Rep. Nathan Deal (R)
Georgia 9th District
At the end of the 20th century, the hills and mountains of north Georgia suddenly became one of the boom areas of the South. It was a sharp turn in the region’s history. Since the early 19th century, when settlers drove out the Cherokee Indians, this was poor country, where small farmers scratched out a living on rocky land. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through Georgia during the Civil War devastated the area, and many of its young men who left to fight for the Confederacy never returned. After the war, not much changed for a long time. Most communities lived in isolation. Roads with hairpin curves led to remote hills where moonshine stills were more common than summer cabins. James Dickey’s 1970 novel Deliverance was a thinly disguised portrait of life along the Coosawattee River in Gilmer and Murray counties (although the movie was filmed on the Chattooga River in Rabun County). Eventually, textile mills began springing up along the railroads; poultry production became a big business around Gainesville; and in Dalton, the traditional craft of tufted bedspread handiwork was transformed into a carpet industry so large that at its height it produced 60% of the world’s tufted carpet. But these were low-wage industries populated by poor whites.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Since the 1980s, north Georgia has seen a rush of change. Interstate highways have brought it within easy range of Atlanta. Small manufacturing is thriving, with higher-skill workplaces replacing low-tech mills. Vacation and retirement communities have sprung up in the mountains and around the lakes. Agribusiness remains important, with huge poultry processors in Hall County around Gainesville. The carpet industry, more high-tech now than before, still plays a key economic role because the area is vulnerable to fluctuations in new construction. Once-rural counties are now part of the boom encircling Atlanta. The area around Lake Sidney Lanier, named for the 19th-century poet who wrote “The Song of the Chattahoochee,” is filled with vacation houses and second homes (although in 2007 a drought and water demands from Florida left the lake at its lowest level in 50 years). Tens of thousands of Latinos from Mexico and other countries came to the Dalton and Gainesville areas to snap up jobs before the recession of 2008. This area, 1,200 miles from the Mexican border, is now home to almost four times as many Hispanics as blacks, and the surge of illegal immigrants that rescued the carpet industry has strained local services.
The 9th Congressional District covers most of northwest Georgia. Its northern tier of counties borders North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, and those counties are in the Chattanooga media market. The district extends south to the outer reaches of metro Atlanta to include most of Forsyth County, which grew by 61% between 2000 and 2007. Today this region has mostly forgotten its Democratic history, and it is solidly Republican in national and state elections. In the 2004 presidential election, the 9th gave George W. Bush won his biggest margin of victory in the state: He won 77% of the district’s support. In 2008, Republican John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama, 75%-24%.
Rep. Nathan Deal (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Aug. 25, 1942, Millen .
Education: Mercer U., B.A. 1964, J.D. 1966.
Family: Married (Sandra); 4 children.
Military career: Army, 1966–68.
Elected office: Hall Cnty. Juvenile Court judge, 1971; GA Senate, 1980–92, Pres. pro tem, 1989–90, 1991–92.
Professional Career: Hall Cnty. atty., 1966–70; Asst. dist. atty., NE Judicial Circuit, 1970–71; Practicing atty., 1965–92.
The congressman from the 9th District is Nathan Deal. He was first elected in 1992 as a Democrat but switched parties and became a Republican in April 1995. Deal grew up in Gainesville, went to Mercer University, and then served in the Army from 1966-68. He returned home to practice “street-level law,” always choosing offices located on a ground floor. He was an assistant district attorney, a juvenile court judge, and a county attorney. In 1980, at age 38, he was elected to the state Senate as a Democrat. President Carter was still in office, and the Legislature was overwhelmingly Democratic. It would have been pointless to run as a Republican. A capable legislator, Deal was elected Senate president pro tem twice. In 1992, when “Boll Weevil” Democrat Ed Jenkins retired from the U.S. House, Deal ran for his seat and defeated a Republican by winning 59% of the vote.
|Nathan Deal (R)||217,493||(76%)||($898,875)|
|Jeff Scott (D)||70,537||(24%)||($23,708)|
|Nathan Deal (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (77%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (75%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (66%), 1994 (58%), 1992 (59%)
In the House, Deal opposed the new Clinton administration’s economic policies, voting against the 1993 budget, for the line-item veto, and for the balanced-budget amendment. Many saw Deal as a potential party-switcher, but while he was campaigning in 1994, he said, “If I choose to switch during the term, I think the honest thing to do is resign and have a special election.” In early 1995, he worked with other Democrats to offer an alternative to the Republicans’ welfare reform package. He expressed unhappiness with his party’s opposition to tax cuts and with senior Democrats’ criticism of Clean Water Act revisions that he had won on a bipartisan committee vote. On April 10, 1995, back home in Gainesville, Deal announced that he was switching to the Republican Party—but he did not resign and run in a special election. He said the national Democratic Party was unwilling to admit it was “out of touch with mainstream America.” Democrats were stunned, and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia was delighted. Deal’s reward was a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Deal is influential on health care issues in his role as ranking Republican on the Health Subcommittee, a panel he chaired when Republicans were in the majority. In 2007, he sought additional funds for low-income kids in Georgia’s PeachCare health insurance system, but he resisted Democrats’ attempts to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by $35 billion in five years. He insisted that already-eligible persons should receive coverage first and that immigrant children should wait five years. He and other Republicans also wanted to raise the income threshold for family eligibility and thereby reduce the program’s enrollment and costs. Deal was a key negotiator at talks with the majority Democrats that ultimately failed to produce a SCHIP bill that year. In 2008, he pressed Congress to require public disclosure of medical costs, saying such transparency is necessary to stop health providers from price-gouging the uninsured, whom they often charge more than they charge people with insurance for the same services.
Deal also worked with subcommittee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., to reform the Food and Drug Administration. In 2005, when he chaired the subcommittee, he assembled $11 billion in Medicaid cuts over five years, including elimination of prescription coverage for Viagra. “Taxpayers are willing to pay for somebody’s heart medication, but they are not going to buy their beer or their Viagra.”
Deal’s voting record is mostly conservative, with an occasional deviation on foreign policy. He is the longtime sponsor of unsuccessful legislation to cut congressional salaries as much as 10% when the budget is not balanced. As a member of the Immigration Reform Caucus, he sponsored higher penalties for illegal aliens and proposed ending automatic citizenship for their children born in the United States. Deal made some accommodations for the rapidly growing Hispanic population in his own district by backing increased spending for bilingual education. A majority of school children in Dalton are Hispanic.
Deal has not faced serious primary or general election opposition since he switched parties.