County legislators have strong showing during 2005 session

We've been writing about it for more than two years - Snellville Sen. Don Balfour is a powerful leader in the General Assembly.

On the last day of the legislative session, all that power went into action.

After hours of waiting on House members to work on a conference committee to figure out a controversial ethics bill, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, told reporters that the bill was all but dead. The representatives wouldn't play ball, she said.

Then, at about 5:30 p.m., Balfour went to the well of the Senate.

He told his colleagues to let their interns know that they may have to work the next day.

House members wanted to adjourn a day early - a symbol that the new GOP-controlled Legislature is more efficient than the Dems ever hoped of being.

But Balfour said the Senate wouldn't pack it in at least until it heard an ethics bill.

Balfour lamented, the two bodies may not agree to a bill on Day 40, but they weren't going home early unless they tried.

The conferees started listening. House Speaker Glenn Richardson even left his post to participate in the talks. In the end, the group struck a compromise and the House members were able to adjourn on Day 39 as promised. All this from a man once banished to the back of the Senate for calling the governor an S.O.B. - Supreme Omnipotent Being.

When the Legislature convened in January, Gwinnettians were giddy.

After years of languishing in the minority, the county's Republicans were finally stepping out as leaders in a new Legislature.

That would mean great things for the suburban county, everyone agreed.

In the end, though, very little local legislation made it through the General Assembly.

The county was able to grab onto some pork - $5 million for a new college building, $350,000 for the railway museum and $35,000 for a county leadership program.

"What this has proven is that no matter who is in control, Gwinnett has to work to get their things passed," Sen. Curt Thompson said in the waning moments of the session.

OK, so he's a Democrat and admittedly bitter. Later, he was more charitable.

"For individual Gwinnett legislators, it's been a good year. For the county as a whole, it's a mixed success," Thompson said.

Mike Coan, R-Lawrenceville, who headed the House Industrial Relations Committee this year, said the county's fate will grow each year.

"We're new at this leadership thing," he said. "If you look at it from previous to now, it's been good. I think Gwinnett's in a position to do well."

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.