Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is caught in an ever-deepening ethics mess as his popularity with Republicans dwindles and a rising Democratic superstar takes the lead in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Raw Story spoke with Bryan Long, director of the progressive group Better Georgia, who said the governor has run out of ways to skirt the corruption charges that have dogged him literally since the day he was sworn in. Particularly, Long said, now that Deal's own hand-picked "ethics investigator" has turned against him.
"Gov. Deal's web of lies is collapsing," said Long. "He's trying to create distraction and a smoke screen. He wants the voters to think that this is so complicated that it's not worth their thinking about it."
"But what he's done is get caught in lie after lie," he explained.
Deal rode the wave of Tea Party fervor into office in January of 2011, but the Deal for Governor 2010 campaign was charged with financial irregularities. The state appointed an ethics commission to investigate, headed by Stacey Kalberman and deputy investigator Sherilyn Streicker.
When Deal's office learned in June of 2011 that Kalberman and the ethics committee were about to issue subpoenas for Deal staff and the governor himself, Deal gutted the ethics commission's funding, fired Streicker and cut Kalberman's salary by $35,000.
Deal replaced Kalberman with attorney Holly LaBerge in September of 2011, who bragged to staffers that she was going to make Deal's ethics problems "go away."
Within less than a year, however, LaBerge found herself being hounded by staffers from the governor's office and threatened with the same type of treatment afforded to previous investigators if she didn't negate her own committee's findings and reduce the fines levied against Deal for Governor, which LaBerge had already managed to whittle down to $3,350 from a possible $70,000.
She filed a memo with the state officials detailing the campaign of harassment Deal staffers employed, calling and texting her multiple times while she and her family tried to enjoy a vacation in Florida.
"Deal's taxpayer-funded staffers were calling the person leading the investigation into his campaign while she was on vacation," said Long. "That is a huge breach of the public trust."
Deal has tried to defend himself, shifting his story as he travels from one media outlet to another. He told Atlanta's Channel 11 that LaBerge is a "self-serving" attention-seeker out to discredit him by fabricating stories about his staff's conduct.
In a softball interview with RedState.com founder and erstwhile CNN contributor Erick Erickson, Deal said, "There was no communication from me and my staff to the commission members. Holly LaBerge is sort of like a prosecutor in the case...The commission members are the judges -- and when it finally got to them, they found it lacked merit.”
Long said this is far from the truth, and fellow Republicans know it, which is why so few of them are stepping up to defend Deal against the charges.
"No elected Republican has come out to support Gov. Deal," he noted. "He's on an island. His house of cards if falling."
One reason, Long said, is because "they don't know which of his many stories to tell. The governor's story is shifting so quickly that people in his own party are scared to tell the story because they'll contradict whatever the governor is saying from one day to the next."
A real mark of Deal's mounting difficulties, however, is the fact that Democratic challenger State Sen. Jason Carter -- grandson of former President Jimmy Carter -- is beating Deal in the polls by a steadily widening margin.
Conservative pollsters Landmark Polling found that "Carter received 48.7 percent in the poll and Deal received 41.3 percent. Libertarian Andrew Hunt received 4 percent of the vote in the poll. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent."
If he wins in November, Carter would be the first Democratic Georgia governor since Gov. Roy Barnes, who left office more than a decade ago in 2003.
Furthermore, said Long, Deal has already cost taxpayers more than $3 million in settlements and damages.
"There was a $1.15 million jury verdict," he said. "After that, the state settled all the other whistleblower cases. And now, more are coming."
"The governor is costing Georgia taxpayers every day he's in office," Long concluded.
[Image courtesy of the Office of Governor Nathan Deal]