A Capitol who’s who: The most powerful players


Nathan Deal: Heads into his re-election-year session with a disciplined team that knows how to get things done. Not flashy, but consistent. Deal was a member of the state Senate leadership team in the early 1990s, back when he was a Democrat. He then spent nearly two decades in Congress, mostly as a Republican. He sets the agenda for what could be a quick session. Has a good relationship with legislative leaders and will likely present a voter-friendly agenda in hopes of strengthening his bid for another term.


Chris Riley, chief of staff: Riley is the most powerful gubernatorial chief of staff in more than a decade. Deal and Riley lived near each other in Gainesville, and Riley has served as Deal’s personal pilot for years. Riley knows the governor’s mind, and nothing happens anywhere near Capitol Hill — or in Hall County — without him knowing about it.


David Shafer, R-Duluth, Senate president pro tem: A former top Republican staffer and campaign manager in his 20s. A onetime chief deputy insurance commissioner, Shafer lost the general election for secretary of state in 1996 before winning a seat in the state Senate. A careful, politically astute operator who has built a formidable campaign war chest. Shafer is a fiscal conservative who has long advocated legislation forcing agencies to justify every penny they spend.

Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, Senate majority leader: Like Shafer, a political veteran who came up through the ranks. Chance worked for U.S. Rep. Mac Collins and was U.S. Sen. Bob Dole’s executive director in Georgia when Dole ran for president in the mid-1990s. He became well-known at the Capitol lobbying and doing political public relations before winning a Senate seat in 2004. Served as a floor leader for Republican Govs. Sonny Perdue and Deal. He has good relationships with colleagues and the media and is a first-rate spokesman for the GOP caucus’ policy in the Senate. Likely to return to lobbying the General Assembly after leaving the Senate.

Jason Carter, D-Atlanta: Grandson of former U.S. President (and Georgia Governor) Jimmy Carter, the senator has been a high-profile spokesman for Democrats on key issues such as cutbacks in the HOPE scholarship and education funding since joining the Senate in 2010. Will draw even more attention this session because he’s running for governor. He will use his position to promote his campaign and contrast himself with Deal.


Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle: The president of the Senate and the first Republican to run the chamber. Was considered a top contender for governor in 2010 until he backed off from the race. Like Deal, generally cautious and fiscally conservative. And like Deal, from Gainesville. Expected to run for governor in 2018.


David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, House speaker: The level-headed, plain-spoken country lawyer took over for scandal-plagued Glenn Richardson and quickly earned high marks for leading a chamber that can be raucous at times. Has favored fellow North Georgia lawmakers with his appointments to key jobs. A frequent mealtime guest of lobbyists in the past, he had opposed limits on gifts to legislators. But after 2012 primary voters in both parties voiced support for limits, Ralston called for a total ban and later helped negotiate the ethics package that finally won passage during the 2013 session.

Jan Jones, R-Milton, House speaker pro tem: Seen as a smart, stable leader from a politically important part of metro Atlanta. A former journalist and marketing executive, Jones is the highest-ranking woman in General Assembly history. Before being elected to the leadership post, she served on the House Education Committee and as vice chairwoman of the budget subcommittee that develops spending plans for education.

Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, House majority leader: Well thought of by his colleagues, the generally soft-spoken lawyer from Houston County was close to Perdue when he was governor. He has adapted well to the majority leader’s job and has long been the go-to man in the House on tax issues.

Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, House minority leader: Thought of as one of the brightest minds in the Legislature, Abrams, a lawyer, was elected minority leader in 2010 for a party that has fallen on hard times. Well respected in the House. Abrams has been willing to work with Republicans on key issues, something that hasn’t always endeared her to other Democrats.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon: A successful restaurateur and avid runner, Peake is secretary/treasurer of the House Republican caucus, treasurer of the House fundraising arm and vice chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee. Straightforward and comfortable dealing with reporters and at ease in getting out House Republicans’ positions.

Top lobbyists

Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group: Top lobbyists with the firm are Lawrence Bell, Samantha Hill, Sheila Humberstone, Jerry Keen, Ragen Marsh, Pete Robinson and Robb Willis. Robinson served with Deal in the Senate and was on the governor’s transition team. Keen is a former House majority leader. Humberstone is among the best around at working the lobbying ropes and getting the votes her side needs. The group represents a long list of big names, including Aflac, Cigna, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, private-prisons giant Corrections Corporation of America, Delta Air Lines, Georgia Power and Merck pharmaceuticals.

Trip Martin and GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group: Has one of the longest client lists at the Capitol. Like Robinson, Martin is close to legislative leaders and is in the know about almost everything going on at the Capitol. The team includes John Bozeman, who headed Perdue’s legislative affairs office; Boyd Pettit, a former longtime lawmaker; and Skin Edge, a former Senate Republican leader.

McGuireWoods Consulting: Has close legislative ties, especially to the Senate. Lobbyist Brad Alexander is a former chief of staff to Cagle; Michael Shelnut and Andrew Long have connections to Shafer. Also on the team is former Senate leader Eric Johnson. Clients include Aetna, AT&T, Disney, EUE/Screen Gems, Genentech, Gulfstream, Humana and Teach for America.

McKenna, Long & Aldridge: Has long had a major stake in state and national politics, with an impressive lineup of former politicians, operatives and lawyers, including Deal’s campaign attorney. A solid Capitol team was strengthened by the hiring of veteran lobbyist Chuck McMullen. The group represents Anheuser Busch, the Georgia Charter Schools Association, Microsoft, the NFL, Northside Hospital, Southwest Airlines, UnitedHealthCare and Xerox. Angered some lawmakers playing political hardball last year in UnitedHealthCare’s unsuccessful fight to win the highly lucrative State Health Benefits Plan contract.

Massey, Watson, Bowers & Hembree: Lewis Massey, a former Georgia secretary of state, is from Gainesville, Deal’s hometown. Bruce Bowers, son of former Attorney General Michael Bowers, has strong GOP credentials. Brandon Hembree is a veteran Capitol lobbyist. John Watson is a former chief of staff to Perdue and a member of Deal’s transition team. The group represents a long list of companies and groups interested in both legislation and state contracts, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Citigroup, Comcast, Ernst & Young, the Georgia Poultry Federation, Intel and J.P. Morgan.

Others: Teams for AGL, AT&T, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, the Georgia Chamber, the Georgia Hospital Association, the Georgia Municipal Association, Georgia Power, the Georgia Trial Lawyers, Tom Daniel, Amanda Nolen Seals and the University System of Georgia team, Fiveash-Stanley, Hall Booth Smith, Mathews & Maxwell, Roy Bowen, Wendi Clifton, Chandler Haydon, Terry Hobbs, Brian Hudson, Jay Morgan, Roy Robinson, Richard Royal, Rusty Sewell, Mo Thrash and Monty Veazey.

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