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Governor talks about state's progress
Touts justice system, educational reform
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Gov. Nathan Deal addressed issues Georgia is facing and highlighted several plans of action intended to position the state well in the coming years during a Tuesday night appearance.

"It's so nice to see so many friends from so many counties. You've done a great job of coming together and I appreciate that," said Deal, speaking at the Dawson County Republican Party's monthly meeting.

The Dawson County Tea Party, along with the Republican parties of Dawson, Forsyth and Lumpkin counties, sponsored the event.

"You worked hard for us and we are now working hard to try to live up to the confidence you have expressed in us," Deal said.

Touching on the progress the state has made in the last year, including balancing the budget without having to raise taxes, Deal said for government to be small, "you have to do something about it."

"One of the things we did is eliminated 14,000 positions in state government," he said. "Not all of those had people in them. but in order to fill those positions in the future, somebody with a department is going to have to come back and ... get legislative authorization in order to be able to fill them."

While Deal said he believes the state's financial side is in order, he specifically targeted criminal justice sentencing and education as needing reform.

"It costs us about $18,000 a year to keep somebody in prison. That is a lot of money," he said. "We've come to a point in the state's history where we have to decide who we're mad at and who we're scared of.

"We need to lock the ones we're scared of up and the ones we're just mad at, we've got to figure out a better way to deal with [them]."

Increasing revenue for alternatives to prison time such as drug and DUI courts, he said, is one answer.

"I'm going to be proposing in this year's budget some new revenue to be used for creating accountability courts across our state ... a variety of areas that we can deal with these individuals under intense supervision that is much less expensive than simply putting them in a jail cell or prison cell and locking them up," Deal said.

Regarding education, Deal said he is convinced a good teacher in a classroom with a large student population is better than two poor teachers with a small number in classes.

"We have the opportunity in this state to really turn our education system around," he said. "We have to have principals who supervise their teachers, and if they've got a teacher that is not performing, in the most kind and gentle way possible, suggest that they should consider other employment.

"We need superintendents that sometimes think outside the box to recognize that just because we did something that way 20 years ago doesn't mean we can deliver education of the same quality today."

Ethan Underwood, chairman of the Forsyth County GOP, said the governor is on the right track as he digs deeper into the problems at hand.

"He's wading in there and you can really get a sense that he's working it from the 30,000-foot view," he said. "But he's also getting down in the detail work where it's very important when we're looking at prison reform, when we're looking at education reform and objective performance standards."

Deal issued a couple challenges to those in attendance, encouraging service to the community and service to the Republican Party in the months ahead.

"Don't let up now. We have to win the presidency in 2012," he said.

Deal also announced Dec. 17 will be a day of service across the state and encouraged residents to go out in the community and give back through volunteerism on that day.

"We are repeating the tradition we started last year with a day of service," he said. "We're encouraging people all over the state to engage in a day of service."

Clint Bearden, chairman of the Dawson County Republican Party, was pleased that more than 200 people from across the area attended.

"We had a great turnout," he said. "The governor's message was very poignant.

"The governor's encouragement to people here to be actively involved and the importance of the election in 2012 was something I was glad to hear him discuss."