Who to watch during the Georgia General Assembly’s 2020 session

Gov. Brian Kemp, center, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, right, and House Speaker David Ralston will be among the key players during this year’s General Assembly session, which begins Monday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

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Gov. Brian Kemp, center, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, right, and House Speaker David Ralston will be among the key players during this year’s General Assembly session, which begins Monday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com


Brian Kemp: Like all governors, Kemp will set the agenda for the session, especially this year. His decision to call for spending cuts of 4% this year and 6% next year, combined with slow tax collections during the first half of the fiscal year, means money will dominate the 2020 session. Like all governors, he also 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 can vote to spend.

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Tim Fleming: Kemp didn't look far when he tapped his top aide. Fleming first worked for Kemp in 2002 during his successful bid for a state Senate seat, and he later managed Kemp's unsuccessful campaign for agriculture commissioner in 2006 and his run for governor in 2018. Fleming inherited one of the most challenging — and powerful — jobs in state government from Chris Riley, the most influential gubernatorial chief of staff of his generation.


Geoff Duncan: The president of the Senate, Duncan, a former House member, got on-the-job training in his first year in office last year, proving a steady hand by the time the session ended. Duncan played a key role in getting fellow Republicans in the chamber to amend a controversial sexual harassment policy after Democrats said it would discourage victims from filing complaints. Duncan's top aide — a veteran political consultant who played a big role in getting him elected — quit recently after the lieutenant governor decided to stand beside Kemp when he announced Kelly Loeffler as his choice to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.


Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, Senate president pro tem: A floor leader for then-Gov. Nathan 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 before last year's race and is seen as a likely future candidate for Congress or some other post.

Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Senate majority leader: A U.S. Army Ranger who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2008, Dugan, like Miller, is personable and has the ability to clearly explain the Senate Republican stance on issues. Like Miller, he was also a floor leader for Deal. To become majority leader, he won over the Republican caucus that had been led by Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, the governor's brother-in-law.

Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Appropriations chairman: A retired grocer who has long run the Senate's budget 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. He writes a weekly column that is full of budget and tax information.

Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, Finance chairman: An anesthetist, Hufstetler rose quickly after being elected in 2012 and runs the committee that considers tax legislation and is one of the most active late-session panels at the Capitol. He's been involved in a wide range of issues, including health care and ethics, and he hasn't been afraid to stand against his Republican colleagues on issues.

Others:Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-ChickamaugaMinority Leader Steve Henson, D-TuckerSen. Nikema Williams, D-AtlantaSen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta.


David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaker: The level-headed, plain-spoken mountain 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. He took heat last year, including from some Republican colleagues, after a joint investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News revealed numerous occasions where he had made claims of legislative business to delay legal cases. Ralston guards the House's authority in making key decisions and reacted to Kemp's call for spending cuts by forming a study committee to consider the benefits of allowing casinos, horse racing and sports betting to raise more tax money.

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. In 2018 she headed a committee to review how the House and Senate handle sexual harassment issues. Jones was seen as a possible pick to replace Iskason before Kemp chose Loeffler.

Terry England, R-Auburn, Appropriations chairman: England was Ralston's choice to take over the House budget committee after he became speaker. Like his Senate counterpart Hill, England is an extremely hardworking lawmaker who follows the state's finances closely and knows where pretty much every cent of the state's $27.5 billion budget is spent.

Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, minority leader: An attorney, Trammell was picked to replace Stacey Abrams, the party's nominee for governor in 2018. Trammell narrowly won re-election against an opponent who might have — or might not have — lived in the district and followed it up by winning a caucus vote to continue leading the Democrats in the House.

Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, Ways and Means chairman: A former Snellville mayor, Harrell is a no-nonsense, business conservative who heads the committee that decides which tax bills will move forward. A big booster of the Atlanta United, Harrell has picked up where his predecessor, the late Rep. Jay Powell, left off in pushing key tax bills, including measures to force more companies to remit taxes for online sales, taxes that state officials say are already due. He earlier championed the "Better Brunch Bill," which aimed to move up the time restaurants could serve alcohol on Sundays.

Richard Smith, R-Columbus, Rules chairman: Ralston last month picked Smith to replace Powell, who died in November during a retreat of Republican legislative leaders. Smith, who retired after working many years for the University of Georgia, had previously served as chairman of the Insurance Committee for about a decade. His new committee decides which bills move to the House floor for a vote.

Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, dean: Smyre, a banker, is the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, having been first elected to the House in 1974. He has deep connections in national Democratic Party circles, from former presidents to congressmen to party activists. Smyre is a publicly cautious deal-broker known for being a go-to lawmaker for both political and legislative advice. If Democrats are making a deal with the Republican majority on key legislation, Smyre is usually either involved or in the know.

Others:Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-NewingtonHealth and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta.