OEDEL: Carter charges, Deal answers

April 13, 2014 

On April 5 at Fort Valley State University, Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter called attention to his link to another Carter -- his grandfather, former Georgia governor and U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

That occurred before grandchild Jason Carter lambasted present Gov. Nathan Deal for “passing the buck” and lacking a “belief that government can succeed.”

The pass-the-buck line was another unsubtle reference by Jason to grandfather Jimmy, whose presidential desk was famously adorned with President Harry Truman’s stark plaque proclaiming, “The Buck Stops Here.”

Jason Carter’s charge that Deal is a buck-passer was ironic, because Carter was the only Democratic state senator to vote for Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act, aka the “guns everywhere” bill, House Bill 60, with little explanation other than that Carter claims to be an “NRA Democrat.”

In effect, Carter was passing the political buck to Deal to decide whether to sign a controversial bill that garnered no other Democratic senatorial support in what The New York Times called a nationwide “wave of pro-gun legislation.” Two Republican senators even voted against it.

Carter dodged explaining why he supports making gun-carry in bars presumptively acceptable, and making it unlawful to detain anyone for gun registration matters alone -- despite the fact that few if any bar owners or law enforcement officials, Democrat or Republican, want such provisions.

Except, that is, for Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke, who introduced Carter in Fort Valley as the single-best Georgian to be governor. Cooke failed to mention why he impliedly supports Carter’s singular Democratic senatorial vote for presumptive carry in Bibb’s bars, and outlawing Bibb’s sheriffs from detaining gun-toting gangsters for registration checks. What’s up with that?

For someone so eager to call excessive attention to his grandfather, you might have thought Carter would have bothered to consult his grandfather. Jason might have learned that Jimmy said in 2006 he was “dismayed” at “the timidity of public officials who yield to the (the NRA’s) unreasonable demands.”

Might Jason Carter be an example of a “timid” public official afraid to stand up to some NRA overreach? There are reasonable things in the gun bill worth supporting, as Kelly Burke has ably explained on these pages, but Jason Carter could have worked to cull out weaker provisions. Carter raised no objection when he could have made the bill better. Deal might end up signing the flawed bill that was deposited wholesale on his own desk, but at least Deal denied that the NRA’s “guns everywhere” bill is “part of (my) agenda.”

So what is Deal’s agenda?

April 6, the day after Carter charged Deal with passing the buck, Deal came to Macon’s vibrant Lundy Chapel Missionary Baptist Church to participate in a service led by its pastor, Anthony Corbett (who amusingly termed himself a “Demopublican”), and to share a meal.

Deal’s choice of venue wasn’t just for show, because he had good reason to believe that his primary legislative initiatives in the past three years would resonate well with the black community in Macon and statewide. Deal has had three signature pieces of legislation, all dealing with reducing Georgia’s prison population.

In his first year, Deal ushered through unanimous legislation providing for nonviolent inmates to be diverted or released early given good conduct. In his second year, Deal led legislation, again passed unanimously, focusing on better approaches for diverting nonviolent juvenile offenders from extended confinement. This year, Deal got legislation almost unanimously passed to help inmates successfully re-enter society, avoiding recidivism.

Many Macon-area pastors and others in attendance could see the wisdom and good will of Deal’s initiatives. Deal explained how he’d been a juvenile court judge years before, and how he’d learned then that the options for youthful offenders were insufficiently varied to help them turn around. As governor, he’s found ways to expand those options.

When asked to respond to Carter’s charge the day before that he and the General Assembly are buck-passers, Deal smiled patiently. “Our government doesn’t pass the buck,” he said. “The government gets laws passed. I don’t pass the buck to anybody.”

David Oedel teaches at Mercer University law school.

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