Coming Jan. 13
Look for a preview of the 2013 legislature in next Sunday’s Times, including key issues, contact information and profiles of area legislators and their priorities for the session.
Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, returns to the Georgia legislature later this month with an edge over the other freshman members: He’s been there before.
Hawkins, who was elected to state House in November, is a family dentist, former state senator and former candidate for the U.S. Congress.
He comes from a political family that some describe as community pillars. One local friend and colleague said he trusts Hawkins to do the right thing for the state and local area. To those who know him, he is an honest politician with a passion for government policy and the contacts to get things done.
“He knows more of the inside game than someone just starting out,” said friend and mentee Hank Goble, a local dentist. “At the Capitol, there’s so many lobbyists. You need someone smart enough to know who’s blowing smoke; Lee can do that.”
Hawkins’ father, B.L., served on the Georgia Veterans Service Board and would take his son with him on trips to the Capitol. The senior Hawkins was also chairman of the Hall County Democratic Party for many years. While his father was tending to the needs of the state’s large veteran population, Lee Hawkins was over watching legislators debate bills.
“My father had a lot of admiration for the legislators and respect, and so being his son, I developed that same aspect,” Lee Hawkins said. “When I when got involved in dentistry, I saw a need for us to give information to legislators, not only about dental care, but health care.”
Hawkins has testified before congressional committees on health care and is a past president of the Georgia Dental Association. He got really involved in the governmental issues and that was contagious, Goble said.
Fellow Hall County delegation member and state Sen. Butch Miller said Hawkins and his wife, Sharon, are great servants of the community, much like his mother and father.
“Dr. Hawkins is known for his impeccable reputation and great character,” Miller said. “He’s terrific guy.”
Hawkins, who has seven children, said he ran for the state Senate when his last child was out of the house. He won Casey Cagle’s former seat after Cagle left to run for, and win, the lieutenant governor’s office in 2006.
Cagle was re-elected in 2010 when Gov. Nathan Deal was elected to his first term.
“My father, along with a guy named Charlie Norwood — who was a congressman (for the 10th District) and a dentist — they both always said to me, ‘If you’re going to make a difference, it’s better to do it from the inside out,’” Hawkins said.
Hawkins has a particular passion for lake issues and health care. He supports Deal’s decision to have the federal government set up the health care insurance exchanges called for in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
He also supports a hospital provider tax to help make up the budget shortfall. The Georgia Constitution requires the legislature to produce a balanced budget for every fiscal year. Medicaid spending is “going through the roof” and Hawkins said he doesn’t want to cut from education.
Hawkins said he is thinking of writing legislation requesting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider a biological opinion about the amount of water needed by mussels that live downstream and are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin provides fresh water to millions of residents in metro Atlanta and south Georgia, and is used by power plants in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The basin supports many varieties of freshwater species of life and supports commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hawkins believes the opinion is not scientifically based and he wants to find out the true amount of water the mussels need.
“I want to see for sure that those mussels have to have that much water,” he said. “I just don’t think they do. I think we can store water in our system like we did back in the 1970s rather than what we’re doing now.”
Hawkins said it was his concerns about health care and water that motivated his 2010 campaign for Congress seeking the seat Deal left to run for governor. Rep. Tom Graves won that race.
Hawkins decided to run last year for the state House seat vacated by U.S. Rep Doug Collins, who won election to Congress in November in a redrawn 9th District.
Miller won Hawkins’ former state Senate seat in 2010, and said Hawkins was “instrumental” in his success.
“Butch is a friend,” Hawkins said. “As much as I love the Senate — I mean I’ve got great friends there and would love to be back there — running against Butch, that’s just not being a gentleman.”
Hawkins hasn’t heard on his committee assignments yet, but he’s already discussed the matter with Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
“I’ve asked for the Health and Human Services (committee) and asked for some other things, some other committees,” he said. “I told the speaker and I said “Look, wherever you need me, I’ll be happy to serve.’”