“All politics is local”
As you can read down at the bottom of this article, I have a political science background. One B.A. in Poli Sci, and a Master’s in trying to teach it to teenagers (fool’s errand). I’m the sort of guy that enjoys watching political talk shows on Sunday mornings (yes, I’ve had my head examined multiple times).
I’m about as nerdy about the subject as I am about sports. I spent three years on the Model UN at Georgia Southern (S/O to the best program in the country). I was in the honor society, VP of the Poli Sci Club and Amnesty International, and even spent a semester on the Model African Union team reppin’ Sudan (not easy to do btw).
Sports and politics often intersect. This past year has been a great example of that. Think of this as Forgotten5 mixed with Meet the Press.
No Georgia Southern political science student for his/her salt escaped the Carroll Building without having read a chapter or two of the political scientist Richard Fenno. “All politics is local” was Fenno’s creed. Well, Casey Cagle’s campaign office is a 5-minute drive down Chamblee-Tucker Rd for me, it doesn’t get much more ‘local’ than that.
The current sitting Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Casey Cagle, just happened to play a year of college ball at Georgia Southern under the late, great Erk Russell. He’s also the leading candidate to replace Nathan Deal as the next Governor of Georgia in 2018. He played one year as a DB for Georgia Southern before tearing his Achilles.
Playing for Erk makes you an honorary member of Eagle nation in my book. Could a dude who went to Georgia Southern make it to the Governor’s mansion for the first time?
Sports has been a part of his life since the beginning, and it continues to be. He has three sons that played collegiately at Georgia State, (two golf, one basketball) all three won conference championships during their time there (he bragged about it like a proud dad). He also races cars on road courses for SSCA and is a bit of an adrenaline junky. He played multiple sports throughout high schools and was a Strong Safety on Johnson High School’s football team.
“Wisdom, Justice, Moderation” is the state motto for Georgia. Often seen as the political center of gravity and the economic engine for the entire Southeast region, Georgia needs a cool hand at the wheel in the Governor’s mansion. Cagle exudes a calm confidence, and his track record thus far falls in line with the state motto. He’s a Georgia business-first Republican. Georgia has an economy roughly the size of Poland, a country with four times the population. It’s a huge responsibility.
I sat with Mr. Cagle to talk about his run for Governor, sports, education, and other topics.
Nick Burgess: Introduce yourself to my readers, and tell them how you best qualify to be the next Governor of Georgia.
Casey Cagle: Right, right. First of all, I’m Casey Cagle, I hail from Hall county. 7th generation Hall county. Married my high school sweetheart. Three wonderful boys, that are all grown now. Two daughter in laws, along with two grand babies, and our third grandchild is expected … Actually, any day this week.
It’s neat. We’ll get into a little bit more of the Georgia Southern thing a little bit later. I was a collegiate athlete at Georgia Southern. My three boys are also, were collegiate athletes, interestingly enough. Two of them were golfers, and the youngest one was a basketball player. All at Georgia State. I may be the only father in America that has three boys that all won conference championships from the same institution.
Wow. That’s amazing. Georgia State is kicking Georgia Southern’s butt in football now. I hate it.
It’s a little bit of trivia there. Anyway, I was elected to the State Senate in 1994 at the ripe old age of 28. Obviously had just a wonderful public service career there. Along with being Lieutenant Governor, I was the first Republican Lieutenant Governor to be elected in Georgia, in 2006. That was a challenging primary. It was Ralph Reed, so obviously a national acclaim.
We were big underdog through that process. My business background really is mostly banking and real estate, along with various business ventures that I’ve been a part of throughout the years. I view elected office as really a call to service. Because it’s not a career, it’s a part-time position, and one in which requires an enormous amount of time and effort on your part. It’s very, very rewarding when you’re able to be committed to a long term vision that impacts the citizens of Georgia lives in a very positive way. Obviously, we’ve been able to do a lot of really great things. My focus going forward is really a focus of greater economic prosperity where no one’s left behind. Georgia’s expected to grow by four and a half million people in less than 15 years.
I can tell. You see the traffic out there. (His campaign office has a bird’s eye view of Spaghetti Junction.)
Yeah. It’s a big number. I have the opportunity to obviously shape and to plan for that growth. Building the infrastructure to sustain the growth, shaping it to particularly greater economic prosperity in the rural communities is a very high priority. Building out the rural broadband across the state. Helping rural hospitals survive, as well.
