Key players during the legislative session


Nathan Deal: The governor enters the third year of his second term and will set the agenda again in 2017, although his influence may be a little diminished by the fact that he is nearing the end of his tenure and his signature Opportunity School District, a proposed constitutional amendment, got hammered at the polls in November. However, he still has the power to veto legislation and legislative spending priorities.


Chris Riley: Riley is likely the most influential gubernatorial chief of staff in many decades in Georgia. Deal and Riley lived near each other in Gainesville, and Riley has served as Deal’s personal pilot as well as chief aid for years. Riley knows the governor’s mind, and nothing happens anywhere near Capitol Hill — or in Hall County — without him knowing about it and often having a say in it.


David Shafer, R-Duluth, Senate president pro tem: A former top Republican staffer and campaign manager when he was in his 20s. A onetime chief deputy insurance commissioner, Shafer is a careful, politically astute operator who has built the largest campaign war chest in the General Assembly and has beaten back attempts in his own party to dislodge him. Shafer is a fiscal conservative who will likely lead the charge to reduce income taxes in coming years. Long expected to run for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, Senate majority leader: Has climbed the leadership ladder since winning election in 2006, replacing his brother-in-law Brian Kemp (now Georgia's secretary of state) in the Senate. Served as a floor leader for Gov. Sonny Perdue during the governor's second term. Moved up to GOP caucus chairman in 2011.

Jack Hill, R-Reidsville: A retired grocer who has long run the Senate Appropriations Committee. A former Democrat whose party switch helped the Senate turn Republican in 2002. Hill follows economic indicators closely and knows everything about how state tax money is spent, and he plays a key role in deciding where it goes.

Others: Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga; Health and Human Services Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford; Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker; Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, floor leader for Deal; Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.


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. The former state senator from Gainesville is widely expected to be one of the front-runners in the race for governor in 2018. A prolific campaign fundraiser adept at working with both the business community and social conservatives in the past.


David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaker: The level-headed, plain-spoken country lawyer has earned high marks for leading a chamber that can be raucous and fractious at times. He faces increasing pressure from the right within his own caucus, but he has managed to maintain control when it matters. Recently settled two-year battle over a State Bar complaint, which gives him one less thing to distract him as he heads into the session.

Jan Jones, R-Milton, 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 and was considered a possible candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Price before deciding against the race.

Jon Burns, R-Newington, majority leader: Elected to the post following the retirement of Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, Burns enters his second session in a key leadership role. Backed by Ralston, Burns has the job of bringing the caucus into line with leadership's positions.

Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, minority leader: Thought of as one of the brightest minds in the Legislature, Abrams, a lawyer and romance novelist, was elected minority leader in 2010 for a party that has fallen on hard times. Well respected in the House, although she's been criticized within her own party for her willingness to work deals with Republicans on key issues. A rare Georgia Democrat to get national attention, Abrams is considered a possible candidate for governor in 2018.

Others: Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn; Rules Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun; Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs; Transportation Chairman Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville; Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta; Ways and Means Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla.