Today’s Courier Herald Column:
A couple of weeks ago, the state of Georgia’s budget was so tight that there was no other choice to save money than to eliminate one of the remaining employees at the State Ethics Commission and cut the salary of the Commission’s director 30% to $85,000. The fact that Stacey Kalberman had prepared subpoenas to investigate ethics complaints filed against Governor Nathan Deal was just an unfortunate coincidence.
Today, Georgia is flush with cash again. AJC reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin is reporting that a scheduler for former Governor Sonny Perdue, Corinna Magelund, has been promoted to the state’s mental health ombudsman, doubling her salary from $53,000 to $107,000. The Governor’s office is adamant that her relationship with Deal campaign advisor and now Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Robinson had no part in her promotion, despite the fact that Magelund has no background in mental health. The AJC story indicates that Robinson and Magelund are dating.
Magelund, now earning over six figures, has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Valdosta State. Kalberman, who Deal’s supporters argued was living above the wages of average Georgians, has a law degree from Emory with over 10 years corporate law experience. While Kalberman was told to accept a pay cut from $120,000 to $85,000 or resign, Magelund’s new salary is $25,000 higher than that of the person who last held the job, Jewel Norman. Norman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
The Deal leadership team continues to demonstrate political tone deafness when it comes to public perception of their actions. At the root of this problem are trust issues, but ones not originating from the public, but from within.
Long time observers of Deal note that he has a very small inner circle of those he trusts. Those within that circle have their own slightly larger trust circles. Those within the first few rings are trusted implicitly. Those outside the circles are not. Within the Deal organization, trust is currency, and loyalty is rewarded.
Deal’s decision to remain loyal to Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is but one example of Deal’s loyalty, with Deal’s first statement on Gingrich as others were abandoning ship “Newt Gingrich is my friend and I support his campaign for the presidency. When the going gets rough, I don’t cut and run on my friends. Whether he stays in the race is his decision, not mine, and I will support whatever decision he makes.” Gingrich endorsed and campaigned for Deal during last year’s Republican primary.
The loyalty of Deal is reciprocated by an over protectiveness of his top staff. Chief of Staff Chris Riley, who held the same title when Deal served in Congress, told Congressional investigators he “rarely allows Representative Deal to go anywhere without him, unless it’s a family matter.” The result appears to be a protective bubble where those on the inside are sensitive and thin skinned to any criticism from outside, while those on the inside position those who they feel worthy of their currency of loyalty, and can’t seem to comprehend how that looks to outsiders, thus producing more criticism. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The State Republican Party held a “Victory Dinner” just after the end of the bitter gubernatorial primary, with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as the featured speaker. Jindal talked about the theme of the general campaign, which was loosely defined as “jobs”. He spoke of the challenges he had in post-Katrina Louisiana in attracting industry to his state. His surprise after assuming the role was that with all the problems his state faced in recruiting industry, it was the perception of his state’s government that was the biggest obstacle that had to be overcome.
Jindal told the crowd that after speaking to business leader after business leader, he was told that in order to do business in Louisiana, it appeared to be more important “who you knew, than what you could do.” Jindal told the crowd that until he was able to begin to change the perception that it was more important that your merits would overcome inside connections, outsiders would not want to bring their jobs.
Nathan Deal was in the audience. Let’s hope he was listening.