Then, really secondly is workforce development. I’ve been probably known for my work, specifically, in the creation of The College and Career Academy Network, along with the Charter systems across the state. I believe that education needs to line with industry needs. I want a pipeline of workers coming out that meet the needs of industry, but also transforming the high school. Their junior and senior year to where they’re actually earning college credits and being industry certified.
Many of them can receive their Associate’s Degree, and offering more options and choices around that. Create an environment that industries is able to thrive in. The more production that industry has, and the more productive it allows individuals to be.
I want to raise salaries. I think when a kid comes out of high school, with a normal high school diploma, their average salary is gonna be 16,000. They come out of one of our College and Career Academies, it’s 32,000. We double their income potential and in many of our programs, we’re actually able to move that 40 and $50,000.00 … Right out of high school. You have no debt associated with it, and kids are fighting to get in these programs versus fighting to get out of school.
It’s a different mindset, but it’s one that obviously has been proven, and my goal is by 2020, every kid having access to this kind of College and Career Academy, dual enrollment, our journalism apprenticeship program … All of those things are critical. Building that workforce.
The last thing I would just point out to you is that 25% of our kids today live in poverty. We have 40 counties at 40+% poverty rates. That’s not acceptable, to me. I want to … I really do want to fight and stand in the gap to give kids more opportunities to lift themselves out of that set of circumstances.
The reason I care about it, and the reason I’ve spent so much time focusing on it, is because I understand it. I was raised by a single mom. My dad left when I was three. Those early years were spent in a little single wide trailer, and I remember my mom, vividly, kneeling by our bed saying our prayers and asking God for his provision.
She taught me the value of faith, but she also taught me the value of hard work. She worked two jobs to make ends meet. She was determined to not let us be trapped in the set of circumstances. So, she afforded me the ability to transcend that. Education is the great equalizer. I believe that … I have an opportunity to, hopefully, use this platform in a way that is a shining example of what can be. And you don’t have to, again, be trapped in a set of circumstances. You can move beyond that, and I want to be busy in making that happen.
That’s a great segue to my next question.
Which was, I was a teacher nearby in Lawrenceville at a Career and Training high school. That was their main focus. They had a career track they take sophomore year, and that they follow until they graduate. It is a Title I school, too. I know, from my side of the perspective, as being a teacher, these kids don’t get enough career training. And high school … They don’t get prepared. The curriculum, with all do respect, is for the 19th century. A lot of times it doesn’t prepare them for what’s going on today. Besides all that, what’s your platform on K through 12 education?
First of all, I think it’s important to cast the bigger vision. That is, I don’t believe in a one size fits all education, so to say, because no two kids are made alike. They don’t learn the same way. They’re not motivated equally. We have to … I cast the vision for public education that says I want an academic floor, for all students to achieve. And within that floor, there can be no cracks for students to drop between. But there can also be no ceiling to hold any student back.
This is a bigger vision, that is a holistic vision versus the vision that we have today, which by in large, most schools are still one size fits all. Let’s send everybody off to get a Liberal Arts degree, and a lot of these kids are saying, “I don’t understand why British Lit matters.” They don’t see the relevance in what they’re learning. I believe that oftentimes, life becomes a value proposition.
The reason kids, many times, drop out is that they don’t see the value proposition. I’m trying to present that, and we are presenting that in the lives in students when we’re able to say, “Look. You like to work with your hands. Here are 10 different career paths. You want to be a lineman for Georgia Power? Do you want to be a welder? Do you want to be a pipe fitter? Every single one of those jobs will pay you, a minimum, of 40, if not $50,000.00 a year. And we can give you the credentialing that you need, specifically to fill those jobs.”
All of a sudden their mind is changed. It’s not about a diploma anymore, it’s not about just going through the motions, it’s now about a goal that is in front of them that is a better alternative than what they had. Now, they’re like, “Wow. If I do this, you’re telling me, that at the end of this road there’s going to be a job waiting for me that pays me $40,000.00 a year, starting out, with no debt?” And I’m saying, “Absolutely.” That’s the value proposition. So the junior and senior year becomes something very different under a Cagle Administration than what we currently have in many of our systems.
I understand your previous run for Governor, in 2009, you dropped out because of a back injury … Neck injury?
Yeah. Neck surgery.
My question is, do you think that your football playing days contributed to that? And my follow up to that is how can we make football a safer sport because it’s so ingrained in Georgia’s culture, southern culture? What can we do?
