Staff Photo: John Bohn Mike Beaudreau, having lost reelection, is leaving his public office as Gwinnett County Commissioner for the third district.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Maggie squealed "Dada," as Mike Beaudreau picked up his 1-year-old daughter.
It wasn't her first word. That was "kitty," but with a dad who spent much of her first year knocking on doors or working as a county commissioner, Beaudreau was glad to be home to hear Maggie's first words and see those first steps.
And he knows now, as he leaves the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners after years in office, the opportunity to spend more time at home with his now walking and talking little girl is a blessing that came from an election defeat.
"Mike's future is wide open and depends upon what he and (wife) Tegwen decide are their priorities," Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said of her colleague. "For now, I hope that he can relish the chance to spend more time with Maggie and Tegwen -- time that I know has not been available previously."Accomplishments and angstBeaudreau became one of Gwinnett's youngest politicians when he was elected to office at the age of 29.
Inspired by his mother's election to the zoning board when he was a teen in Connecticut, Beaudreau spent time as an intern in Washington in high school and college and saw a chance to bring change locally not long after he moved to Gwinnett.
"I felt frankly, like the commissioners weren't listening," Beaudreau said, after he got involved in a few local zonings. "I looked at who else was running, and I wasn't convinced they weren't more of the same."
Beaudreau campaigned about an open and accessible government, friendly growth and a reduction of the tax rate.
"I had more energy," he said of taking office at a young age. "I worked crazy hours."
And he knocked on doors, a tireless campaign that brought Beaudreau to 10,000 doorsteps.
Once elected, Beaudreau began a monthly listening session, where residents could meet with him. And even after he lost an August runoff for a third term, Beaudreau continued the sessions, proud that he hosted a meeting for 96 straight months.
Of his accomplishments, he is most proud of a recently completed extension to Sugarloaf Parkway and preserving the land where a fort from the War of 1812 once stood.
But over the years Beaudreau took a lot of heat over issues, most notably an unpopular trash program that came from a lawsuit settlement and a proposal to allow commercial flights at the local airport, which was later defeated.
As his wife Tegwen teased, Beaudreau's stark black hair became sprinkled with gray long before the baby arrived.
But Beaudreau said he has no regrets.
"I've got a record of not cowering down," he said.
"One of the things I want folks to remember is just because I didn't vote your way doesn't mean I didn't listen to somebody," Beaudreau added, referring not only to the town hall meetings but to a commission he put in place to study the trash issue and a group that met to consider all angles of the airport. "I think people will look back and say, 'I realize why Commissioner Beaudreau did it the way he did.' I focused on permanent things, not political points."Moving onBy the end of his first term, a bad economic swing left the government slashing spending. Beaudreau voted against a tax increase, but it was still imposed. Lawsuits and legal issues forced the commission's hand on the trash program and plagued much of his second term with a public discord with local cities.
And then a special grand jury found corruption in the board, leading to the resignation of the chairman and indictment of a commissioner. Two years later, another commissioner was implicated in a federal sting.
All the while, the talk of government trust turned against Beaudreau, the only political figure to survive the ordeal.
"I tried to turn the best I could out of a bad situation," Beaudreau said. "Someday I'll write a book."
Nash said it is Beaudreau's self-confidence and persistence that helped him weather the hard times.
"Mike's greatest accomplishment perhaps is the fact that he persevered over the course of his two terms in office and survived one of the most tumultuous times in recent history for Gwinnett County," she said. "Serving under the circumstances he did could not have been easy, but he kept showing up and doing the job even when he must have been very discouraged."
Under the barrage of campaign rumors and innuendos, Beaudreau turned to the people who knew him best, who knew that he had taken no part in the scandals.
"It would be easy for me to hide, but to me, it's all the more reason to be involved," Beaudreau said. "It gives us more reason to hold our public officials more accountable. ... I'd worry more about apathy than anything else."
And Beaudreau knew there were some pretty important eyes on him: the young men he leads in church youth Bible studies and basketball games.
"You have to lead by example," he said. "There nothing I can do about (the scandals). All I can do is lead by action. I have absolutely no doubt about that."
Those kids and his own dark-haired daughter are the focus of Beaudreau's future, along with his wife.
"I've been moving on," he said of the months since his failed runoff campaign.
Beaudreau noted that he is in a strange position, wanting to give leaders the space to create their own future but keen to keep an eye on the government, so people are held accountable.
"People say (politics) is like embalming fluid. You can't get it out of your blood," he said. "But I don't have a burning desire to jump back in. ... My value is how I'm viewed by my Savior. I'm not really concerned with whether or not someone will vote for me."
But don't count the 38-year-old out forever.
"I'm trying to take a period of introspection and reflection," he said. "I'm still passionate about things like this and God has a plan. ...
"I wouldn't trade a thing, absolutely not."