By Natalie Simms
A week from today, the 2019 General Assembly will gather under the Gold Dome with lots of new faces and many anticipated changes. Along with a new governor and lieuteant governor, there will be more than 30 new legislators, including three from our region: Mitchell Scoggins (House District 14-Floyd/Bartow), Matthew Gambill (House District 15-Bartow) and a new House District 5 (Gordon) representative to be chosen Tuesday’s special election to fill seat of late John Meadows (a runoff is possible).
“I am excited to begin this new phase in my life and look forward to representing Bartow and Floyd counties,” says Scoggins, who was elected in the Dec. 18 special election to fill the seat previously held by Christian Coomer, now a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.
“I, along with fellow Bartow County freshman legislator Matthew Gambill, have been studying handbooks that were sent to us. We’ve also been attending orientation sessions and meeting with other representatives.”
Gambill, who takes the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Paul Battles, agrees. “I compare it to when I was in school…there is a definite pecking order and seniority in the House, like there is in school. There is a big learning curve as a freshman.”
Committees assignments for legislators will be made during the first week of the General Assembly but both hope to serve in areas where they can make a difference.
For Scoggins, his requested committees are Judiciary, Transportation, Department of Human Resources and Economic Development/Tourism. For Gambill, his requests include Economic Development/Tourism and Education/Work Force Development.
“Coming in as a new person, I know folks to know I’m accessible and responsive. I want to continue to keep us competitive. I want Georgia to be the best in country for business and I want Bartow to be the number one county for business in Georgia,” says Gambill.
Aside from the new faces in the Legislature, all will be acclimating to new leadership under Gov.-elect Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov.-elect Geoff Duncan.
Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-13, Floyd), who’s previously served under Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal, said, “I am looking forward with great enthusiasm to this session and the next four years. I am very excited about the Kemp family. They bring a youthful invigoration in how they will serve and will see things with different eyes…it’s an opportunity for great success.”
Says Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-12, Floyd/Chattooga): “There are lots of unknowns with a new governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state…all will have new staff members. There are 30 new representatives in the House, so lots of new faces to get to know. It will take some time to make connections and know who to talk to about different things, so it will take some time to adjust.”
Rep. Trey Kelley (R-16, Polk) is looking forward to his new role as the Republican Caucus Majority Whip.
“I will be taking on increased leadership responsibilities as Majority Whip,” he says. “I am looking forward to seeing that members of the caucus have a full grasp of our legislative conservative agenda. Which as a House Republican, include a focus on rural issues including access to healthcare and expanding broadband access. Other issues include transportation, the sex trafficking crisis, school safety and changing our tax code to reduce taxes for Georgia citizens.”
Dempsey anticipates staying on her current committees which include chairman of Appropriations Human Resources subcommittee; Economic Development/Tourism; Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications; Health and Human Services; Higher Education; Transportation; and Rules.
Lumsden currently chairs Human Relations and Aging and serves on Insurance, Public Safety/Homeland Security, Appropriations for Education, Governmental Affairs, Budget/Fiscal Affairs Oversight, and State Properties.
“There will be 13 or more open chairmanships vacant. The Speaker of the House and the Committee on Assignments have been meeting for a couple of weeks but we won’t know until after the first of the session if we will be moving to other committees,” says Lumsden.
Over in the state Senate, Chuck Hufstetler (R-52) is looking forward to working with the new leadership.
“I came two years after Governor Deal, so I have not been there for a changeover of governor or lieutenant governor. Governor Kemp has surrounded himself with a transition team of advisors that will help him get started. I particularly like Tom Price as his healthcare advisor,” says Hufstetler, who serves as chair of the Finance committee, vice-chair of Retirement, member of Appropriations and Health & Human Services committees.
“Lt. Gov.-elect Geoff Duncan will be the first who has not served in the Senate. I believe he has enough experience in the House that he and his advisors will quickly learn the process and be an effective leader.”
As far as issues, Hufstetler believes healthcare will be the top priority.
“I believe that health care will be an important issue as there will be proposals to leverage federal dollars in a Georgia manner. Mental health and addiction issues will also be health care issues that will be a priority. Rural health care and broadband internet to these areas will be a priority. Nationwide, 53 metropolitan areas account for 96% of the growth in the US since 2014. Getting growth and saving our rural areas will be an issue that Georgia and every state will be dealing with.”