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The power of persuasion
Lobbyists work halls of state Capitol to get their causes heard
Lobbyists line the hallways of the Capitol on Thursday morning, talking to each other and to legislators. - photo by ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN The Times

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes once admonished the General Assembly to beware of lobbyists in the halls of the Capitol "with their eel-skinned briefcases and alligator shoes."

The dean of Georgia lobbyists says he has never owned a pair of alligator shoes nor an eel-skinned briefcase, and probably never will.

Abit Massey is as much a fixture at the Capitol as the sculpted image of the state's founder, James Edward Oglethorpe. Since 1961, Massey has represented the interest of Georgia's poultry industry at the Capitol. His career covers nine governors, eight lieutenant governors and five House speakers.

Massey, who roams the halls in a pair of black walking shoes, is readily identified with his industry and several times each session provides lawmakers or their staffs either with chicken biscuits for breakfast or chicken sandwiches for lunch.

His capacity to remember names allows him to recall the names of everyone from personal assistants to custodians.

Massey, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, is considered the dean of Georgia's 1,200 registered lobbyists. Some like Massey and his associate, Mike Giles, are paid employees of the federation and lobbying is a part of their job.

Many of the Capitol's business lobbyists work under contract, and are paid retainers by their clients that typically range from $2,000 to $6,000 a month, depending on the client and the type of work to be done. A number of lobbying firms represent several clients.

Other Hall County lobbyists include Deb Bailey, director of governmental affairs for Northeast Georgia Health System.

While politicians on the campaign trail often invoke the name of lobbyists in a negative connotation, Massey thinks otherwise. "We consider it to be an honorable and important profession to be here and express the opinions of the poultry industry," Massey said. "Everybody is a lobbyist. My grandchildren are some of the best I know."

Massey has been a witness to great change under the Gold Dome. When he came to the Capitol, the legislature was dominated by rural interests. The explosive growth in Atlanta and its suburbs has tilted the power to suburban lawmakers. In the past five years, the state has moved from Democratic to Republican control.

Giles, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, said legislators rely on lobbyists for information. "Lawmakers see lobbyists as a source of credible information about the industry or perspective they represent," Giles said. "You try to persuade lawmakers to see your point of view on a particular issue. There is very little arm-twisting; it's more providing information and persuasion."

Bailey, a nurse and administrator by training, served as the hospital's vice president for patient care before accepting her present role.

While she specifically represents the health system, they are often aligned with other hospitals and organizations such as the Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Alliance for Community Hospitals.

When she came to Atlanta on the hospital's behalf 11 years ago, she said it was an eye-opening experience on the inner workings of state government.

Now established as a seasoned member of the lobbyist corps, Bailey's days during the 40-day session can begin at 5 a.m. with a Capitol breakfast meeting, and can extend into the evening for meetings and receptions.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he finds lobbyists to be reliable sources of information. "You try to weigh all the sides and do what's best for the people of Georgia and the people back in your district," Rogers said.

Rogers said Hall County's lobbyists have earned respect at the Capitol. "Abit Massey has been down here for years and others who have followed are well-spoken in their area, whether it's poultry or health care," he said.

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