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Political Notebook: Balfour to head national organization

The impending resignation of Eric Johnson as Georgia's Senate president pro tempore may mean little for Gwinnett's political spectrum.

Sen. Don Balfour, the Republican from Snellville who is the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, said he isn't interested in taking over the pro tem slot, which is second in command to the lieutenant governor.

"I think I'm pretty effective exactly where I'm at," Balfour said. "I'm happy with what I'm doing."

Balfour said he thinks he would be most successful in dealing with issues his constituents care about - such as transportation and helping the fledgling Georgia Gwinnett College - from his current position.

But he had kind words for Johnson, the senator from Savannah who said he would leave the pro tem slot at the end of the year to pursue a run for lieutenant governor. Current Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2010.

"Eric is a true statesmen," Balfour said of Johnson. "He's been talking about this for a long time, and instead of asking what's good for him, he's asked what's best for the Senate and what's good for the state."

Balfour said he wasn't aware of any potential candidates for the position, and two other prominent Republican senators from Gwinnett - Renee Unterman and David Shafer - did not immediately return phone calls Friday.

This week, Balfour took office as president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislators.

The senator was chosen by more than 8,600 colleagues from across the nation. He will take over as president at the organization's meeting next year in Philadelphia.

"It is a great honor for me to serve as president of one of the most influential legislative organizations in the country," Balfour said. "I have enjoyed serving as vice president this past year, and I look forward to stepping into my role as president to help further the success of NCSL."

During the annual meeting last week in New Orleans, Balfour lead a discussion on America's toughest challenges with panelists that included former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

"I have been honored to work with Don in representing the Gwinnett area since I came to the Senate," Unterman said in a press release. "He has served his constituents well in the Senate and will continue to do so on a much larger scale as NCSL president, by giving Georgia a stronger voice within national politics."

And Johnson was just as complimentary of his Senate colleague.

"To be elected NCSL president is a great honor for Don and for the state of Georgia," Johnson said. "Throughout his political career, Don has demonstrated his innate skill for leadership, most notably by serving as Senate Rules Chairman. I am confident he will bring innovative ideas and a strong guiding hand to the council as its president next year."

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