0

Shafer, other Gwinnettians slated for powerful roles in General Assembly

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, is poised to take office as the Senate president pro tem, the second highest office in the state's highest legislative body, when legislators convene Monday for the 2013-2014 session.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, is poised to take office as the Senate president pro tem, the second highest office in the state's highest legislative body, when legislators convene Monday for the 2013-2014 session.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Four years ago, David Shafer had dreams of presiding over the state Senate.

The Republican from Duluth began the first stages of a campaign to become Georgia's lieutenant governor, but dropped the pursuit when Casey Cagle decided to run for a second term instead of seeking the governor's office.

This year, though, Shafer will get the gavel.

Not all the time, but when Cagle has to leave the state's highest legislative chamber, it will be Shafer, the presumed president pro tem, who will step in.

Shafer tops the list of a very high profile Gwinnett delegation, leaders who will have prominent roles to play in the General Assembly as they head to the state Capitol Monday to begin the new session.

"I'm interested in having a positive impact on public policy," Shafer said, talking humbly about the new position, which is expected to be bestowed as the first vote of the Senate. "I realize we face some great challenges in this session of the General Assembly. I've been at the Capitol every day through the month of December to be ready."

But Shafer isn't the only Gwinnettian expected to make an impact.

While committee assignments will be divvied out anew this week, Gwinnett legislators held seven committee chairmanships, including the heads of both the House and Senate education committees, in the last legislative session.

Plus, Steve Henson is the Senate Minority Leader and Donna Sheldon is the House Majority Caucus chair. Last year, Brian Thomas was the Minority Caucus chair, Sen. Gloria Butler is a leader in the black caucus, and the list goes on.

While not a member of Gwinnett's delegation, Rep. Terry England from neighboring Barrow County (he lives in Auburn, which splits the county line) is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which means he has a say in where money is spent in the state budget.

Even with the fall of Sen. Don Balfour, the Snellville Republican facing possible criminal charges for accepting state per diem payments for days he was out of the state, from the chairmanship of the powerful Rules Committee, another Gwinnettian could be tapped to pick up the mantle. Buford's Renee Unterman is under consideration for the role, which could mean she will decide what bills comes up to the floor for a vote.

If not, she'll likely continue to be the highest-ranked woman in the legislative body as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and a member of the powerful Committee on Assignments, which chooses the make-up of committees.

"Having members of our delegation hold positions of leadership in both houses of the Legislature reflects well on Gwinnett County and certainly has positive aspects for our community," Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. "This situation can be helpful in dealing with issues. Although it does not automatically mean support for our positions, we usually have a chance to be heard and to explain the importance of issues to Gwinnett overall."

As an example, Nash pointed to the support of funding for Georgia Gwinnett College, the fledgling college campus in Lawrenceville, where support has to be adjusted for the growth in students and line items were needed in the state budget in recent years for buildings like the campus library and student center.

"Members of our delegation understood the importance and benefits of GGC and were willing to work hard to ensure that the college has been able to move forward in meeting the needs of the growing student body," Nash said.

In recent years, the delegation's influence was instrumental in righting a health care funding model that left Gwinnett's health department with one of the lowest subsidies in the state, even though the county is the second largest.

Shafer said the spate of high-profile leaders is "always helpful."

"We have an outstanding and influential local legislative delegation, and I am proud to be part of it," he said. "Gwinnett County has contributed many great leaders to state and federal government, and I think we have benefited from those contributions."

The following members of the Gwinnett legislative delegation are expected to take on high-profile roles in the 2013-2014 session, which begins Monday.

Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth

Senate President Pro Tem

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford

Chairwoman of Health and Human Services Committee

Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker

Chairman of Special Judiciary Committee

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody

Chairman of Education Committee

Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker

Senate Minority LeaderSen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain

Vice-Chair of Georgia Legislative Black Caucus

Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta

Chief Deputy Whip of the Minority Caucus

Rep. Tom Rice, R-Peachtree Corners

Chairman of Motor Vehicles Committee

Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth

Vice-Chair of Georgia Working Families Caucus, Vice-Chair of Georgia Democratic Party

Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth

Chairman of Education Committee

Re. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula

Chairwoman of the House Majority Caucus

*All Committee assignments could change in the 2013 session