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Ex-legislators resign assembly seats to run for Congress
Both plan to run in special election for former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal's seat
Lee Hawkins
Lee Hawkins

At a key time in the legislative session, two state lawmakers are leaving to pursue their campaigns for the U.S. Congress.

Both state Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, and state Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, resigned Tuesday from the Georgia General Assembly.

Both plan to qualify for a special election to fill a vacancy left in the U.S. House of Representatives by Nathan Deal. Deal resigned Sunday, leaving the post nine months early to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

“I feel the greater fight now is in Washington,” Hawkins said.

A third Republican state lawmaker in the 9th District race, Rep. Bobby Reese of Sugar Hill, said he is still unsure whether he will resign to pursue Deal’s seat.

“The House and the Senate have so much to do at the Capitol, I’m really going to have to think about what I’m going to do,” Reese said Tuesday.

Both Graves and Hawkins have been fundraising front-runners in a campaign pool of 13 candidates vying for the congressional seat since May when Deal first announced he would seek the Republican nomination for governor.

Both Graves and Hawkins had to resign by Tuesday in order for the special elections to fill their respective seats to be held on the same day as the election to fill Deal’s seat, said Gov. Sonny Perdue’s press secretary, Chris Schrimpf.

The effort would presumably save taxpayers from having to fund yet another special election.

Both elections will now be held April 27; qualifying begins Monday, and all elected officials seeking the seats must resign upon qualifying.

“It’s not something I want to do, but we don’t have a choice. Because if we don’t do it at the right time, then the citizens of Hall County and portions of Jackson will have another special election to fill my seat,” Hawkins said. “For me to stay a week or two to finish out a Senate term and cost the district another $14,000 is not wise, especially in these economic times.”

Graves, in a statement, stated similar reasons for resigning Tuesday.

Although the current state legislative session will likely be wound down by the time a new state representative and a new state senator is installed, Schrimpf said Perdue will still fill their seats.

Schrimpf said the person chosen to fill Hawkins and Graves’ unexpired terms would be able to participate in summer study committees and caucus meetings.

“The legislators certainly keep talking to each other even when they’re not in session,” Schrimpf said. “It’s kind of like Congress, where even when Congress isn’t in session it doesn’t mean you don’t want a congressman.”

Both Hawkins and Graves are leaving their positions at a key time in the state’s legislative session.

Hall County will now have no representation in the state’s Senate as lawmakers are trying to close a $1 billion hole in the state’s budget for fiscal year 2010. Crossover day, the day in which bills must pass at least one chamber or die, also is set for Friday,
“It’s made that decision (to leave) very difficult,” Hawkins said. “I mean, my decision was unfortunately a situation I was placed in, and I’m faced with running for a special election, which we all know could determine the (results of the party primary) in July for this seat in Congress.”

Hawkins originally thought he may be able to wait until noon today to resign, and spend at least another half-day pushing some of his own legislation through. But after a call from the governor’s office, Hawkins issued his resignation at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“I realize that this decision results in the loss of a vote, but I’m very confident in my Republican colleagues in being able to vote these pieces of legislation through,” Hawkins said. “Unlike the U.S. House of Representatives, we have a very strong conservative core in our state Senate, and these vital pieces of legislation will pass even without my vote. ... The bigger battle is in Washington.”

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