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Greg Bluestein

A more assertive Nathan Deal emerges this legislative session

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Gov. Nathan Deal at a state Capitol press conference in January. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Gov. Nathan Deal at a state Capitol press conference in January. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

As one of the most consequential pieces of legislation wound through the statehouse last year, Gov. Nathan Deal faced growing criticism for not giving clear and public direction for what it should look like.

He was knocked for sending mixed signals on the mega-dollar plan to bolster the transportation system and panned for sticking to a behind-the-scenes strategy rather than embracing a more vocal role in influencing legislation. Even some allies wondered why he didn’t take a more assertive role since he didn’t have to worry about another election.

“I recognize the role of the legislative branch,” he said then, “and I think they’re showing they can live up to their responsibilities.”

It’s safe to say that, this year, he’s shaken off any concerns he might have had about publicly plunging into the Legislature’s most pivotal debates.

He sounded a skeptical note in January over the expansion of Georgia’s medical marijuana program. He raised loud and repeated questions about the legalization of casino gambling. He gave a surprisingly blunt critique of the “religious liberty” measure. And, on Monday, Deal waded neck deep into the contentious fight over gun rights.

In a statement, he called for substantive changes to a measure that would allow college students to carry concealed guns onto campuses – and suggested he would veto the legislation if lawmakers don’t take a second crack at it. The warning came three days after the Senate gave final approval to the measure.

On Tuesday, Deal downplayed his more aggressive public persona this session.

“I’ve been very reserved. I respect the legislative process. I still do,” he said. “I just think we have some issues this time that have rather long-term and monumental significance.”

So far, each of his warnings – backed by the threat of his veto pen – seems to have swayed the debate in his favor.

The gambling and medical marijuana measures he criticized appear dead for the session, although they could both be resuscitated in different forms. And House Speaker David Ralston signaled that his chamber is willing to go back to the drawing boards on both the religious liberty measure and the campus carry bill.

“I certainly take any concerns Governor Deal raises seriously, but now that the bill is on his desk and with only four days remaining in the legislative session, time is of the essence,” Ralston said in a statement on the gun bill. “I am sure his team will forward specific recommendations to allow adequate time for consideration.”

MoreCheck out the AJC’s coverage at our Armed Georgia page.