Originally created 05/09/02

Augusta politician will retire



State Rep. Jack Connell, the third-most tenured legislator in the Georgia House of Representatives and one of Augusta's most influential state politicians, announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election.

The Augusta Democrat said his decision to bow out of state politics after 34 years in office is tinged with sadness and a concern for the future. Instead of seeking an 18th consecutive term, he plans to devote more time to his family and his Augusta businesses.

"We've been there for 34 years, and we think it's time for us to move on and do what's normal for a family like mine and for my business and to take time to continue a life without politics," Mr. Connell said. "We feel like we've done a good job and helped the community."

Mr. Connell, 82, is the third-most senior member of the state House - a status he says he "hates to give up." He has served as the speaker pro tem for the past 25 years and chairman of the Augusta delegation since 1995. He will continue in those roles through the end of the year.

"I'm going to miss my staff. I'm going to miss my office. I'm going to miss the men and women that I have made friends with for so many years - who I have loved to work with and who I have loved as individuals," he said. "We have some wonderful, fine people in the Georgia Capitol, and I'm going to miss every one of them."

Mr. Connell said his health is good and he could still be a contributing member of the General Assembly.

The question of whether to continue to serve, however, is one he's been considering for several years, he said. Whether or not he would seek re-election has been widely speculated on in political circles.

Colleagues say his experience and attention to detail will be missed on the House floor.

"He's been a great asset to the House and Augusta-Richmond County," said House Speaker Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, the longest-serving member of the House. "He's a fine, honorable and honest person. We're going to miss him, and I'm sure Augusta-Richmond County is going to miss having his influence up here."

Augusta's failure to grow in population during the past 10 years caused it to lose one of its six House members during the recent redistricting process. Freshman Rep. Sue Burmeister's district was eliminated, and she already has announced her intention to run for Mr. Connell's seat.

"We've got to have five top people in those positions and I hope that's what people will elect," Mr. Connell said, although he doesn't plan on endorsing any one candidate until after the August primary.

Mr. Connell is described as well-liked and friendly with everyone, and his departure will mean the loss of the Augusta delegation's most senior member.

"Jack carried a heavy load locally, and I think that those of us on the delegation will now have to pick up the slack," said Sen. Don Cheeks, who was defeated by Mr. Connell for the House seat in 1969 and has only two fewer years in the General Assembly.

Most recently, Mr. Connell helped secure funding for several local educational institutions, including the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta Technical College and Augusta State University. He also has spearheaded transportation-related projects, such as efforts to relocate downtown train tracks outside the city.

"The people of Richmond County have been good to me to elect me every two years," Mr. Connell said. "I'm honored at the opportunity to serve this area, and I hope it has meant a lot to the people of Augusta-Richmond County."

JACK CONNELL

PARTY: Democrat

AGE: 82

RESIDENCE: Augusta

OCCUPATION: Businessman

EDUCATION: Attended Augusta College and Georgia College

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Served two terms on the Augusta City Council; elected to the state House of Representatives in 1969; elected majority leader whip in 1973; elected speaker pro tem in 1977

FAMILY: Wife, Nannette Jean Anderson Connell; four children

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.