A guide to be­ing a state leg­is­la­tor

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Af­ter Rep. Doug Holt (R-So­cial Cir­cle) an­nounced he wasn’t seek­ing re­elec­tion, three con­tenders im­me­di­ately stepped up, and with ev­ery state seat up for elec­tion in 2014, more an­nounce­ments are com­ing.

With no short­age of peo­ple ea­ger to try their hand at pol­i­tics, The News de­cided to give res­i­dents a guide to be­ing a state leg­is­la­tor by ask­ing lo­cal elected of­fi­cials about the salary, ben­e­fits and sched­ule and the traits needed to be suc­cess­ful.

Salary: Ge­or­gia se­na­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives both get the same salary — $17,342. Leg­is­la­tors are con­sid­ered part-time po­si­tions.

Ben­e­fits: Leg­is­la­tors also get a $7,000 ex­pense ac­count for costs like leg­isla­tive aides and of­fice space and sup­plies, ac­cord­ing to state Sen. Rick Jef­fares (R-Locust Grove).

They also get a $173 pay­ment for each day they spend in ses­sion (the ses­sion is gen­er­ally 40 days long) and for any spe­cial hear­ings they have to travel to out­side of ses­sion, which nine-year Rep. Doug Holt (R-So­cial Cir­cle) can add up to around $8,500 dur­ing the months the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly is in ses­sion. For those leg­is­la­tors who live within 50 miles of the Capi­tol (which in­cludes all of Newton County), the per diem costs get taxed as reg­u­lar in­come.

Fi­nally, leg­is­la­tors do get re­tire­ment ben­e­fits, both only if they serve for at least eight years. When a leg­is­la­tor reaches re­tire­ment age, they get $36 per month for ev­ery year of ser­vice. They also get to keep health insurance

ben­e­fits if they serve eight years or more, said for­mer state se­na­tor John Dou­glas.

Sched­ule: The Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly is usu­ally in ses­sion for 40 days, which are gen­er­ally spread from mid-Jan­uary to midApril (this year, the ses­sion is ex­pected to end in March be­cause of new ear­lier elec­tion dates).

Holt said a stan­dard work week dur­ing ses­sion is around 70-80 hours. Jef­fares said the first month of ses­sion is gen­er­ally a lit­tle slower, so leg­is­la­tors may end up work­ing closer to a 40-hour work week, but he said the time spent ramps up as the ses­sion goes along. The rest of the year is con­sid­er­ably slower, though elected of­fi­cials do spend time at­tend­ing events and help­ing con­stituents with is­sues. Jef­fares said the time im­me­di­ately af­ter the ses­sion and be­fore a new ses­sion starts are gen­er­ally the busiest times and he’s gen­er­ally asked to speak at least twice a week.

Dou­glas said he was on the road “within my five coun­ties at least three nights a week and usu­ally on Satur­day morn­ing. I made it a point to at­tend city coun­cil meet­ings in the 12 in­cor­po­rated cities I rep­re­sented be­cause it was a great way to keep abreast with is­sues and meet cit­i­zens com­ing to those meet­ing. There were also Repub­li­can Party meet­ings to at­tend and other types of meet­ings as well.”

Holt said the one year he added up all of his time, he to­taled 1,400 hours. And none of those es­ti­mates in­cluded di­rect cam­paign­ing.

“You will lose money be­ing a leg­is­la­tor. The base salary is just shy of $18,000 per year and if you put the time and ef­fort into the job that it should have, you can­not make a mone­tary profit from it. Do not go into the cam­paign of­fice think­ing oth­er­wise,” Dou­glas said.

Ad­vice for can­di­dates: “Get out there and work hard six days a week to get elected. Meet peo­ple, be ac­ces­si­ble, be on time, stay late to talk to peo­ple, dress the part and speak cor­rect English,” Dou­glas said. “If you want to be a leg­is­la­tor, you have to look and act like one. Also re­mem­ber that th­ese days, some­one al­ways has a cam­era and while you may not think you know some­one in a room, restau­rant or wher­ever you are, some­one in that room knows and is watch­ing you.”

Holt said a good leg­is­la­tor has to be a self-starter and be ded­i­cated to the causes he un­der­takes.

“If you’re go­ing to take care of the folks at home and have an im­pact on the is­sues they’re con­cerned about, you have to be af­ter it work­ing with other leg­is­la­tors and try­ing to con­tinue to build groundswell sup­port,” he said.

Hav­ing good peo­ple skills, be­ing will­ing to work with all types of peo­ple and be­ing ac­ces­si­ble were also men­tioned as im­por­tant traits for an elected of­fi­cial.

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