Among Georgia’s 236 lawmakers, none have more ground to cover than the newbies who enter the Capitol as first-time legislators. They are a diverse lot, both Republicans and Democrats alike, and some have an opportunity to make outsize statements despite their relative inexperience. Here are five newcomers to watch as the Georgia Legislature kicks off its work for the new year:
Who she is: An attorney by trade, the up-and-comer won back a metro Atlanta seat occupied by state Rep. Taylor Bennett, a Democrat who a year before had unexpectedly topped a special election in the Republican-leaning district.
Why she’s worth watching: Hanson’s Brookhaven-based district leans GOP but is socially moderate, a model Hanson has said she wants to represent in the General Assembly. Her narrow win — by less than 250 votes — ups the pressure on her to walk that talk, with social issues expected to again be in the spotlight in Georgia.
Who he is: The former CEO of DeKalb County is a political animal who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2008. A tall, imposing figure, the Lithonia-based Jones was a controversial chief executive. A grand jury in 2013 recommended an investigation of Jones into bid-rigging and theft when he was CEO, but District Attorney Robert James said earlier this year that he lacked evidence to show any crimes had occurred.
Why he’s worth watching: His controversial past will always make Jones interesting. But his presence in the House Democratic caucus is likely to cause ripples, too. Will the former head of one of the state’s largest counties be content to be a backbencher in the minority caucus? Or, does Jones immediately start laying the ground work to reach a leadership position.
Who she is: Lopez, a Norcross immigration attorney, will be the first Latina to serve in the General Assembly.
Why she’s worth watching: A native of Mexico who came to the United States with her family at age 5, Lopez represents a new dynamic in a Republican-led state Legislature that has favored strict controls on immigration. Lopez, however, represents the state’s only Latino-majority legislative district and has said she sees her election has an extension of her advocacy work, such as helping young people — including immigrants who lack legal status — go to college.
Who he is: Park, a lawyer, surprised some in November by upsetting three-term Republican incumbent Valerie Clark in House District 101, which sits at the heart of suburban Gwinnett County.
Why he’s worth watching: Park, who is the son of Korean immigrants, will be the only Asian-American representative in the General Assembly. He also happens to be the first openly gay man elected to serve in the state Capitol, bringing the number of gay lawmakers here to four — the most of any legislature in the South.
Who he is: A Vidalia-based former chairman of the Toombs County Commission, Tillery is young, smart and ambitious. Tillery’s ambition, however, was greatly hampered by an April incident in which he hit a bicyclist while driving. The bicyclist died. While police declined to press charges against Tillery, the family of the man who died has filed a wrongful death suit.
Why he’s worth watching: In a Senate Republican caucus clearly split along ideological lines, which side Tillery chooses will gain a serious ally.