Power Players at the Capitol

2008 LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW: Power players at the Capitol

By James Salzer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/13/08

Gov. Sonny Perdue: Though a lame duck (in his second term), he still sets the agenda and the spending priorities. He’s a careful decision-maker who files his budget proposals and bills but generally does not get heavily involved in the legislative process until the end of the session. Last year he was criticized for being particularly absent, so expect him to be more involved in 2008. He’s not afraid to use the power of the governor’s office. Even though he can’t run for re-election, he has been raising a lot of campaign money, leading some to speculate he’ll try to play a major role in the 2008 and 2010 legislative elections.

Lawmakers

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle: The president of the Senate and the first Republican to run the chamber. A deliberate conservative who tends to think things through before speaking or acting. Has a good relationship with the media and is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2010 if U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson doesn’t run. As a longtime Gainesville senator, he was pro-development and pro-business, but not strictly a “yes man” for Perdue.

Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah): The No. 2 leader of the Senate, he is one of the shrewdest and most powerful players at the Capitol. He’s among the most quoted officials at the Statehouse because of his ability to turn a smart phrase. An architect by profession, he has spent years building the state GOP. First elected to the Senate in 1994, Johnson has been a strong Perdue supporter.

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House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram): Runs the House with an iron fist the way Democratic Speaker Tom Murphy once did. Has shown a passion for big issues, from tax reform to transportation. Led a revolt against Perdue during the 2007 session that led to the House overriding the governor’s veto of a $142 million tax cut. Has feuded with the governor during the interim while pushing his plan to eliminate property taxes. He doesn’t hide his emotions: When he’s upset with a House member, or the media, they know it. However, he was open in 2007 about his proposals, and received recognition for promoting bold ideas.

House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta): Second-in-command in the House, he is on good terms with Richardson even though the two competed for the speaker’s job in 2004. Burkhalter is a champion of metro Atlanta companies and pushed legislation to help ailing Delta Air Lines. Like Johnson in the Senate, he does a good job conveying the party’s position to the media. Has promoted eliminating property taxes on cars, a proposal now included in Richardson’s plan.

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Lobbyists

Tom Boller, Rusty Sewell, Mark Middleton, Capitol Partners Public Affairs Group: Boller and Sewell are veterans with long client lists and years of success in lobbying the Legislature. Middleton, another longtime lobbyist, formed a firm with them and former Perdue staffer Hunter Towns last year. Allied with the firm that includes Heath Garrett, longtime chief of staff to Isakson. Their clients include AAA Auto Club South, AGL Resources, Blue Cross Blue Shield, BP America, the Cable TV Association of Georgia, Enterprise Leasing Co. of Georgia, Siemens and the State Bar of Georgia.

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