Before the Georgia Legislature ended its 2013 session last month, one senator took Gov. Nathan Deal to task for what the lawmaker said was a lack of racial diversity amongst appointees to various state boards and positions.
"Less than 3 percent of appointees, since they’ve taken office, by the executive branch have been African-American," said Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat who is African-American.
Fort held a spreadsheet in his hand that he said documented the disparity. Just nine of some 200 appointments since Deal, who is white, was sworn in as governor in January 2011 were African-American, the senator said. Three of those African-Americans were appointed to the state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, Fort said.
"The point I’m trying to make is this," Fort told his Senate colleagues. "You see a lack of diversity in the appointments to government. That’s not right."
About 30 percent of Georgians and the state’s registered voters are African-American, U.S. census figures and Georgia Secretary of State Office’s records show.
PolitiFact Georgia wanted to know whether Fort’s claim was correct.
It took us some time to do our own research, but we found African-Americans accounted for 7 percent of Deal’s appointments.
Brian Robinson, the governor’s communications director, told PolitiFact Georgia that the governor’s office does not keep a breakdown of Deal’s appointments by race. Robinson said the governor wants racial diversity among his appointees. Robinson explained that anyone can apply to serve on a state board and applicants are not asked beforehand about their race.
"The applicants do not report their race on the forms, though, and they don’t submit photos, so it would be difficult to guess the demographic breakdown of the governor’s appointees," Robinson said.
Through a spokeswoman for Senate Democrats, Fort forwarded us the spreadsheet he cited on the Senate floor. It had 209 appointments, with the names of each person, the organization that person was appointed to, their race and gender, and where he or she lives. The spreadsheet had the race of all but eight appointees. PolitiFact Georgia, though, found Deal has made more than 800 appointments.
The spokeswoman, Liz Flowers, explained the spreadsheet was based on a review of Deal’s executive orders. We looked through all of the governor’s news releases, which helped us to compile a more detailed list of Deal’s appointments.
Deal, a former congressman from Gainesville, was elected with seemingly little support from African-American voters. Deal, a Republican, fared poorly in counties with large black populations in the 2010 general election against Democrat Roy Barnes. In Clayton County, where 72 percent of voters are black, Deal won 17 percent of the vote. In Dougherty County, where nearly 65 percent of registered voters are black, Deal won 30 percent of the vote.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined Deal’s appointments in May 2011, shortly after he took office. The findings: 83 of Deal’s 87 appointees -- 95 percent -- were white. Deal’s predecessor, Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, appointed whites at an 87 percent clip during his first year in office.
In general, Georgia Republicans have had trouble gaining the support of black voters. In 2010, less than 3 percent of the state’s black voters cast ballots in the Republican primary, according to Emory University assistant political science professor Andra Gillespie. The professor cautioned that primary turnouts are typically low, so some black Republicans may have stayed home. She added that since Georgia has open primaries, some black voters who cast ballots in that primary may not typically side with the GOP.
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock estimated that 5 percent of black voters statewide cast their ballots for Deal.
Flowers and some Democrats insist the lack of black support for Deal should not remove them from consideration for appointments.
Some African-Americans on state boards told the AJC that they inquired about various positions even though they didn’t vote for the governor. Deal sought out others he knew and asked them to serve, the AJC reported.
As the AJC did in 2011, PolitiFact Georgia used the AJC’s voter database, which comes from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, as the primary source for our research. The database lists each Georgia voter, giving his or her full name, race, date of birth, gender and address. We also conducted detailed Internet searches to match the names of some appointees. It took us more than two weeks to compile our research.
Fort’s spreadsheet went from the beginning of Deal’s term to the end of February 2013. We looked at appointments up to the date Fort made his comments. There have been some appointments since March 26.
We examined appointments Deal made to state boards, commissions, councils and judicial positions. The appointments range from the state Board of Public Safety to the Board of Hearing Aid Dealers and Dispensers.
Many appointees were small business owners. Nearly 70 percent of them were men. We counted 53 appointees who live in Gainesville, Deal’s hometown. Atlanta was the only city with more appointees on our list. Thirty-seven people were appointed to more than one board.
And how many were black? Sixty-one of the 843, according to our count, or slightly more than 7 percent.
A handful listed their race as "other." Fourteen were listed as "unknown." A small number listed their race as Asian or Hispanic. The remainder, nearly 90 percent of them, were white.
Robinson defended the governor’s efforts toward racial inclusiveness.
"[M]any agency heads hired by Governor Deal are African-American, and the governor recently appointed the state’s first Asian-American woman judge to sit on the Court of Appeals," Robinson said. "The governor’s actions in the recent DeKalb County school case also provide a telling example. Our liaisons were a white man and a black man. Our nominating panel was majority African-American, and five of the six board members that he appointed are African-American."
To sum up, Fort said during a Senate session that less than 3 percent of the governor’s appointees are African-American. Our research showed it’s slightly more than 7 percent.
The senator’s overarching claim that Deal has appointed a relatively low percentage of minorities has merit. But he was wrong by a handful of percentage points. It was based on an incomplete sampling of Deal’s total appointees.
We rate the claim Half True.