Rookies Have a Lot to Think about; Fellow Lawmakers Are Role Models as Newbies Select a Legislative Style

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - With more than 50 freshmen in the General Assembly this year and more expected after next year's redistricting election, the roles played by various lawmakers are evolving.

As these rookies contemplate what role they want - whether it's a subject-matter expert, doctrinaire diehard or party loyalist - several factors influence their decisions. A few come to the legislature with a ready-made role, such as Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, who became the only physician and instant health expert. Rep. Hank Huckaby, R-Watkinsville, was once the head of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, so he naturally became an appropriations maestro.

Most lawmakers, though, have such similar backgrounds in business, education or the law that they have to consciously carve out a distinct role for themselves in the legislature. As they do, there are some unique role models for them to consider. Three of them, Reps. Alisha Morgan, Rusty Kidd and Bobby Franklin, offer a departure from the standard script.

The average politician recognizes that legislating is a team sport. No one can pass a bill alone. That's why it generally requires give-and-take vote trading to get a bill through the legislature.

Belonging to the majority political party is the most effective team, but even a caucus like those devoted to women, blacks or rural areas can help a member of the minority party win votes for a non-controversial bill. With 800 bills pending in the legislature, no one can read, comprehend and appreciate the various aspects of every one. So, most questions depend as much on the legislative skill and personal connections of the author as on the merits of the bill.

Newcomers who want to pass a lot of bills usually work within the structure of their party and caucuses to collect chits. Franklin, Kidd and Morgan use a different approach.

Morgan is a Democrat from Austell who was the youngest member of the legislature when she was elected in 2002. As a 23-year-old, she was also the first black elected to the House from Cobb County.

What makes her unique is her choice to break with her party on education issues. A core tenet of Democratic orthodoxy is that allowing parents to choose their children's schools will disrupt the ordered functioning of public schools. …