The question in Gov. Nathan Deal’s recent appointment of a new Chairman of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources was not whether Warren Budd is a mainstream Republican or a good guy. I trust he is both. The question is who best is able to implement Gov. Deal’s policies as the next board member. That question can only be answered by Gov. Deal and he has determined that Mr. Budd is not the best person to implement the Governor’s policies.
The Department of Natural Resources is an executive agency of state government and is overseen by an eighteen-member board appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Georgia’s constitution vests responsibility for the exercise of executive powers in the Governor. When Georgians elect a Governor, they expect that the executive agencies will reflect the priorities the Governor has outlined; to do less would be to abdicate the power that our constitution places in the office.
If there were any expectation that the Board should be independent of the Governor’s policies, there are ways to implement an independent Board. But currently, the DNR Board clearly is setup as an extension of the Governor’s executive policymaking structure.
Gov. Deal has been urging action on a new reservoir system for well over a year and made it clear in the 2010 campaign that development of reservoirs would be a priority of his administration. Moving this initiative forward requires two things: cooperation of the General Assembly, and a DNR Board that shares the Governor’s policy preferences. At this point, a prospective DNR Board Chair who opposes the Governor’s primary policy preference as far as it relates to DNR’s mission is a hindrance to our government working the way the framers of our constitution intended.
A legacy member of any board appointed by a previous Governor should not expect to be reappointed as of right, or because the board’s internal rules mean that it is his turn to take the chairmanship. A member in such a situation should examine whether his policy preferences are compatible with those of the new occupant of the office and if there is a significant difference of opinion, should accept that his reappointment is unlikely.
The other side of the coin is Gov. Deal’s relationship with the Georgia General Assembly, which appears to be much more deferential to legislative prerogative than some predecessors have been. Other Governors have at times seemed to treat the legislative branch of government as an extension of the executive and sought to exert their will on the General Assembly. Deal has refrained from heavy-handedness in dealing with legislators, and has said that it is not his habit to comment publicly on pending legislation. While he has stated on several occasions whether he would be willing to sign certain bills and has offered comments to some legislators on bills they sought to pass, Deal has notably been willing to let the legislature be the legislature.
While I personally disagree with some of the recommendations of the Water Supply Task Force that Gov. Deal hopes to implement, I also accept that it was he who was elected Governor and not me. I also understand that executive appointments are made in furtherance of the policies the Governor was elected to pursue. To suggest other than that he should appoint people who share his policy preferences is to somehow suggest that either appointed board members have some right to be reappointed, even if they are ideologically incompatible with the Governor who appoints them, or that somehow agencies of state government clearly executive in nature should not be subject to the Constitutional responsibilities exercised by the Governor.