A lot has been made over the last week about Governor Nathan Deal’s refusal to comment on the proposed integrated prom for Wilcox County High School. Students at the school tried, and successfully, raised money to hold the first integrated prom in school history. The Governor’s spokesperson called Better Georgia’s request for comment on the effort a “silly publicity stunt”. Finally, on Wednesday, after pressure from national media sources, the governor spoke on the issue. This is what he said:
“None of us condone things that would send the wrong message about where we are with regard to race relations. But by the same token, I think that people understand that some of these are just local issues and private issues, and not something that the state government needs to have its finger involved in.”
Translation: I am not a leader.
Of course the governor should encourage others to do what’s right without an exception for local politics. That’s like a parent at home watching their child treat another child badly and responding by saying “that’s a child issue”. Yes we elect politicians to manage government and set public policy, but we also expect them to use their bully pulpit to lead. Governor Deal failed in this instance.
But who is surprised? Certainly not us. This is the same person who called seniors without birth certificates “Ghetto Grandmothers”. This is the same person who boasted about voting against the Voting Rights Act. This is also the same person who when asked if President Obama was born in America said “I have no idea where he was born”.
The Governor’s belief on race relations is something only he knows. In our opinion, each of the examples above says more about his willingness to lead in a diverse state in complex times. Each statement was made when the Governor was either running, or about to run for Governor in 2010. He was clearly trying to deliver a positive message to Republican Party primary voters instead of saying what, hopefully, he believes in his heart.
Now three years later, the same thing is happening with the Wilcox County prom. The Governor is obviously concerned about his primary election next year and getting challenged for being too moderate. It’s hard to believe a high school prom became a political football in the first place, but since it did, Deal should lead.