Originally created 04/23/04

State senator announces she won't run again



ATLANTA - Depending on one's perspective, the political terrain of north Georgia's mountain counties became either a lot rockier or a lot smoother this week.

Three-term state Sen. Carol Jackson, D-Cleveland, announced she wouldn't run for re-election in the new District 51, which includes many of the communities on the western end of the mountains, such as Helen, Blairsville, Dahlonega, Dawsonville and Ellijay.

Ms. Jackson's announcement means no incumbent senator will be on the ballot in either District 51 or District 50, which takes in the other side of the Appalachians, including Rabun, Habersham, Banks, Stephens, Franklin and Hart counties.

Capitol observers say the situation is a mixed bag for the region.

Mike Digby, a political scientist at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, said the loss of an incumbent lawmaker can place a district at the bottom of the Capitol pecking order.

"EXPERIENCE IS CRITICAL. Legislative bodies are so complicated in terms of their procedures that it takes time to learn how they operate and how to work them effectively," Mr. Digby said. "That's been shown by the effectiveness of veteran legislators in getting their bills passed."

However, University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said the mountain districts could come out winners if the newly elected senators are members of the chamber's ruling party.

Republicans now reign over the Senate with a 30-26 majority. The GOP came into power in 2002 when Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, convinced four Democrat senators to switch parties.

However, future control of the Senate is up in the air.

All 236 seats in the House and Senate are up for grabs this fall. Adding to the drama is a new set of political district boundaries that will be used for the first time during the primary elections July 20 and again during the Nov. 2 general election.

Mr. Bullock says both mountain districts could benefit if the GOP maintains its grip on the Senate.

"Looking at the profiles of those districts, they are likely to be Republican faces," he said.

The new district lines, drawn in March by a three-judge federal panel, are the main reason Ms. Jackson isn't running again.

Voting data from 2002 show that the new western mountain district where Ms. Jackson now lives tends to vote Republican.

The eastern mountain district, much of which used to be in Ms. Jackson's old district, tends to vote Democrat, but only by a slim margin.

"I WAS DRAWN OUT by one precinct," said Ms. Jackson, who represents the old 50th district, which includes White County and portions of Union, Towns, Lumpkin, Habersham, Stephens, Hall and Franklin counties. "I really hate to see the 50th district lose the seniority they have had."

Ms. Jackson said her decision to leave the General Assembly for the coming two-year term won't be the end of her political career.

She hinted that her name could be on the ballot in 2006 for a much higher position than state senator.

"I am looking at possibilities statewide," she said. "I'm just kind of holding that open right now."

Ms. Jackson also declined to say whether she would switch parties and become a Republican.

"I don't plan to do that right now, but I am certainly not closing that as an option," she said.

Sam Tolbert, the mayor of the Habersham County city of Clarkesville, said Ms. Jackson will be missed by many in the region.

"She was the kind of senator that whether I called her at home or on the cell phone or at the Capitol, before the night was over she would get back with me," he said. "She went to bat for us every time."

Ms. Jackson said this week she will miss working at the Capitol on behalf of her constituents, including the area's youth.

"Anytime I can do anything to make life better for a child, I am excited about that," she said. "It has been very rewarding."

WHILE THE MOUNTAINS won't have any incumbent hometown lawmakers going to bat for them in the Senate, Rep. Jeanette Jamieson, D-Toccoa, pointed out that several longtime House members from the region are up for re-election.

"Assuming we all get re-elected, you're going to have members of the House with considerable seniority," said Ms. Jamieson, who has represented her northeast Georgia district since 1985.

She added that any new senator from the region would receive a lot of help from the area's House members, regardless of the new lawmaker's political affiliation.

"We will not only be obligated, but delighted to help them get oriented and adjusted to the Capitol," she said.

Area residents might see an added benefit from the new court-drawn maps, which create much more compact districts than the old maps, drawn by Democrat lawmakers in 2001.

Under the old plan, District 51 formed a giant, upside-down "J" shape.

The new district is more compact and locally-based, lying entirely in the mountains.