Lawmaker's Office an Oasis in Capitol Social Interaction, Sodas Always on Tap

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Basinger, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Anyone who has spent much time under the Gold Dome of Georgia's Capitol knows where to snag a free Coca-Cola on a hot day.

Tucked away in the corner of Rep. Jack Connell's office is a 3-foot-tall glass refrigerator filled with dozens of cans of soda.

"We try to keep it cold,'' said Connell, D-Augusta, who receives the drinks for free from the Coca-Cola Co.

During Connell's 34-year career in state politics, everyone from former Gov. Zell Miller to football sensation Herschel Walker has stopped through for a drink with Connell, whose role as speaker pro tem makes him the second-ranking member of the House.

However, now that Connell, 82, has announced he will retire from the state legislature, it's uncertain if the free Coca-Colas will keep on coming.

"It just all depends on who the next speaker pro tem is,'' said Debbie Lynn, Connell's secretary. "Whoever's elected may want to run his office a little differently.''

Connell has always insisted his office be fully stocked for any thirsty visitors, be they reporters, lobbyists -- or even Republicans.

"I've gone there many times,'' said Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling. "I don't know how many Cokes I've had.''

Since Connell was elected as speaker pro tem in 1977, his office has been a popular hangout for those involved in state government.

Besides the Coke machine, the office also is renowned for the hundreds of framed photos on the walls chronicling the many visitors who have stopped by the Capitol over the years.

"There's a lot of interesting fashion statements in the photos,'' said Michelle NeSmith, who worked as an aide in Connell's office during this year's legislative session. "You can tell what decade you're in by how wide the ties are.''

Despite the constant flow of politicos into the office, a few neutral visitors often make their way to Connell's Coke machine. …