ATLANTA - A racially charged phrase used by Governor Nathan Deal during a speech to educators has the governor saying he made a mistake in what he said, but not in what he meant.
Governor Deal, explaining his frustration with groups that oppose the proposed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment, told his audience: “The irony of some of the groups who are opposing doing something to help these minority children is beyond my logic. If you want to advance the state of colored people, start with their children."
Governor Deal told me: “I did not mean to insult anyone, but I was upset.”
Governor Deal made the remarks on October 3rd in a speech before the Technical College System of Georgia educators in Savannah.
At the end of speech, the Governor went off script. He began talking about the racial politics involved in the vote on Amendment 1. Amendment 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to temporarily take control of so called failing public schools.
Governor Deal believes if the amendment passes, the state can help poor, minority children graduate, get jobs, and break the cycle of poverty.
Teacher unions, school boards, and civil rights groups are against the amendment. Governor Deal says before his speech, the NAACP spoke out against it. And when he made the reference to the “advancement of colored people,” he was talking about the NAACP.
“Well, I think I misspoke in that I didn't use the entire name of the organization. I don't think I misspoke in terms of where I think they should be on this issue,” says the Governor.
I asked why he used the term “colored people” and the Governor said: “Because it’s in their name. It was in the organization's name, I think my mistake was I didn't use their whole name.”
Following the speech, Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner, Gretchen Corbin, took to the podium and said the governor asked her to clarify what he said.
“He wanted to refer to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and asked me to send his regrets for not stating the full statement of his thoughts,” Corbin said.
The speech was given as Hurricane Matthew was barreling towards Georgia, and Deal staffers say they thought they had survived a potential political storm.
There was only a smattering of Facebook responses, including one from a woman who hoped "someone or the media" would get the speech and let everyone hear what Governor Deal said about "Colored People."
“I think you know me,” Governor Deal told me, “You've covered me for about eight years now…and I think you know I'm not a person who has racially prejudiced or biased opinions.”
We played the speech for Democratic State Senator Vincent Fort.
“As I listen, I'm stunned,” says Senator Fort, “it’s language I would not expect from the chief executive of this state.”
Senator Fort doesn't believe the Governor can explain his statement by saying it is a mix up with the name of the NAACP.
“I understand the spin, it's just that - spin. It's an empty attempt to cover the Governor's back. For me there is a racist element to it.”