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Interest rising at state capitol
Stakes high in election year
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Forsyth County News


* Local legislators weigh in on session.

From the red side to the blue side, all eyes are on gold as Georgia's legislative session begins Monday in Atlanta.

It’s an invigorating time for those at the state's gold dome capitol, as legislators work to balance the budget with their own countdown to re-election. The 2010 election slate also features races for governor and other key state posts.

“Any time there’s an election in the state, there’s just a heightened sense of expectation and excitement for nerdy types like me,” Ross Alexander said.

As associate professor of political science at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, Alexander pays close attention to what happens each session, especially during election years.

“It has a significant and profound impact on the functioning of our state legislature,” he said. "It makes people sort of jockey for higher positions and think about ‘where am I going to be.’

“It kind of makes you wonder how much time they’re spending on their current jobs.”

Forsyth Democrat Angie Rigney finds it frustrating being a “miniscule blue dot in a very red state." At the same time, however, she's interested to see how lawmakers address the state’s problems.

“Watching how different legislators propose to deal with these issues should show us just where their priorities, or lack thereof, are,” she said. “This year, I will focus more than ever on Georgia.”

Local Republican Katie McClain echoed those remarks, saying she hopes important votes aren’t ignored for political gain.

“I think some issues are just going to have to be addressed,” she said. “For those I am supporting, I will be calling their office saying, ‘Please make sure they vote on this.’”

For Libertarian Jason Pye, “straightening out the budget situation” is the most important action.

Pye, legislative director of the state’s Libertarian Party, said the budget is something legislators are required to tackle annually, though he suspects this year “they’ll try to do it without a tax increase.”

“They are going to try to pass a tax increase for transportation," Pye said. "I think that will happen this session, and I think it’s going to be the T-SPLOST proposal from the senate last year,” he said. “And water and education are going to be big issues.”

McClain said there are some legislators seeking statewide office who could stand out by stepping up on difficult votes.

“I want someone who is going to come in and actually lead and say, ‘I’m going to do what’s right for Georgia, not what’s right for me personally,’” she said.

Alexander said it’s unlikely, even in an election year, that key issues like the budget will be dealt with quickly. There may, however, be fewer bills.

“The old adage is there are two things you don’t want to see made -- sausage and legislation. Because it’s an ugly process based on bargaining, negotiation ... I don’t think I’d ever predict things would ever get done quicker.”

Federal legislators have been busy with national bills, but until one is signed by President Barack Obama, Alexander said not much will need to be done on the state level.

The more time that passes before a national health care decision is made, the less likely it will impact the state legislature, Pye said.

“I think health care is going to be a big issue, and the bill that’s being discussed at the federal level could have a significant impact on Georgia’s budget because of Medicare expansion,” he said.

“And I think that’s going to be something our legislators are going to be pushing back on Washington on ... It’s going to put taxpayers at risk.”

Rigney said federal stimulus money comes from the national level, but so does campaign rhetoric.

One area both McClain and Rigney think needs national attention is the water war between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Regardless of which party voters align, Alexander said there’s more interest than ever in what happens in Atlanta.

The 2008 presidential election, which he said drew the highest voter turnout since 1912, was an indication of the change.

Other signs are the various tea party protests and town hall forums on national health care issues.

“If they’re not angry, they’re at least interested,” he said. “Politically, this is a pretty exciting time.”