The 82nd Governor of the state of Georgia took the podium in the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday morning, Jan. 11, to a massive amount of applause. This was his final address to those in attendance, including the state representatives, members of the Georgia Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the senate.
Deal, a Millen, Georgia native, former United States Army captain, lawyer, juvenile court judge, state representative and senator, started the speech with a parable about growing an orchard. Last year’s address on the same date focused on the statewide improvements on local and out of town business, education, an improved statewide unemployment rate and the reduction of crime throughout the state.
This year Deal had to request that the applause stop in order to get started on his address. Minutes later he would be struggling through an emotional and encouraging speech that successfully laid out the work done under his watch as governor through nearly two terms in office and the initiatives that he is attempted to get passed before leaving office at the end of the year. “This marks the 8th and final time I come before you,” said Deal.
The parable was about an old man that begins to plant an orchard while knowing full well that he won’t live long enough to see it fully blossom. “Over the past seven years we have endeavored to plant whole orchards of opportunities,” he said through tears. “We have done so to ensure our children and grandchildren can live in a state they can be proud of.
The parable ends with the old man being questioned by a neighbor about his decision to plant seeds that he will never be able to take full advantage of and the old man telling the neighbor that this orchard will provide fruit and shade for future generations. That was the old man’s goal, to plant for the future and that seemed to be the message Deal was sending to the television audience watching the address being broadcast around the state via the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and to everyone in attendance. His term as governor will be ending but the seeds have been planted.
With Speaker of the House David Ralston to the left and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle to his right, Deal went on to mention that under his administration over the past five years that Georgia was listed as the number one state in which to do business. He made a point to emphasise to the audience the economic impact of the film industry which has brought in more than $9.5 billion dollars to the state. “That’s quite impressive growth from the tree,” quipped Deal. Under his administration the education spending has increased by $3.6 billion. “No other administration in Georgia has planted so many trees of knowledge,” said Deal.
Deal thanked his wife of 52 years, Sandra, choking up at times when he mentioned her dedication to education saying, “Her passion has always been and continues to be improving the lives of children.” He continued, “I can tell you she has visited all of 159 counties in Georgia and made over 800 school visits and she doesn’t have any plans of slowing down.”
The Hope Scholarship Grant Program and Hope Career Grant were both mentioned as programs that Deal was proud of in regards to their growth and the millions of dollars being dedicated to them thus far and throughout this calendar year. “Because we did the necessary work of continuing that program many more children will continue to sit under that tree,” said Deal of the Hope Scholarship which he mentioned was in bad shape when he took office in 2011. “Our state will depend on the continued production from graduates from our institutions,” added Deal in regards to the improving Georgia Technical College System. “We need both our university and technical college systems to remain competitive.”
Deal mentioned the growth of the Hope Career Grant which now offers 17 specified fields of study, five of which were added this year.
Transportation funding and criminal justice reform were also topics of discussion towards the end of the address. Deal also thanked the Georgia State Patrol for their work. “These everyday heroes are the ones who protect our trees of opportunity,” said Deal.
Deal closed the address with a strong statement on where the state of Georgia is now and will be in the future. “I want to make it clear that this is not my obituary nor is it my farewell address,” said Deal, followed by much laughter. “I urge you not to neglect the trees and orchards that we have grown these past seven years.”
“The state of our state is not just strong, it is exceptional,” he said.