11/18/2017

August 24, 2015: Gov. Deal’s Communications Director Ready to Try it on His Own

Unless you are one of the intrepid public servants we keep sending back to the Gold Dome to get you out of our hair, or a lizard-loafered lobbyist lurking around the capitol with free lunch coupons or members of the news media with coffee stains on their shirts and cynicism in their hearts, the name Brian Robinson may be unfamiliar to you.

For four-and-half years, Robinson has served as Gov. Nathan Deal’s communications director. Now, he has decided it is time to go out and start life anew in his own firm, Robinson Republic, where he plans to provide political guidance for corporate clients and to do some campaign work as well. “This is an opportunity to prove to myself that I can make it on my own,” he says. There is no question that he has been battle-tested.

Being the communications director for a governor – any governor – is to walk a high wire without a net. “Gov. Deal has an audience of 10 million people,” Robinson says, “and what he says matters. Everything he does is news.” That can be good or bad depending on what the news is but, regardless, it has been Robinson’s job to see the governor’s message gets through to the public as unfiltered as possible. Not always an easy job. “Fortunately, the governor is comfortable dealing with the media,” he says.

Chris Riley, Gov. Deal’s chief of staff says, “Brian Robinson is fiercely loyal and a guy you want in the foxhole with you when things get tough.” Robinson’s most lethal weapon has been his tart tongue. He has been known to scald the hide off those who would challenge his boss, sometimes to the discomfort of the governor and those in his inner circle.

This is damning with faint praise but one reason I like Brian Robinson is because he reminds me of – well – a younger me. Like Robinson, I have operated my own political consulting firm. Like Robinson, I have dealt with media frenzies in high-profile environments – he with Nathan Deal’s ethics issues during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign and the state’s handling of the ice storms in 2014 and me with the public second-guessing over the planning for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and the media hysteria after the Olympic Park bombing. Anybody remember the character assassination of poor Richard Jewell?

Like Robinson, I have made a few over-the-top comments in the heat of battle.

After one of our frequent dustups with then-Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who was more of a hindrance than help in the staging of 1996 Games, I was quoted as saying Campbell “could make a racial issue out of a lima bean.” For the longest, I feared I would be sued for libel by a bunch of lima beans but I think they enjoyed seeing their name in the Washington Post.

My favorite Robinson retort came when gadfly filmmaker Michael Moore demanded his memoir be pulled from all the bookstores in Georgia and vowed to donate royalties to “help defeat the racists and killers” that had executed convicted cop-killer Troy Anthony Davis in 2011. Said Robinson, “We think it’s cute that he thinks anyone in Georgia would buy his book, but if any Georgian does, I’m happy to double the royalties and buy a pack of gum for a charity of Michael Moore’s choice.”

Even a pompous legend-in-his-own-mind like Moore must have quickly figured out it would be wise to let that one pass and not get into a war of words with Brian Robinson. He would have ended up just so much verbal roadkill.

If some have raised their eyebrows at a few of Robinson’s barbs, no one has ever questioned his loyalty and his willingness to aggressively defend his boss against the political slings and arrows aimed at him. I admire that. I was fiercely loyal – and still am – to Billy Payne, ACOG’s CEO.

When it was announced in 1993 that Sydney would get the 2000 Olympic Games, their CEO asked Payne for some staffing advice. Payne said, “The first thing you do is get you a mean S.O.B. to look out for you.” Pointing over his shoulder at me, he said, “That’s mine.”

I once told that story to Gov. Deal who laughed and said, “I guess I have one, too.” He has and a good one. Now, after four-and-a-half years of walking the political high wire for the governor, Brian Robinson is going to try walking it on his own. I wish him well.