Deal’s Kitchen Cabinet – Georgia Trend

1
Nov

Deal’s Kitchen Cabinet – Georgia Trend

From the Gold Dome to Capitol Hill to the Governor’s Mansion, from Democrat to Republican, through up and down economies, through different administrations, through more than 30 years of rough and tumble politics, including charges of questionable ethics, two things in Deal’s political career have remained constant. The first one is, he never loses an election. The other one is Philip Wilheit, who offers a contradiction to the first one.

“He lost one election that I know of when he tried to be president of the Gainesville Jaycees,” says Wilheit, Deal’s longtime friend and campaign chairman, the moneyman behind all of those victories.

“I like to kid Nathan, ‘That’s the one campaign I didn’t head up for you, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you lost,’” adds the president and CEO of Gainesville-based Wilheit Packaging and Marketing Images. “I enjoy reminding him of that on occasion.”

Deal lost his 1970 bid to lead the local civic organization, but hasn’t lost an election with Wilheit at his side or in the background, raising money and making influential friends, creating allies and building a well-stocked war chest.

“He headed my campaign effort, the financial effort, when I first ran for state senate in 1980, and he’s held that role ever since,” Gov. Deal says.

While Deal has held one elected position or another for the past 33 years, Wilheit hasn’t shown any interest in running for office.

“I prefer working in the background,” says Wilheit, one of the head chefs in Deal’s “kitchen cabinet,” a group of influential advisers who have the governor’s ear but don’t hold any actual office, although Wilheit does serve on the Board of Regents and will soon take over as its chairman.

It was a previous Regents chairman, late Gainesville attorney James “Bubba” Dunlap, who gave Wilheit some of the best political advice he’s received.

“He told me one time, ‘You don’t want to be the king, you want to be the kingmaker. They behead the king on occasion.’ I heard that 25 years ago, and I haven’t forgotten it,” Wilheit says. “I’m very comfortable in my role. I like being the kingmaker.”

Kingmakers and partisan favors and appointments are as old as politics. But the American “kitchen cabinet” – the concept of elected leaders showing favoritism to or taking advice from a trusted circle of friends and confidants – became famous, or infamous, with President Andrew Jackson, who met with his unofficial advisers in the White House kitchen; these men reportedly had more influence on the president than the regular cabinet.

Pretty much every president or governor you can think of has had an inner circle of trusted friends and associates who have had some measure of influence. Often, these associates are guys like Wilheit, or T. Rogers Wade (who led Deal’s transition team following his gubernatorial victory in the 2010 election), who don’t run for office, but have access to it.

“These are people with an interest in politics who may not have the time or temperament to do what’s necessary to get elected,” says longtime University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. “But they stand on the sidelines and contribute from there.”

via Deal’s Kitchen Cabinet – Georgia Trend.

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