When it comes to why my disc in my neck collapsed and why they were degenerate … Could it have had something to do with football? Possibly. All right. Do I regret my years playing football? No. Do I still have injuries, and aches and pains as a result of doing it? I do.
You played strong safety, right?
Yeah, right. Yeah, I do. But that’s life.
We don’t live in a bubble, because if you live in a bubble you don’t get to experience some of the greatest things in life. I’m actually one of those people that doesn’t mind taking risk. Yes I’ve had concussions. Is my memory as great as it should be? Maybe not. The point is, I do a whole host of things that there’s risk involved. I race cars.
Yeah, I do.
What kind of cars do you race?
Yeah, I know what that is.
It’s a road track.
My roommate did SSCA for a couple of years.
I’m a licensed race car driver and is it dangerous? Yes. Could you crash? Yes. But, in the moment, there’s nothing more fulfilling. I snow ski. I hunt.
Thrill seeker a little bit?
Yeah. I do all kinds of things that … Are there risk involved? Sure. But there’s risk in flying in a plane, that I have to do on a campaign along with a helicopter. As well as all the roads … Driving up and down the roads. In a life, you look through the windshield. You don’t drive a car through the rear view mirror. If I look back and say, “Hey. If you had to do all over again, would you do some things different?” Probably. All of us are that way.
It’s more about the windshield. It’s more about the future. You make choices. You make decisions, and hopefully you deliberate on those to where they’re good, sound decisions. I can promise you, I loved, loved, loved playing in a high school and college football. And getting to play for Erk Russell … Even though I only played one year, it was a highlight of my life. He’s a remarkable man, and a person who taught me so, so much. I’m sure you want to get into that.
You don’t look back. You look forward.
What’s your best Erk story? Because everyone’s got a handful.
Yeah. There’s … This is a person who is bigger than life. In every way. I tell people that he was one, a wonderful human being and two, is that he was such a motivator. I mean, he could convince you that you could run through a brick wall.
Yeah. The blood on the head.
He … That’s how he was …
Did he ever headbutt you?
No. My story with Erk, was I was being recruited. I was a strong safety in high school and Coach Russell was needing cornerbacks. A cornerback is … I really didn’t have the 4-3 speed to be a cornerback. I had good speed, but I didn’t have 4.3 speed.
That was the hole he was trying to fill in his defense. I was at home, I went down and visited with him. He said, “Casey, I want you to come play for us.” I said, “Well, Coach, nobody I’d rather play for than you.” I was being recruited by other, obviously schools. I said, “The bigger question is, I don’t have money.” I said, “I don’t have money to go to college. I need a scholarship. What can you do?” He said, “Casey, we are so limited on scholarships. Sadly, enough, we’re not going to be able to really come through for that.” I said, “Well, Coach. That’s the hard part.”
The year rocked along and this was in May. School had just let out, I had obviously gone past signing day, did not sign. I didn’t sign, I was at home, the phone rang. It was in the morning. Picked it up and this was in day of only landlines. I picked it up and said, “Hello.” On the other line it was, “Casey.” I was like, “Yes, sir?” “This is Erk Russell.” When he said that, it was like you just melted. I said … He said, “I got one question for you. Are you coming to play for me or not?” I didn’t know what else to say, but yes.
You just can’t get it out.
I was like nothing else but yes. I said, “Coach, I don’t know how I’m gonna pay for it.” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just come on down here and let’s worry about that later.”
That’s an incredible story.
It was … Again, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. The thing that Erk really taught me, I think … So many things and I’ve got tons of stories. He taught me so many things, but the one things I reflect upon, even to this day, is that goals transcend limits.
Goals transcends limits. He was … There’s so many things that we limit ourselves about, and around, that is typically a lack of focus. It’s a lack of discipline. It’s a lack of commitment and perseverance. That’s what he taught me, is that the goal of winning the National Championship is what’s in front of us.
Whatever we have to do for that to occur, every single day, is what we’re going to do. We’re not going to overlook one team. We’re gonna be disciplined every day. We’re going to spend time in the weight room. We’re going to spend time in the film room. We’re gonna do everything that is necessary for us to perform at a limitless place.
In life, that’s still even true. It’s fascinating to think of … Just not me, but the impact that he’s had on so many peoples lives. I did a fundraiser down in Statesboro, it was well attended, and obviously I still have a lot of friends, and a lot of support in Statesboro. I was concerned that … At the end of fundraiser and Tracy Ham.
