Players to watch in the 2023 General Assembly session

GOVERNOR

Brian Kemp: Like all governors, Kemp will set the agenda for the session, and his role may be even stronger this year because both the state House and Senate will have new leadership as he comes off a resounding reelection victory. Last year the governor was able to use a state surplus and massive federal COVID-19 relief funding to his advantage to promote a record state budget that included pay raises for teachers and state employees. This year he has a surplus again and will push for $2 billion worth of income and property tax rebates for Georgians. Like all governors, Kemp also has the power to veto legislation and spending, and he can dole out jobs to employment-seeking lawmakers.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Burt Jones: A member of the Senate since 2013, the Jackson Republican was at times at odds with his chamber’s leadership, serving as a fake GOP elector after the 2020 presidential election when Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican Donald Trump. But when Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Trump critic, decided not to run for reelection, Jones took on powerful Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller in the GOP primary to replace Duncan and won. He was one of few Trump-backed statewide candidates in Georgia to win the primary, and he cruised to election in November, like most other statewide GOP candidates. Jones is considered a likely candidate for governor in the future. The lieutenant governor essentially runs the Senate and typically has a key role in helping to decide committee assignments and whether legislation gets a vote in the chamber.

SENATE

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon: The central Georgia lawyer was first elected to the Senate in 2014 and rose quickly, serving as a gubernatorial floor leader and majority caucus chairman, where he helped the Senate Republican majority raise money to support the party’s incumbents and candidates. He led the Senate Redistricting Committee, which redrew political lines in 2021 to ensure the GOP maintained its majority. He will replace Miller, who lost his bid for lieutenant governor last year. The president pro tem is second in charge of the Senate.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega: He was first elected to the state Senate in 2010 and served as the majority caucus whip from 2014 until his election as majority leader in November. Before being elected as whip, he served as the Senate Transportation Committee chairman. Gooch has spent much of the past few legislative sessions lobbying to expand broadband access in rural parts of the state, something given a major boost in recent years by federal funding.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia: First elected to the Senate in 2016, Tillery rose quickly to head the chamber’s budget committee, taking over in 2020 after longtime Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill died. His first budget involved helping to cut state spending by 10% because of expectations that revenue would decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year he was in the opposite situation: with record revenue came record spending. A fiscal conservative, Tillery is the General Assembly’s budget veteran now, with the longtime appropriations staff directors of both the House and Senate leaving their jobs last year and House Appropriations Chairman Terry England retiring.

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain: A retiree who was first elected to the Senate in 1998, Butler was picked by colleagues for a second term as minority leader in November. Butler is the first woman to lead the party in the Senate, previously serving as chairwoman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus. Butler was one of 16 state electors who voted for Biden and has long been active in party political and legislative initiatives.

Others: Senate Majority Whip Randy Robertson, R-Cataula; Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas; Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones, D-Augusta; Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.

HOUSE

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington: Burns, first elected to the General Assembly in 2004, has served as majority leader since 2015. He is expected to be elected speaker Monday, less than two months after longtime House Speaker David Ralston’s death. He and Ralston have some similarities. Like Ralston, Burns has been a champion for rural Georgia, a prerequisite for a House speaker. He’s also seen, like Ralston, as level-headed and plain-spoken in a chamber that can be raucous and fractious at times. Burns overcame a challenge in his caucus from state Rep. Barry Fleming, a Republican from Harlem who sought to become speaker with the support of some of the House’s more conservative members.

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton: A smart, stable leader from a politically important part of metro Atlanta, Jones became the state’s first female House speaker when Ralston died. She will return to the post she has held, speaker pro tem — essentially second in charge of the House — after Burns is elected speaker this week. A former journalist and marketing executive, Jones has been able to win reelection at the edge of a part of metro Atlanta that is trending Democratic.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula: The Gwinnett County lawyer takes on a new role as majority leader after serving as head of the House Judiciary Committee, where he pushed a wide array of legislation, including changes in ethics laws, the repeal of the state’s citizen’s arrest law and passage of a hate-crimes statute. Now his job will be to lead a Republican caucus that is slightly smaller than it was before the November election but still very much in charge of the chamber.

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon: Following an election in which Democrats inched a bit closer to control of the chamber, the party’s House caucus elected Beverly to a second term as minority leader. Beverly, an optometrist first elected in 2011, has been a strong voice for the party’s positions and helped the caucus raise big money over the past year, which is important in a chamber where Republicans have always had a huge funding advantage at election time.

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin: The new House Appropriations chairman was chosen last month to replace England, who had run the budget committee for more than a decade before deciding to retire in 2022. The committee plays a key role in deciding how the state spends more than $30 billion a year for programs, projects and services, including K-12 education, colleges, roads, prisons, law enforcement and parks. He also served as chairman of the House Republican Trust, which raised more than $4.5 million in the most recent election cycle for GOP House candidates.

Others: Rules Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus; Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta; House Minority Whip Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville; Majority Caucus Chairman Bruce Williamson, R-Monroe.