Gov. Nathan Deal Wednesday responded to critics who say he’s meddling with the university system and not doing enough to reform the state’s troubled ethics commission.
In a recent column, a former chair of the Board of Regents, Dink NeSmith, accused the governor of interfering with the university system, which is constitutionally protected from political pressure. NeSmith criticized the governor for his “dictatorial tactics,” citing Deal’s involvement in the hirings of Chancellor Hank Huckaby and University of Georgia President Jere Morehead.
Deal said he interviewed candidates for those positions because he was asked to do so.
“If the Board of Regents didn’t want my opinion, they should not have asked for it,” said Deal at a luncheon held by the Atlanta Press Club.
He said there was no “rational explanation” for NeSmith’s comments. He suggested NeSmith simply disliked the candidates who were ultimately selected.
“If Mr. NeSmith is disappointed in the selection of Hank Huckaby or Jere Morehead, he should be man enough to say that that’s his problem.”
In an email, NeSmith said he has no issue with the hirings and supported both candidates during the selection process. Beyond that, NeSmith said he isn’t “interested in promoting a running feud” with Deal.
Later at the event, Deal responded to government watchdogs who say he hasn’t followed through on a campaign pledge to overhaul the state ethics commission. He got into a testy exchange with Common Cause Georgia Director William Perry over allegations Deal’s office interfered with an ethics investigation into his campaign finances.
“No, they did not. That’s absolutely false. You know that’s false. You know there was not a single bit of testimony along that line. I was never called as a witness. None of my staff was called as a witness.”
Deal heatedly added, “In fairness to the organization that you represent, you ought not to continue to spread false information. I’m disappointed in you.”
Last year, the state paid out roughly $3 million to four former ethics commission staffers. They claimed they were pushed out from their jobs for investigating Deal’s 2010 campaign too aggressively. A Fulton County judge later fined Georgia’s attorney general for withholding a document showing Deal staffers may have interfered with the investigation.