Hail to the Chief
Chris Riley Relishes His Role as Georgia Governor’s Chief Of Staff
Chris Riley (’92) once had his heart set on becoming a CIA agent.
That all changed once he began his second quarter of Arabic at Georgia Southern and his professor pulled him aside. “He said, ‘You know there really are not a lot of red-haired, fair-skinned agents in Arabic-speaking countries!’ and he was correct,” said Riley. Instead of pursuing a career serving citizens on a global scale, the 42-year-old works as a leading public servant for the state of Georgia.
“I never thought I would have a career in politics,” said Riley, now Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff.
The Gainesville, Ga., native’s infatuation with politics and government began as a volunteer at the grassroots level during Deal’s 1992 campaign for Congress. At the time, Riley was on summer break from his classes at Georgia Southern, and some of his tasks included digging postholes and putting up political signs.
“I was basically in charge of placing and distributing signs in the district. There was a lot of time spent meeting landowners, talking about issues and how then-State Sen. Deal was the best person running for Congress from our area. About a month into the campaign, Mr. Deal’s son, Jason, returned home from military service in Germany and the two of us traveled about every road in the 9th District. We met some great Georgians on that trail. I guess you could say I learned political campaigns the old-fashioned way, face-to-face,” said Riley.
After Deal’s win and Riley’s graduation from Georgia Southern, he began working as Deal’s legislative assistant. “I graduated on a Sunday night in Statesboro in December 1992, and caught a Delta Air Lines flight for D.C. the next day to find a place to live,” he said.
Through the years, Riley has worked in a variety of influential roles as a member of Deal’s staff: projects and grants coordinator, campaign manager for Congressional reelection, deputy chief of staff and chief of staff. In 2009, Riley resigned as chief of staff to manage Deal’s campaign for governor. After winning the gubernatorial election, he was appointed Gov. Deal’s chief of staff in January 2011.
As the governor’s top advisor, Riley’s hectic schedule typically begins at 6:30 a.m. every day. “Complex is an accurate way of describing my day,” he said, about working on legislative initiatives, going through budget recommendations, approving public messages or dealing with challenges within state agencies. “It is my top priority to make certain the governor’s goals are looked after, communicated and met.”
Some of the governor’s top goals this year, Riley said, include job creation, eliminating the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, removing tax on construction projects of regional significance and expanding the new job tax credit.
While Riley loves his challenging and exciting job, he also treasures family time with his wife Bambi and sons Jake and Austin. The family lives on a small farm in north Hall County – Riley is the fifth generation to live on the property – and operates a small cattle operation with 19 cows and one bull.
“My wife tells me that I am fortunate because I wake up every day and love my job,” says Riley. “It’s not an easy job and every day is different than the one before. But at the end of the day I’d like to think, and it is my sincere hope, that the tough decisions we have to make are the right ones and in the best interest of the state.”
As for his future in politics, Riley says that he has no plans to leave the political field. “I don’t have any interest in becoming a candidate. I think God placed me exactly where my talents are best used.”
—Mary Beth Spence
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