he did a decent job this time too - but to call that an over-reaction to the harsh criticism he got from Jim Galloway and the AJC is just too silly for words.

honested
honested

@The_Centrist  

Yep, nathan BETTER hope that voters don't concentrate on EDUCATION, LEGISLATION, VOTER RIGHTS and other glaringly absent attention to sworn duties.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@EdUktr Both  Deal and Reed have been excellent in anticipating , communicating, and leading for this storm. The City of Brookhaven has been e-mailing alerts to its citizens also as they did the previous storm, something Reed and Deal messed up. Try to face reality cons. It really isn't that tough!


DS: "So far, so good!" We lost power for 3 minutes yesterday morning and have been fine since. I'm worried though that the winds will pick up before the ice and snow on the trees melts or falls off! Stay safe! Stay warm! Now it is in GPowers hands for those w/o power. The roads will be toast until Friday pm!

Charles50
Charles50

@Shar1  Thank you!  They were just smart enough to get people off of the roads this time.  And to be honest I think a lot of folks decided I'm not going to wait for them this time I'm going to do what is best for me.  The real heroes in this storm are first responders, the national guard and average citizens who are helping their fellow Georgians.  

parbogey
parbogey

Preemptive this time....and the public cooperated.  Also, different kind of storm.  How many folks have now turned their anger towards the power companies for outages?  I've seen many negative comments directed at Ga. Power --- folks expect power to be restored almost immediately.  As a native, been through this many times....was without power for a week back in the 70's.  


So...the difference this time is the appearance of control and confidence.  Sometimes, that is all it takes. 

jm-roswell
jm-roswell

@Squirrel_Whisperer @Shar1 

Oh I don't know. How about visit cities like Chicago, New York, Denver, Philadelphia and find out why they never make national news just because of 2" of snow? How about pre-treat roads, salt them, sand them - before the storm hits. How about buy enough equipment - or rent it - to dig out EVERY road during and after the storm hits. My sister's home in NJ gets plowed several times per day while mine in Roswell gets nothing. 


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@jm-roswell @Squirrel_Whisperer@Shar1jm: start writing checks now. We'll need lots of $ for the equipment we use every 3-7 years. Contractors are now under contract  by the state and locals and you want more? Get used to privatization bub!The roads have been pretreated before and now for this storm.


I don't say this much, but if NJ is so great, why are you here?

LHardingDawg
LHardingDawg

Maybe NJ would be a great place for you to move. Delta will be ready in a couple of days to get you right up there.