The gala — rescheduled after January’s ice storm — began with a bang as hundreds turned out to support the governor’s victory over his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Roy Barnes, in November.
It also celebrated the historic Republican sweep in Georgia last fall, leading the GOP to control every statewide elected office.
During the gala, attendees swarmed tables full of empanadas, hummus, cheeses and desserts as the band cranked out hits like “Electric Slide” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” Tables were festooned with centerpieces of cotton plants and fresh flowers, while displays about cities from Dalton in the north to Valdosta in the south lined the ballroom at Cobb Galleria.
A tuxedo-clad Deal stood in the lobby greeting attendees as festivities got under way.
“We’re just pleased we’ve had such a good turnout even though we planned this for January,” Deal said. “It’s a good time to have this occasion and have this opportunity to celebrate with the legislative session over.”
Deal had a rough few months as he scrambled to cut nearly $1 billion from the state budget and to trim back the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship and prekindergarten programs to prevent them from going broke. He also faced a power struggle in the Senate that threatened to derail important legislation.
The governor took the stage Monday night, asking for the thousands in attendance to take a moment of silence for the 15 people killed in the powerful tornadoes that swept through Georgia last week. Then he and his wife danced to “Georgia on My Mind” and mingled with the crowd.
Larry Hansen drove from Blue Ridge with his wife, Barbara, to attend the gala. Hansen said the couple campaigned for Deal and even voted absentee from Canada while on vacation.
“We’re delighted with how he’s performed so far,” Hansen said. “It hasn’t been easy, but he’s the man.”
The event was free for anyone who wanted to attend and was paid for with private donations. A Deal spokesman pledged to make the list of donors public after the event.
The event was scheduled for Jan. 10 but an ice storm coated much of the state and paralyzed the city. Outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency, opening the door for the state to provide help for local governments, while Deal moved his inauguration ceremony inside the state Capitol and canceled the gala.