ATLANTA -- For about four months, local legislators are in Atlanta, sending reports via press release, newsletter and new electronic means like e-mail and Twitter. Yet, gauging their actual effectiveness isn't easy long distance.
For example, a lawmaker may announce appointment to a "plum" committee or even a leadership post, but some positions clearly have more horsepower than others.
A major committee, like Education or Ways & Means, might have more than 150 bills assigned to it. Each represents leverage the chairman can use to get something he or she wants done from each bill's supporters. Even the Appropriations Committee, which doesn't get many bills, has leverage by writing the budget for the entire state.
That's because chairmen determine which bills will get a hearing and a vote in committee.
Still, being named to head a small committee with few bills assigned to it at least represents proof of the leadership's confidence, a relationship that can be used to nudge a bill through or kill an amendment. Other posts like vice chairman or committee secretary are largely honorary titles, but they can be withdrawn if the leadership is displeased.
Formal titles aren't the only source of influence at the Capitol, notes Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor who follows state government. Party affiliation also plays a role.
"You're almost always going to find that a member of the majority party is going to have more influence," he said. "If you're a member of the minority party, you may be able to achieve something because of your personality."
Frequently, Democrats get their ideas into law by convincing Republican colleagues to sponsor the bill, he said.
Another measure of status is where the legislator is assigned an office. Even being in the Capitol basement conveys more stature than one across the street in the Legislative Office Building where most reside.
An additional source of influence is respect and seniority, often demonstrated by legislators elected to head a special-interest caucus.
Seniority isn't a foolproof indicator, though. A legislator with less seniority who has become a party leader or chairman of a committee with lots of bills will often have more influence than a colleague who has been in office for decades but never got to head a major committee.
"Everyone's only got one vote. Where you get influence is where people turn to you for advice," Bullock said.