Columbia County's legislators are wearing Republican hats.
Now that the 2003 Georgia legislative session has started, each local legislator is serving on an influential committee and in positions of power that could have long-standing repercussions for the county and the state.
Freshman state Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) will serve as a deputy whip during the legislative session.
Columbia County's Fleming believes he was given the rare honor for a first-year congressman because of the new blood in the state House this year.
"We have a large freshman class, which usually happens following a redistricting year," said Fleming. "More than one-third of House Republicans are freshmen. I think that's part of the reason the Republican whip (Jerry Keen) wanted to make a couple of the freshmen deputy whips."
Deputy whips assist the leadership by providing information to members on coming votes and helping monitor committee activity.
In addition to being deputy whip, Fleming serves as a member of the state Planning and Community Affairs, Transportation, and Judiciary committees.
"I'm the only freshman Republican on the Judiciary Committee," said Fleming. "I was really happy to serve on that. It's certainly one of the top five most important committees to sit on in the legislature. It will give me a chance to deal some of the most contentious stuff coming through this year like abortion issues and tort reform issues."
Fleming said that being a deputy whip and serving on the Judiciary Committee will greatly increase his effectiveness in serving his District 79 constituents, because he will be a part of the Republican leadership.
Contact your local lawmakers
Georgia State House of Representatives
Representative Barry Fleming
District 79 firstname.lastname@example.org
Capitol Office: 612 LOB
Atlanta, GA 30334
District Office: 170 West Forrest St.
Harlem, GA 30814
Representative Ben Harbin
District 80 email@example.com
Capitol Office: 612 LOB
Atlanta, GA 30334
District Office: 512 Arlington Court
Evans, GA 30809
Georgia State Senate
Senator Don Cheeks
Capitol Office: 121-D State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
District Office: 716 Westminster Court
Augusta, GA 30909
Senator Joey Brush
Capitol Office: 319-A Legislative Office Building
Atlanta, GA 30334
District Office: 476 B-1 Flowing Wells Rd.
Martinez, GA 30907
"Anytime you're part of the leadership team you're a little closer to the decision-making process," he said. "Whenever there's important legislation that's good, or bad, for the county, I'll be in a better position to help pass it or stop it."
Rep. Ben Harbin (R-Evans) took office in 1994. This year, he serves as thechairman of the Insurance Committee.
"We deal with all insurance matters in the state - health insurance, life insurance, automobile, homeowners," said Harbin. "We deal with all insurance legislation. All insurance laws have to go through that committee. Our job is to review them and see if their worthy and hopefully kill a few and pass a few others."
In addition to the Insurance Committee, Harbin won a spot on the highly sought-after House Appropriations Committee.
He also serves on two Appropriations subcommittees - Community Health, and Economic Development and Tourism. Under the Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee, Harbin will play a large role in setting the budget for the Department of Transportation; Department of Community Affairs; Industry, Trade and Tourism; and the Public Service Commission.
"I'm also on the Economic Development and Tourism Standing Committee, which is a committee that was created this year," said Harbin. "We'll examine ways to get Georgia growing, creating jobs and also getting our tourism up.
"I'm excited about that one. I requested it and was fortunate to get it. It was one of the most requested committees here. That's a committee we can make a lot of great things happen for Georgia with. We'll be the ones trying to bring jobs into Georgia. We'll also be the ones trying to help the current companies already here try to grow. Then we're going to be working to bring in more tourism and get people spending money in Georgia."
Joey Brush (R-Appling) was elected to the state Senate in 1996.
In 2003, Brush has taken on the very visible role of chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which is especially significant considering that he's never even served on that committee prior to this year.
Brush said that he is very familiar with the committee being that he handled much of the legislation presented to it on behalf of former state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko and the Department of Education.
"I expect the big thing that we'll be dealing with on that committee is a lot of the Governor's proposals that have to do with education reform," said Brush. "He has made no secret that education was going to be a top priority with him, particularly some of the things we felt were wrong with House Bill 1187 and some of the mandates it put on local school systems. It didn't work and I think it somewhat contributed to this last governor's defeat. We're going to fix a lot and roll back a lot of those things. It will be hotly debated I'm sure."
House Bill 1187 is former Gov. Roy Barnes' controversial education reform law that passed the General Assembly in 2001.
The primary mandate Brush hopes to suppress is the restrictive class sizes required by the law. He believes the law is unfair to school's performing successfully and it puts too big a constraint on school board's budgets.
"Since Columbia County is growing so rapidly, the class-size reduction mandates are very expensive for us," said Brush. "We've been building schools at a rate of nearly one a year. We've been adding classrooms at existing schools to meet these mandates in 1187.
"I think we're a prime example of what some of us have been complaining about. Every school in Columbia County ranks amongst the top ones in the state. If we're being successful, if the school board is providing the right leadership, why is the state telling them to change what they're doing?"
When not chairing the Education Committee, Brush serves on the new Children and Youth Committee and the Transportation Committee.
As a member of the Transportation Committee, he said that he hopes to improve road access for rural communities and to address issues of air quality and highway congestion.
Like Brush, state Sen. Don Cheeks (R-Augusta) sits on the Transportation Committee, as its secretary. He also is chairman of the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, vice-chairman of the Finance Committeeand a member of the Appropriations and Reapportionment committees.
Cheeks said that being a lifelong businessman made him qualified to sit on committees like Banking and Financial Institutions, Finance and Appropriations.
"I think life itself makes you qualified to be on those committees, but, yes, I had controlling interest of a bank at one time many years ago," said Cheeks. "I've been investing for my entire life. Just knowing the business aspect of what should take place certainly helps. I've been in business all my life."
A Georgia lawmaker for more than 30 years, Cheeks said he understands that how you perform on a committee plays a huge role on how effective a politician you can be.
"Every piece of legislation that's produced goes to a committee," he said. "Know one person could possibly keep track with the 2,000 pieces of legislation what will be introduced this year. As a chairman or vice-chairman, it's my responsibility to understand the bills that reach my committee inside and out. I'll be the one telling people whether or not it's a good bill.
"Being on important committees can also give you some sway with other legislators on other committees. All boils down to having a good reputation and being fair."
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