ATLANTA - The hometown connection among Georgia's top power players seemed painfully obvious as business leaders and lawmakers packed a Georgia World Congress Center ballroom Tuesday morning to hear from Gov. Nathan Deal.
Deal, from North Hall, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Chesnut Mountain and House Speaker David Ralston, who hails from Blue Ridge, were part of a panel discussion on the economy, transportation, immigration reform and the 2011 legislative session outlook.
Doug Carter had no trouble calling out the tension.
"There's an elephant here. Three of us on this stage are from Hall County," said Carter, the newly inducted chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and president of Gainesville-based Don Carter Realty Co.
"We pooled our resources and achieved something that's never been achieved before," he said with a smile. "We got a table up front for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. They're not near the kitchen this year. Northeast Georgia Medical Center, we'll work on you for next year."
Carter wasn't the only person on stage to joke about the location link.
"You can see the influence from Hall County when the Eggs & Issues breakfast had to be scheduled around the Poultry Expo that's also here this week," said Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber of Commerce president.
The chamber's Jan. 11 breakfast was rescheduled after ice and snow hit Atlanta, shutting down most of Deal's inaugural plans and any nonessential annual legislative events.
The connection remained prevalent as Cagle and Ralston talked about the issues, and neither hesitated to include the benefits of working as longtime friends.
"We have worked closely together, the three of us," Cagle said about his outlook on the 2011 legislative assembly.
During last year's session, Ralston and Cagle worked together to push items through each chamber, a plan they hope to replicate this year despite attempts in the Senate Republican caucus to complete a coup against Cagle.
Late Monday morning, a housekeeping measure was introduced in the Senate as a small modification to Senate rules. The change in language would have allowed Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, to be chairman of the Committee on Administrative Affairs, which controls the Senate's purse. The chamber's fiscal affairs are currently controlled by Cagle.
It would also have allowed Williams to deal directly with Ralston, but some of Cagle's staff caught the wording.
The measure was withdrawn.
After a Republican Senate caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Williams won the chairmanship of the Committee on Administrative Affairs. In the 37-16 vote, Cagle "may authorize the establishment and employment of staff for newly created joint offices of the General Assembly."
This means Cagle has the power to compose a House-Senate committee with Ralston that will oversee redistricting, which will be a hot topic as Census numbers roll out this year.
Before the vote, Cagle seemed at ease during Tuesday morning's panel discussion as Ralston discussed their plans for ongoing teamwork. In September, the two created the Special Joint Committee on Immigration Reform, and on Monday the Senate introduced a bill that would create a Joint Committee on Water Supply to find tangible answers to the tri-state water wars.
"We've been through some tough times and had tough years, and this year it's HOPE (scholarships), the water supply and reforming the tax code," Ralston said. "We want to use this model of coming together and finding a consensus, even in these times that are challenging."
Cagle and Ralston echoed each other's answers to questions of the panel discussion. They agreed to support recommendations from the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, new immigration policies that don't hurt small businesses and project lists from regional transportation roundtables being formed under the 2010 Transportation Investment Act.
"The transportation act was the outcome last year that I was most pleased with, and I think Lt. Gov. Cagle feels the same," Ralston said. "It reminded me how diverse Georgia is as a state, and transportation means different things in different communities. This will allow for local control and local input."