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Its been a good ride: Carl Rogers reflects on 22-year tenure in state legislature
Veteran lawmaker served in both parties under 4 governors in Georgia House
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Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, leans back in his chair as he talks about retirement plans Wednesday at his Gainesville home. Rogers says he plans to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Carl Rogers doesn’t have to say a word to describe his 22-year career in the state legislature.

All he has to do is spill the bags of pins and badges spanning his tenure onto a coffee table in the living room of his Gainesville home.

From the 50th anniversary of Lake Lanier to a Bush-Cheney campaign button, they tell at least part of the story of Rogers’ journey in public life — one starting as a Democrat under Gov. Zell Miller and ending as a Republican under old friend and fellow GOPer, Gov. Nathan Deal.

“It’s been a good ride,” Rogers said, leaning back in a chair. “I can’t say it hasn’t been.”

But the time has come to spend more time with family and, as the Gainesville native has said, be a “normal citizen” again.

“You get to a point of making a decision as to how long you’re going to do it,” Rogers said of his tenure. “With any political office today, there is some form of sacrifice.”

And for the 68-year-old lawmaker, who announced March 2 he would not seek re-election to his District 29 House seat, that key moment was crossover day in the General Assembly, the 30th day of the 40-day session, when bills must have passed either the House or Senate to remain eligible to become law.

“I called (wife) Linda and said, ‘Honey, I can’t do this anymore,’” Rogers said. “It’s time for me to retire. She was happy. Any spouse (of a legislator) has a hard time.”

Rogers, whose last day as a lawmaker is Dec. 31, does plan to continue working in the insurance business — something he has done for most of his professional life. That was his line of work when he made his first foray into political office in 1994, influenced by his father’s public service.

Plus, it may be in the gene pool.

“I had some ancestors from Union County — since like 1832 — who served in the legislature,” Rogers said. “You have to have a servant’s heart, and I guess I’ve had that. You got to want to do (public service), because it takes a lot of time.”

And the work isn’t confined to just the 40 days each year under the Gold Dome in Atlanta, as constituents and others always want to bend a lawmaker’s ear.

“In today’s environment, it’s not a part-time job,” Rogers said. “There’s plenty to do. Yesterday, I was meeting with somebody who had a problem with a salvage title to a truck, and I’ve never had to deal with that before.”

He gave a couple other examples of such service, adding, “I enjoyed that part of (the job) more than anything.”

One of the most stressful times during his tenure was the state flag change in 2000 under Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

“The most memorable part of it was ... the day before (Barnes’ flag announcement), they bused (lawmakers) down to the old capitol in Milledgeville — it had just been redone — and we went into joint session,” Rogers said. “And they bused us back that evening.

“Then, the next day I was on the second floor of the Capitol, meeting with (Rep.) Bob Hanner, and he showed me a picture of the drawing of the new flag and said ‘Here’s your new flag.’”

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Barnes’ proposed flag depicted the state seal and five flags that had flown over Georgia during its history against a blue background. The state flag that flew at the time, one depicting the Confederate battle flag and a smaller section bearing the state seal, was reduced to being one of the five flags on the new flag.

The move was both hailed by supporters and railed by opponents, and likely contributed to Barnes’ ouster in 2002 after one term in office.

It also ruffled feathers in the legislature.

“None of us like surprises, and I wasn’t tipped off at all,” Rogers said.

In May 2003, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation creating a new state flag, the current banner depicting red and white bars and the state seal against a blue background.

One of Rogers’ funniest memories involved a stint on the agriculture committee.

“The first bill we heard (concerned) a ratite,” Rogers said, referring to a breed of flightless birds. “I kept looking around and thinking, ‘Am I the only one who doesn’t know what a ratite is.’”

“Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, people had a lot of ostriches on their farm. The meat had zero fat but cost $18 per pound, and in Georgia you could not process it. So we passed a bill that legalized, I guess, slaughtering a ratite.”

As Barnes and other Democrats began to lose seats, Republicans began gaining control of the legislature.

Rogers decided during qualifying in 2004 to switch to the GOP.

“I had gotten to the point, at 10 years, where the district had changed (politically),” he said. “It was the hardest decision to either retire or make the (party) change. I got encouraged by a lot to make the change, and I did.”

When Deal became governor in 2011, Rogers was already familiar with the former Democrat who switched parties while in Congress.

“Carl and Linda Rogers are longtime friends of Sandra and mine,” Deal said by email last week. “We’ve shared a long working relationship at the state and federal level, which continued when I was elected governor.

“For more than 20 years, he’s been an effective and valued member of the local legislative delegation. As chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, Carl has supported our efforts to increase student enrollment, improve graduation rates and modernize our university and technical college systems.

“Georgia is blessed with a world-class higher education system, and Carl has worked to ensure its continued success.”

Over the years, Rogers’ wife also helped in the legislature, serving as his aide and attending meetings or functions with him.

“It was good to have her there,” he said.

Linda Rogers recalled her husband’s announcement to retire — and her reaction. She would be pleased to see more of her husband of 49 years. The couple have two grown children and seven grandchildren.

“As we’ve said many times to everyone, our grandchildren are growing up really fast,” she said. “He just missed being around them a lot, and they’ve started wanting to go hunting and fishing.”

As for Rogers, he plans to relish the free time.

“I haven’t done any work in my backyard in probably 22 years,” he said with a laugh. “Those are the things I’m looking forward to ... but (mostly) being a grandfather, father and husband.”

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