During a telephone call with reporters last week, Nathan Deal explained why he and his wife had made bad investment decisions that were threatening them with financial insolvency.
"We’ve always believed that a responsibility of a parent is to help their children, and we certainly intended to do that," Deal said.
"Several years ago, our middle daughter and her husband —they’d both been traveling all across the country on their jobs — wanted to be closer to home, since they had the youngest of our grandchildren," he said.
"My wife and I decided that we would help them in that venture. They were opening an outdoor store in Habersham County. Everything was going very well — as it was going with a lot of things in our economy at that time."
The unfortunate ending to Deal’s story is well known by now. The store went out of business, Deal’s daughter and her husband went bankrupt in 2009, and Deal and his wife are now responsible for a bank loan of more than $2 million they guaranteed for that business venture. That is on top of $2 million in personal funds that Deal said he invested and lost in his daughter’s store.
I take no pleasure in writing about the financial problems of Deal, who I first met after he was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1980 (we were both a lot younger and a little skinnier in those days). His desire to help his children succeed is a feeling that anyone who has raised kids would understand. We’ve all been there.
Deal also makes a valid point in noting that he is not the only person in Georgia facing a desperate financial situation in the midst of the worst recession this country has endured since the 1930s.
"The press would perhaps have you believe that this is an indication that I cannot govern this state," Deal said. "I tell you that it has nothing to do with that. In fact, I believe the fact that I understand the pain of Georgians is all the more important as I enter the governor’s office."
Deal may be correct in this assessment. I’ve had to worry about financial problems in my life, and I’m sure many of the people reading this column have encountered similar issues. In the end, it could well be that Georgians will vote for him as a sympathetic gesture because they are caught up in financial situations similar to his.
But there are other aspects of Deal’s situation that should be considered.
If Deal is elected governor, he will be taking the oath of office about a month before that huge bank loan falls due. He vows that he and his wife will live up to their financial obligations and will not file for bankruptcy.
What if Deal is unable to sell his remaining assets, such as his Gainesville residence and other commercial property he still owns? What if he sells them but still can’t raise enough money to pay off the loan? In that instance, Deal would have to figure out how to satisfy the bank’s demands for payments in an atmosphere where federal regulators aren’t giving banks a whole lot of leeway to forgive bad loans.
What then? Could a person who must devote much of his time and efforts to staving off bankruptcy also have time to manage the complex affairs of a state government such as Georgia’s?
There is also the issue of transparency. Deal did not tell the voters about his financial problems prior to the Republican primary and runoff elections. He did not list at least one of these loan obligations on the financial disclosure statement he was required to file with the State Ethics Commission. He still has not made public a lot of the personal tax information that could tell us more about his financial history.
If not for the diligent efforts of reporters like Alan Judd of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Shannon McCaffrey of the Associated Press, voters would still know nothing about Deal’s looming financial problems. This raises troubling questions about his willingness to deal honestly with the people he’s asking to elect him to the state’s highest public office.
To put it in simpler terms: "He should have told us."
Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.