Hall County’s six-member delegation may not be the most seasoned bunch, based on Gold Dome experience, but the lawmakers believe that won’t hinder them as they get to work in the upcoming General Assembly.
Other than state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, who has been at the Capitol since 1995, the combined experience among the other five lawmakers is eight years and nine months — younger than the car in many a Georgian’s garage.
Two of the delegation’s members, Timothy Barr of Lawrenceville and Lee Hawkins of Gainesville, both Republicans, will serve as House freshmen. Hawkins, however, is switching chambers, after serving in the state Senate from 2006 to 2010.
Other than Rogers, the lawmaker with the longest running service is Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, was sworn in May 20, 2010.
Miller said experience doesn’t necessarily translate to effectiveness.
“You look at some of the delegations that have been there for years and they’re sitting on the back row right now,” he said. “There are plenty of districts that have representations that worked their way to the bottom of the heap.”
Hall’s delegation members, Miller believes, have been “very attentive, deliberative and thorough in seeking opportunities for their respective House and Senate districts.”
He and other legislators also are quick to point out that Hall has political leverage at the highest levels.
“You can’t discount the fact that Hall County has the governor (Nathan Deal), lieutenant governor (Casey Cagle) and a congressman (U.S. Rep. Doug Collins),” said Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, who was sworn into office Dec. 15, 2011.
Wilkinson, whose district spans Northeast Georgia but includes a piece of East Hall, said he believes that “what I lack in legislative experience, I make up in age.
“I have worked, been an educator and a farmer, and sometimes I think the life experience that you bring to a position can have as much impact and help you as much as actual legislative experience.”
Barr, whose newly formed district dips into southernmost Hall County, said he believes having Rogers as the legislative dean helps give the entire group a leg up.
“I’m in contact with him frequently on things,” he said. “He just understands the nuances and the ropes down there, the leadership and how things move through.”
Barr said he believes that new members like himself “come with a lot of passion and some new ideas, so I think that has its advantages.
“Sometimes, we look at things differently than folks who have been there a long time.”
Hawkins, whose district covers North Hall, doesn’t come in cold. With four years under his belt, he has latched onto various issues — such as, being a dentist, health care.
He noted that inexperience is rife in both chambers, so many legislators have been and will be learning their way around the Capitol together. He estimates that turnover has been 50 percent in the Senate since he left.
“Being in the legislature is not an easy life. You’re away from your business and family for three months of solid, hard work,” he said.
Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said that when he took office in December 2011, he looked at his new position as an experienced businessman.
“I’ve been successful for over 30 years in business, running and operating several companies,” he said.
“Government is terrible at business. I look at it like I’m already ahead of the curve. I’m going to apply the same principles.”
Rogers said that when Dunahoo came into the House, “I moved my seat to where he was sitting, where I could be with him and help him.
“And we hope, as the entire delegation on the House side, to sit together,” he said. “I’m going to try to help them through the first year, to where they’ll feel more comfortable.
“It takes a couple of years just to know where the bathrooms are and get to know a lot of your colleagues and people in the Capitol, on all four floors — just learning the process.”
Rogers added: “I’m starting my 19th year, but I’m learning every day.”
He said he doesn’t foresee any explosive issues to confront newer lawmakers.
“Since we’ve been in this (economic) downturn, with no extra dollars and the governor still having to cut (the budget), there’s nothing really, really exciting going on,” Rogers said.