April 16, 2014

Rattlesnake roundup?

Pennington hits Deal on ethics, Deal campaign fires back

Misty Watson

— David Pennington says Gov. Nathan Deal must be worried to have sent his “top rattlesnakes” to Pennington’s press conference outside Deal’s office at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

“It was very interesting,” said Pennington, the former mayor of Dalton who is challenging Deal in the May 20 Republican primary.

During the appearance, Pennington challenged Deal to debate him and to address his belief that Deal “cannot perform his duties as governor.”

Pennington also spoke of several controversies surrounding Deal, including claims that a business once co-owned by Deal owes $74 million in back taxes to the state and that business transactions involving Deal that should be public record aren’t readily available. Pennington also questioned Deal’s ethics.

An article on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution website called the press conference “must-see political theater” and called it one of the most “bizarre events” of the campaign. The article said an attorney who represented Deal in the sale of the business, Randy Evans, spoke longer than Pennington and said Deal’s “employees were snickering.”

“The governor had all his top rattlesnakes out there so he must be worried,” Pennington said in an interview by phone after the press conference. “It’s never good when a politician let’s his attorney speak for him. I don’t believe anything Randy Evans says. He’s trying to defend the indefensible.”

According to the AJC article, when asked why Deal refuses to debate Pennington and state school Superintendent John Barge, who is also running in the primary, Evans responded, “Voters have a ton of information. The only thing that’s important here is the information, are there issues that are sufficiently distinct that would merit a debate from someone who doesn’t suffer from these challenges. Candidly, there are some folks who are candidates for the sake of being candidates. They just want their name out there.”

Pennington said he is a private businessman and is not in politics to get his name “out there.”

“Anybody that’s ever known me knows I’m a private business person,” he said. “I’m not a professional politician. I’m doing this because I don’t like the direction this state is headed. ... The most difficult thing I’m giving up is my privacy.”

Pennington said Deal is damaging Republicans’ prospects for holding onto the governor’s office.

“It’s eerie how history can repeat itself,” he said. “Forty years ago Richard Nixon so poisoned the well for Republicans we ended up electing Jimmy Carter (as president). Now Nathan Deal has so poisoned the well that we don’t need to go on to elect Jason Carter.”

Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Carter, is running for governor as a Democrat.

Pennington said the difference between Deal and Nixon is that Nixon wasn’t benefiting financially from his actions that led to his resignation as president.

“It’s obvious Nathan Deal has,” said Pennington.

“He started his term as governor virtually bankrupt,” Pennington said. “Now with his latest financial disclosure he’s showing a net worth of $4 million.”

Last year, Deal and a business partner sold their salvage company to Texas-based Copart for an estimated $4 million, plus $120,000 annually to lease the land, according to an article on April 7 by Creative Loafing, an Atlanta-based publication. Copart has since fought with the state Department of Revenue over $74 million in disputed back sales taxes.

“Now the Department of Revenue says they can’t produce the records for at least eight months at a cost to the news media of $4 million,” Pennington said. “I’ve got to believe these records are readily available, but they’re not releasing them.”

Pennington said if Deal has those records stored elsewhere and thus unavailable, he should resign immediately.

Brian Robinson, deputy chief of staff for communications for the governor’s office, said, “The governor has been the most transparent leader this state has ever had. We released all the information and gave access to information about the sale to the media immediately.”

Jennifer Talaber, communications director for the Deal for Governor campaign, said in an email that Pennington “set a record today for erroneous and factually incorrect statements in one news conference.”

“Lucky for us, the law firm that handled the closing for the sale of the governor’s business was there to categorically rebut every falsehood Pennington managed to nervously stutter out,” Talaber said.

Pennington noted another controversy concerning Deal, including what Pennington called the “wrongful termination” of the state ethics commission executive secretary for investigating the governor.

“My first reform as governor is introducing a constitutional amendment where five members of the ethics commission are appointed by the judiciary,” Pennington said. “I will give them a budget of $7 million and they will receive raises as state employees are given raises.”

The state is in worse shape now than it was when Deal took office in 2011, Pennington said. He said there have been problems with food stamps, the prison system is ranked one of the most dangerous in the country, juveniles in youth detention centers face sexual abuse and 152 children have died under state care. He also noted the problems with snow and travel in the state earlier this year.

“It’s obvious Nathan Deal cannot perform the duties of the chief executive officer of the state of Georgia,” Pennington said. “Obviously what we need more than anything else is for people to know they have an alternative to Nathan Deal.”

Talaber said Deal has had a positive impact on the state.

“Gov. Deal has reduced taxes, cut spending, made Georgia the No. 1 place in the nation in which to do business and brought about the lowest unemployment rate in five years — all while boosting funding for the state’s top priority: education,” she said. “No wonder David Pennington has to resort to making up facts to create a better storyline.”