I said, “Tracy, I was really gonna be disappointed if I came all the way to Statesboro, and you didn’t show up.” He said, “Casey, you knew I was gonna be here.” Tracy’s been … He’s been a great friends. He’s a good guy. The best quarterback I’ve ever played against in my life.
CFL Hall of Fame.
This guy was … He was a winner in everything. It didn’t matter if we were playing pick up basketball, ping pong, he’s a competitor. It didn’t matter. He always won. He just knew how to win.
Like Michael Jordan. He’s gotta win.
He’s a born winner. He’s a born winner. He’s just a good guy. Just a good, good man. I’m glad he’s back at Statesboro, back at Georgia Southern and obviously continuing on the traditions.
Okay. That’s amazing. That’s a good story. I did research before the interview. I really do enjoy your backstory. Georgia Southern and Gainesville State, the two schools you attended, right?
They’ve gone through consolidations recently, along with Kennesaw and Southern Poly, State and Perimeter. There’s been around of consolidations last decade in the USG. What’s your view on the process and how will you improve higher ed? I know you’ve discussed the career training, but how will you improve higher ed as Governor?
I believe, I’m a businessman first, politician second. I still think in a very much in a free market mindset. I understand what it’s like to make consolidations. And consolidations, often times, can be very meaningful. I was involved in banking, as I said, and we built a holding company that was around consolidating markets. Through that, you want to see what efficiency gains that can be made. Typically, consolidation is either by gaining market share, or cost savings through added efficiencies. The university system … I’m unsure of the true cost savings, or the market gain that has been … That has come to fruition. The jury’s still out. I don’t want to be judgemental. The jury is still out on that. As it pertains to higher ed, I think our quality is extremely good. I will tell you, we have some of the best … We have the best universities, some of the best universities in the world. Undeniably. I love it when I travel abroad and people talk about Georgia Tech.
Or Emory. Or UGA.
And UGA. So quality is great. Affordability is another issue that I’m deeply concerned about. And I think that a lot of Georgians are concerned about it. Even though we have Hope scholarship, which is great, it’s … There’s still too many people that are incurring way too much debt as they come out of college.
We will be looking at that and obviously having the right conversations that need to be had on the affordability of four year degrees. And there’s some specific things that we can do, and we’ll be looking to doing into the future. But, affordability, I think is probably the bigger issue.
Quality is very good, I would like to see better alignment within industry. I think in many of our post secondary institutions we have … We try, in some cases, be all things to all people versus being very focused on discipline, where we’re very proficient in that. We begin to get greater national ranking as a result to obviously have a bigger calling card to a bigger audience. In state, or also out of state. I think of things in the context of a value added.
Are you … What’s your graduation rates? But also, what is your placement rates? And what kind of salaries are people able to receive as a result of their degree? Those outcomes become very, very important to me as Lieutenant Governor, but obviously as Governor.
The only thing I have left is, I know you’re a busy man, do you follow college football? Thoughts on the playoff.
Georgia Southern, do you follow that at all?
Your prediction for the Colquitt, North Gwinnett game? Because I know you’re from Hall. You don’t want to burn … They’re both good teams.
They’re both good teams. Some of my friends are for it, some of my friends are against it, I’m for my friends.
I understand. Okay.
I don’t mind making … I’ve already made early prediction with The University of Georgia.
I feel confident that they’re going to do great. Kirby Smart, I think he’s just one of the … Is going to be, if not already, history … Let me put it this way. I’m confident that history is going to reflect that Kirby Smart is going to be one of the greats.
I think you’re not wrong.
And I put him in the likes of an Erk Russell, who has a great heart. Who works … I mean, tirelessly. A work ethic that everyone should respect. Plus, he’s just a likable guy. He’s got something that we have in common. He hates to lose more than he likes to win.
That’s right. You haven’t lost the race yet, from what I’ve seen.
Right. I hate to lose. I hate to lose. That’s why, when people ask me, what about the SEC championship? Is Georgia gonna win? And I said, “There’s no question Georgia’s gonna win. You will not beat Kirby Smart twice in one season. I promise you. It will not happen.” Just because I knew. He was gonna bring a new life into scheme, they did. They had to get their great backs out of the corners, and make it a foot race. It’s exactly what he did. It was fun to watch. And not to mention what he’s done with the defense. This is … And his recruiting talent. People …
We’re looking at some, I think, a very, very exciting dynasty that’s unfolding in front of our eyes.
Okay. Thank you, Governor. Or Lieutenant Governor, I should say.
Thank you. Yes, sir. Thank you.