Lawmakers' success may be related to connections

ATLANTA --- Comparing the effectiveness of members of the Georgia Senate isn't as simple as looking at how many bills they passed.


Consider two GOP senators who didn't pass any legislation they authored during the 2009 session of the General Assembly, Sens. Bill Cowsert of Athens and Jack Hill of Reidsville.

Mr. Hill, the second-longest serving member of the Senate didn't introduce any bills, but as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he shaped how the state spends its $18 billion budget. Mr. Cowsert, on the other hand, is among the newest members of the Senate, and he impressed Gov. Sonny Perdue enough to be picked as the governor's floor leader. Still, none of the bills Mr. Cowsert introduced passed the Senate and then the House -- perhaps as much a reflection of Mr. Perdue's influence as Mr. Cowsert's.

Senators who passed multiple bills may rely on so-called local legislation to pad their batting average. Local bills affect only individual cities or counties, and passage is certain as long as all of the senators representing the area agree. Most cities are represented by just one senator.

The key to success on statewide legislation depends on a lawmaker's relationship with the presiding officer, said Dan Franklin, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.

"You can fight the leadership if you want, but if you do, bad things will happen to you," he said.

Proof could be Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. He was elected by his colleagues to the top post in the Senate. As president pro tempore, he not only presides when the lieutenant governor is away, but he also controls the workings of the Senate.

Both bills he introduced this year were among the most significant and sweeping. Each sailed through the Senate, where he is among the most influential.

The House was another matter. He passed one, which reorders the power structure for transportation spending, but his second one, dealing with a sales tax for transportation, stalled over high-level disagreement between House Speaker Glenn Richardson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.


The chart below shows the track records of some state legislators in the last session.


Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens - 6 - 0 - 0 - 2

Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville - 5 - 0 - 40 - 2

Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Comer - 8 - 0 - 38 - 6

Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling - 5 - 0 - 20 - 1

Sen. J.B. Powell, D-Blythe - 1 - 0 - 100 - 4

Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta - 3 - 0 - 0 - 3

Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville - 0 - 0 - 0 - 18

Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah - 4 - 0 - 0 - freshman

Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah - 5 - 0 - 40 - 14

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick - 2 - 6 - 75 - 4

Sen. Greg Goggans, R-Douglas - 4 - 0 - 50 - 4

Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons - 2 - 0 - 50 - 10

Source: Georgia General Assembly