LAWRENCEVILLE - A lion, a bear and a ... groundhog?
The trio of oversized stuffed animals paraded through the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday, extolling the virtues of Georgia's second largest county as part of the first ever Gwinnett Day at the General Assembly.
"It's been fun," said Jennifer Stephens of Georgia Gwinnett College, who participated in the Chamber of Commerce event, leading the college's grizzly mascot to both chambers of the Legislature.
Also popping in were Maximus, the lion mascot of the Gladiators' minor league hockey team, and Chopper, the groundhog who will cheer on the Gwinnett Braves beginning in April. All three stuck around for an evening reception, where hundreds of lobbyists and business and civic leaders glad-handed legislators.
"I think it's been great for the county," Stephens said. "There has been so many individuals shaking hands and trying to raise awareness."
Louise Radloff, who is a member of the county's school board and board of health, said she's been spending time talking to lawmakers about the need for education and health funding, especially since a Norcross health clinic is on the verge of closure.
"There's never been a time when we need to be focused on sharing with the General Assembly what we are about to be successful," she said.
The biggest topics for the night were a transportation funding proposal and a Georgia Power bill, which is expected to come up for a vote today.
"Gwinnett is such an important part of the metro area that it's important to raise awareness," Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn, said as he ate shrimp and grits at the reception. "(Gwinnettians) get to have the legislators' ear tonight."
Local politicians - from school board members, commissioners, the sheriff, tax commissioner and mayors from a handful of cities - hobnobbed with lawmakers, including Eric Johnson and David Shafer, both of whom are running for lieutenant governor, and civil rights leader Rep. Tyrone Brooks.
Sen. Don Balfour, the Snellville man who leads the Senate Rules Committee, said the event was a veritable "who's who" that placed Gwinnett on the map for a lot of the state's leaders.
"Legislators from across the state don't know about Gwinnett," he said. "Next time, there's a vote on things, it makes it easier," since the leaders have now been exposed to things like the county's new four-year college or growing hospital.