GOP lawmaker says Nathan Deal’s top aide ‘threatened’ him

Gov. Nathan Deal's chief of staff Chris Riley. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff Chris Riley. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

A freshman Republican lawmaker said Gov. Nathan Deal’s top aide warned him he would slash funding to his north Georgia district after he was the sole legislator in the House to vote against the governor’s budget proposal.

State Rep. Matt Gurtler said Deal chief of staff Chris Riley “threatened” him at a Jan. 31 breakfast for first-term lawmakers at the Governor’s Mansion after he told Riley he voted against the spending plan because he opposed subsidies and government interference in the free market.

Gurtler said Riley twice told him: “If you believe that then I will cut all funding to your district.” He said the exchange took place in front of more than a dozen other freshmen lawmakers.

“I am appalled by Mr. Riley’s actions of intimidation and bullying tactics of an elected official,” he said. “His actions were wrong and unethical, and this type of behavior goes against our system of separation of powers.”

State Rep. Matt Gurtler.

State Rep. Matt Gurtler.

Riley, a fierce defender of Deal who has worked for him more than half his life, said he never threatened Gurtler but instead asked him why he voted against funding for his district. He said he specifically challenged Gurtler on his refusal to support 20 percent pay hikes for state law enforcement officers in the spending plan he voted against.

“If he felt threatened by what I asked him and my defense of the governor’s position,” Riley said, “we probably have bigger issues to address than separation of powers.”

Gurtler, a homebuilder from the north Georgia town of Tiger, was a legislative aide for Republican state Rep. Stephen Allison before running for his seat when he decided against a re-election bid.

He defeated a Republican rival in a 2016 runoff to represent the district – a mountainous swath of Georgia’s northeast corner – on a tea party-esque platform with pledges to resist government interference and repeal taxes.

In his short time at the statehouse, Gurtler has emerged as a reliable “no” vote on many measures, including the hospital “provider fee” to shore up Medicaid funding that critics derided as a tax hike and an insurance bill that passed the chamber 172-1.

He has also introduced legislation that would make it legal for most Georgians to carry a firearm without a license, and expand the places where they are permitted to bring weapons.

But it was his Jan. 26 vote against the midyear spending plan – which passed the House by a 173-1 vote – that raised the ire of Deal’s office and other Republican leaders. Gurtler said he took Riley’s words as an affront to his district.

“Not only did Mr. Riley threaten me, he threatened my entire constituency, some 50,000 plus Georgians in the 8th District,” said Gurtler.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican who has also infuriated Deal’s office, defended Gurtler in the state Senate on Tuesday. He said Gurtler was victim to a “sick and twisted” culture at the Capitol. McKoon, too, has been on the wrong end of a funding fight with Deal’s office.

The governor has largely had warm relations with the legislative branch since his 2010 election, though his vetoes of controversial measures last year could strain those ties.

His spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan said Deal’s office has long prided itself on its ability to work with legislators who disagree with him.

“If meaningful discussions on important issues can’t be had,” she said, “then why are we here?”

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
Steven Adams
Steven Adams

Aweeee. Did somebody's feelings get hurt? Go cry to mommy. Big baby

Chris G. Paulk
Chris G. Paulk

Please convince me that our state and federal governments aren't like House of Cards. Ready, go.

Carla Scarborough
Carla Scarborough

Then he should be fired it's time for governments to stop being trampled on and standup for Americans the reason they are there

Janice Maddox
Janice Maddox

The entire GOP is out of control and they have to go. I just hope Americans' eyes have been opened and see what the rest of us have known all along. They are tearing down every fabric of democracy bit by bit. If we don't stop this now, it will be too late.

Sandra Dale Sikes
Sandra Dale Sikes

I don't doubt it. The Federal government is corrupt, politicians become multi-millionaires while "serving the public" ...... state governments can have the same problems.....

Hank Quinn
Hank Quinn

Of course! The GOP keeps the "lawmakers" (LOL!) in line. Bust those knee caps if they get out of line.

Brian J. Huff
Brian J. Huff

Suck it up. There was no "Threat". Simply the AjC trying to lure readers they have already lost,

Rhonda Chambers
Rhonda Chambers

But you're here, they're not worried because their nay sayers hang on like a loose tooth.

Linda Morgan
Linda Morgan

Has this become our government? If so I'm ashamed.

Liz Dadin
Liz Dadin

That is nothing less than Black Mail. To much of this crap going on in politics today. It needs to end.

Penny Jones Smith
Penny Jones Smith

Nathan Deal sold his sold to the devil when he voted on the religious bill. That's not the name but that's what it had to do with. Have no respect.

Bonnie Martin
Bonnie Martin

Most citizens did not want RFRA, so he did the right thing.

Jack Foster
Jack Foster

this has been going on a long time they told my wife she would be fired for not donating to a certain person and she was fired because I would not contribute to his campaign fund

Michelle Beasley
Michelle Beasley

TIME FOR DEMOCRATS TO TAKE BACK THE GOVENOR OF GEORGIA. WE WILL NOT STAND FOR TRUMP TACTICS OF BULLYING AND INTIMADITION. PERIOD!

Lola Shireman
Lola Shireman

Michelle Beasley, I am a Republican and I do not condone bullying, threatening or intimidation from one party to another. Freedom to choose is what makes us a free country. There are flaws in both parties. However, they will never work through their problems because they refuse to work together for the common good of our nation!!

Constance Rutledge
Constance Rutledge

Lola Shireman name just one republican bill that's favored citizens over corporate interests in the last 10+ years. There's none. Republican politicians work for the corporations that line their pockets and not for the citizens who elect them. Anyone can see this simply by looking at republican bills and votes. It's not rocket science. Our republican congress blocked every veterans and jobs bill for 6 years and McConnell has openly bragged about it. Washington republicans are currently trying to gut social security and Medicare. Why anyone still votes against their own best interests by voting republican is beyond me.

Stephan Chass Brodie
Stephan Chass Brodie

Last 8 years was democrat Constance Rutledge if your talking about a state level sorry your voting in republicans people who work like democrats

Constance Rutledge
Constance Rutledge

Stephan Chass Brodie what ?? Republicans have been in control of congress