We’ve spent a lot of time talking about people running for office this year, but I want to note the departure of a few who are running away from public office.
As legislators finished up the session in March, three of the most promising lawmakers announced they would not be running again: Reps. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), BJ Pak (R-Lilburn), and Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville).
None of them had served in the General Assembly for more than three terms, but they all made a mark in their short tenures.
Dudgeon, who served on the Forsyth County school board before winning a legislative seat, played a major role in getting several important education bills passed.
He also performed the Herculean feat of getting a bill passed that makes it easier for homeowners to lease solar panels to generate their own electricity — and even more amazingly, was able to persuade Georgia Power not to kill it.
Pak, an attorney, was the first Korean-American to be elected to the Georgia Legislature (he immigrated with his family to the U.S. at age 9). He is a thoughtful conservative who handled complex tax bills as a member of the Ways and Means committee and took a more moderate position than many of his caucus colleagues on immigration issues.
Mabra, who’s also a lawyer, was a member of the Democratic caucus that only holds one-third of the seats in the House. He was still able to get some bills passed into law, including one to create a new Superior Court judgeship to help handle the growing caseloads in Clayton County.
All three of them were off to impressive starts as lawmakers and had the potential to run for higher office or move up the leadership ranks at the capitol. These are guys with star quality, but they all decided to pull out and go back to their districts early.
They all had good reasons for doing it.
“I really hate to leave the Georgia House, but the reality is that my business commitments no longer give me enough time to serve,” said Dudgeon, who has an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and has been the chief technology officer for a video game business.
“We are now in full high-tech growth company mode,” Dudgeon said. “In doing both jobs, my work-life balance is not sustainable. Therefore I have to step away from politics for the time being.”
Pak and his wife, Sandra, are raising three young daughters and he felt it was better to spend more time with them.
“When I came back into public service in this role, I made a promise to myself, my family, and my friends that I will give it my all during my time here, and that I would return to being a citizen after a few terms,” Pak said. “I am fulfilling that promise.”
Mabra played football at Georgia Tech as a defensive back under Coach George O’Leary and moved on to the University of Georgia to get his law degree. His father, Ron Mabra Sr., also played defensive back for a couple of seasons with the Atlanta Falcons in the 1970s.
He and his wife, Dawn, recently had their first son, and she wants to go to medical school to become a physician.
“I am very fortunate to have a loving wife that has supported me while I was building a law practice, while I ran for public office, and as I have served the people of District 63,” Mabra said. “It is now time that I be by her side as she pursues her dreams.”
It was common practice in the old days for legislators to hang around for 10 or 20 years so that they could build up seniority and get a committee chairmanship or a leadership position.
Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) and Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon) are examples of the old school. Both were first elected to the Legislature in 1974 and have more or less been there ever since.
These days, it seems that the talented lawmakers make their mark quickly and move on to something else. I understand why they do it, but I wish they could be persuaded to stick around for a while. They really do make a difference.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.