U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal announced Monday morning that he will leave Congress to concentrate on his bid to be Georgia’s next governor.
“I firmly believe that now is the season for me to devote my full energies to the campaign for governor,” Deal said during an announcement at the Gainesville Civic Center. “I believe the people of my district, like all Georgians, know that this is a time that demands leadership. These are critical days for Georgia and my experience at the local, state and national level have uniquely prepared me to lead Georgia as we lead the nation out of the recession.”
A special election will be called by Gov. Sonny Perdue to fill the remainder of Deal’s term. The date has not yet been determined.
His resignation is effective March 8, and brings to a close an 18-year career in Washington. It also likely quashes an investigation into an ethics complaint filed against him in August.
Deal said Monday he wants to devote this time to the governor’s race because Georgia needs a strong, experienced leader for the job. Deal is one of several Republicans seeking the governor’s office.
“I’m leaving Congress because I’ve had a front row seat to the damage that inexperience in the executive branch of the federal government has done to our nation,” he said. “... This is not a time for untested leadership in the governor’s office. The economic future of our state is in peril. I am committed and ready to serve this great state.”
Deal is the second candidate to resign their current seat to run full-time for governor. Former Secretary of State Karen Handel resigned from her post in December.
The day Handel resigned, Harris Blackwood, a spokesman for Deal’s campaign, issued a statement that Deal had a clear record of completing his terms.
“There is much work to be done, specifically, the fight against President Obama’s health care plan that will destroy Georgia’s health care delivery system,” Blackwood said.
When asked about the change of heart Monday, Blackwood said Deal “just realized this is the thing he has to do.”
A spokesman for John Oxendine, one of Deal’s Republican opponents in the gubernatorial campaign, called Deal’s change of heart regrettable, and said he hoped the outgoing congressman was not trying to avoid an investigation into his actions.
In August, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against Deal with the Office of Congressional Ethics, claiming Deal had used his congressional position to preserve a state-operated inspection program for salvaged vehicles that benefited him financially.
The group based its complaint on media reports that implied Deal pulled strings with help from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to save the program that earned Deal about $150,000 a year, according to reports filed with the U.S. House of Representatives.
Deal and business partner Ken Cronan ended their business with the state two months after the reports surfaced, saying that a new, privatized system initiated by the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, Bart Graham, would not meet the safety threshold of the state-operated inspection program that their company, Gainesville Salvage Disposal, participated in for 20 years.
Deal’s resignation likely ends the investigation into the matter, a fact that Deal said Monday he had no control over, but one his opponents used as ammunition.
“It is regrettable that Nathan Deal has left Georgia without a voice in Washington during the vital health care debate,” said Tim Echols, a spokesman for Oxendine. “We are hopeful that this isn’t an attempt to circumvent an investigation into the state-funded program that benefited his auto salvage business.”
Deal said allegations that his resignation was an effort to avoid the investigation were “absolutely not true.”
“I am resigning simply because I know there is work to be done, and the leadership of this state hangs in the balance,” said Deal.
Deal’s decision to run for governor has already ensured that, win or lose, he would be leaving Washington at the end of his current term. A large number of candidates have already lined up to try to replace him.
Georgia’s law gives the governor 10 days to issue a “Writ of Election” when a congressional seat becomes vacant. The writ serves as official notice of the vacant seat and sets a date for the special election. The election cannot be held until 30 days after the governor issues the writ.
Under this law, it is likely that the election will be held in late April, though officials with the state have yet to confirm it.
Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the governor will be working with the Secretary of State’s office and local officials to find the best date for the election, but no date has yet been set.
“Obviously, we just heard about it this morning,” Brantley said Monday.
Lee Hawkins, one of the men who has announced plans to seek Deal’s seat, praised the Gainesville Republican’s announcement.
“Nathan Deal has led on many issues including raising the issue of preventing illegal immigration and finding market-oriented solutions to health care,” said Hawkins.
Deal is the second Republican congressman from Georgia to announce he is leaving Congress. Rep. John Linder, a Gwinnett County Republican, said Saturday he will retire at the end of his term.