Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle shakes hands with "General," the Georgia Gwinnett College mascot as folks representing Gwinnett County prepare to take a photograph inside the Georgia state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. County officials, state representatives and others celebrated Gwinnett Day at the Capitol.
ATLANTA -- Georgia Gwinnett College President Dan Kaufman reached for the governor's hand Wednesday to thank him for coming to a reception honoring Gwinnett County at the Capitol.
But he couldn't help but bend his ear for a moment about the college's funding crisis, which could lead to up to eight furlough days if a $2.7 million special funding cut stands in the state budget.
"We'll work it out," an optimistic Kaufman said after his moment with the governor. "Everybody's trying to do the right thing, for the students and for the state."
Wednesday's Gwinnett Day at the Capitol allowed public officials, business leaders and residents to mingle with lawmakers as they near the halfway point in the 2013 legislative session. The Chamber of Commerce event included resolutions in the House and Senate and an after-hours reception that crammed the Georgia Freight Depot.
Not only did college officials work the crowd, but students pleaded their case to legislators.
"I'm absolutely committed to restoring the Georgia Gwinnett College funding," Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth said, as he mingled with Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, who represents another part of Gwinnett. "The other colleges in the university system should be emulating what Georgia Gwinnett College does."
But School Board Member Louise Radloff reminded leaders that other priorities needed attention too.
"How do we get our kids ready to go to college? We've got to get them through elementary before we get them through college," Radloff said to Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, pointing out a $300 million cut to K-12 education in the last decade.
"I just wanted to try to dialogue with legislators and see where they are coming from," Radloff said of attending the event. "I'm always worried about those kids. ... We need all the money that we can get."
Some leaders, like Lilburn Mayor Johnny Crist, talked about their displeasure with a bill that could take away local control from commissions and councils on the location of cell phone towers. Gwinnett's county attorney testified at a committee meeting on the issue earlier in the day.
Others were happy to glad-hand and save the politicking for another day.
Sen. Buddy Carter, a south Georgia politician, said he was impressed with the contingent of business leaders and public officials working together to support one goal.
"Gwinnett County is one of the most dynamic counties in the state. We pay attention to Gwinnett County because they are successful," he said. "I'm here because I want to know what their secrets are."
The approach, Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, said, should help in the fight for funding.
"It's important for members of our community to come down," she said. "It helps for others to try to emulate what we've done."
Gov. Nathan Deal made the rounds, listening to several requests along the way -- even if many were for pictures.
"Gwinnett's an important part of our state," Deal said. "It's a great group of public officials and entrepreneurs, a lot of good friends of mine."