Gov. Nathan Deal enters the appropriations room at the Capitol to talk about his budget plans in January 2017 BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Top players in the Georgia Legislature


Nathan Deal: The governor enters his final session and will set the agenda again in 2018, although his influence may be a little diminished by his lame-duck status. However, he still has the power to veto legislation and spending, and dole out jobs to employment-seeking lawmakers. And he sets the revenue estimate, which determines how much money lawmakers spend.

Complete Georgia legislature coverage


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Top players in the Georgia Legislature

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Chris Riley: Riley is 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 for years as Deal’s personal pilot as well as chief aide. Riley knows the governor’s mind, and nothing happens anywhere near Capitol Hill without him knowing about it and having a say in it.


Casey Cagle: The president of the Senate, Cagle was considered a top contender for governor in 2010 until he backed off from the race. Now he’s running to replace Deal, one of several state politicians looking to move up the political ladder. Cagle, who like Deal is from Gainesville, is the gubernatorial candidate most supported by lobbyists and business special interests.


Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, Senate president pro tem: A floor leader for Deal, Miller is a car dealer used to wheeling and dealing at the statehouse as well. Miller was considered a possible candidate for lieutenant governor, but he backed off to seek the No. 2 spot in the Senate.

Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, Senate majority leader: He 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. He served as a floor leader for Gov. Sonny Perdue during the governor’s second term. He moved up to GOP caucus chairman in 2011.

Jack Hill, R-Reidsville: A retired grocer who has long run the Senate Appropriations Committee, he’s 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.

Renee Unterman, R-Buford, chairwoman Health and Human Services, vice chairwoman of Senate Appropriations Committee. Long a champion of public health, health care workers and medical issues in general, the nearly 20-year veteran of the General Assembly has been the strongest female voice — and sometimes the lone female voice — in the Senate GOP caucus. A former emergency room nurse, she often takes on issues other Republicans in the Senate won’t.

Others: Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga; Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome; Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker; Sens. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, and David Shafer, R-Duluth.


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. Unlike his counterpart, Cagle in the Senate, Ralston is staying put.

Jan Jones, R-Milton, speaker pro tem: She’s 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. She is heading a new committee to review how the House and Senate handle sexual harassment issues. She is the only female member appointed to the panel.

Terry England, R-Auburn, House budget chairman: England was Ralston’s choice to take over the money committee, and like his Senate counterpart Hill, he follows the state’s finances closely and knows where pretty much every cent of the state’s $25 billion budget is spent.

Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, minority leader: An attorney and second-term lawmaker, Trammell was picked to replace Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor. He could bring a more aggressive tone to the loyal opposition.

Jay Powell, R-Camilla, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee: Powell, a lawyer, heads the committee that writes tax bills and sponsored bills to cut state income taxes and force online businesses to charge sales taxes from people who buy their goods. Both bills will likely be hotly debated again this year.

Others: Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington; Rules Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun; Transportation Chairman Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville; Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta.

Top lobbying firms and individuals

ConnectSouth: This team of pros represents Charter Communications, DuPont, the Georgia Retail Association, MARTA, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Nature Conservancy, Newell Recycling, Northside Hospital and Pfizer.

GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group: It has one of the longest client lists at the Capitol and a veteran team of top lobbyists, two of whom served in the General Assembly. Clients include the Atlanta Braves, Comcast, Georgia Power, Koch Industries, T-Mobile and UPS, and a host of Georgia associations representing the powerful auto dealer, beer wholesaler and hospital industries.

Holland & Knight:The firm is led by Robert Highsmith, a lawyer and former counsel to Perdue when he was governor who has also represented several lawmakers when they got into legal trouble or faced ethics complaints. The team also includes two onetime Shafer aides, Jeremy Collins and Koko Lewis. Holland & Knight represents the city of Atlanta, those involved in the massive Gulch development in downtown Atlanta — including the Atlanta Hawks — MARTA, gaming giant Caesars Entertainment, Verizon, small-loan giant Titlemax, and the optometrists lobby. Highsmith has also represented Atlanta’s new mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Massey, Watson & Hembree: The team includes a former Georgia secretary of state and the chairman of the state Republican Party, and it represents a long list of companies and groups interested in both legislation and state contracts, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Citigroup, Comcast, Dell, Hospital Corp. of America, Southwest Airlines, Uber and Boyd Gaming, one of the companies hoping the General Assembly approves casino gambling legislation.

McGuireWoods Consulting: It has close legislative ties, especially in the Senate, and deep political experience. It’s led by former Cagle chief of staff Brad Alexander. Clients include Aetna, AT&T, Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia Power, Gulfstream, Honeywell, independent doctors, MARTA, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Walt Disney Co. and several groups involved in the film industry.

Parker Poe: It’s a new entry, with a team that includes veterans Amy Odom and Chuck McMullen, who came over from other firms. Clients include Anheuser-Busch, HN1 Therapy Networks, Microsoft, Optum, United Healthcare and Wynn Resorts, a big player in the casino industry.

Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group: Lots of big names and top professionals are in the group, led by Pete Robinson, who was on Deal’s transition team. The group also includes the House speaker’s son, Matthew Ralston, and veteran lobbyists Samantha Hill, Ragan Marsh and Rob Willis. It represents a long list of big names, including Aflac, Cigna, Coca-Cola, Georgia Power, GM, the home builders lobby, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Scientific Games, the managed care company for PeachCare, Synovus and Verizon.

Other top groups and lobbyists include those representing the car dealers, counties and cities, the Georgia and Metro Atlanta chambers, grocery stores, hospitals, insurance agents, liquor distributors, manufacturers, nursing homes, school boards, trial lawyers, the University System of Georgia, Don Bolia, Chuck Clay, Wendi Clifton, John Haliburton, Chandler Haydon, Neill Herring, Brian Hudson, Lee and Amy Hughes, Sheila Humberstone, Tharon Johnson, Billy Linville, Jamie and Andy Lord, Mark Middleton, Jay Morgan, Roy Robinson, Richard Royal, Rebecca Chamberlin Ryles, Rusty Sewell, Graham Thompson, Mo Thrash, Jet Toney, Monty Veazey, William Woodall, and lobby teams from Dentons, Fiveash-Stanley, Southern Strategies, and Tanner & Associates.

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