WASHINGTON – We wrote the other day about how Georgia’s congressional delegation has grown greener over the last two election cycles.
Taking out U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop and John Lewis, Georgia’s longest-serving members of Congress, the average tenure of a Georgian on Capitol Hill is about five years by our tally; Ten of the delegation’s 16 members have served in Congress for six years or less.
Even though Georgia has lost a lot of its institutional memory over the last several years, many of the state’s more junior lawmakers have been working to build names for themselves on Capitol Hill in recent years. Here are some of the up-and-comers we’ll be watching in 2017:
Tom Graves, R-Ranger – With Tom Price’s expected departure to become health secretary, Graves is in line to become Georgia’s senior-most House Republican after less than seven years on Capitol Hill. He’s positioned himself as the heir-apparent to the unofficial role held by former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of big brother to the state’s 10 House Republicans, helping mentor younger lawmakers and serving as the state’s rep on the powerful panel that doles out committee assignments. Does he take a more robust leadership role now that Westmoreland has retired? Graves will also be worth watching as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, where he’s expected to get a promotion that will give him a thumb on roughly $23 billion worth of federal programs, including the IRS.
Doug Collins, R-Gainesville – Collins only just now started his third term in the House, but he’s been quick to chart a path up the Republican leadership chain. He somewhat unexpectedly won a lower-level leadership position over a well-known opponent in the days after the election and even mulled moving up one more rung for a short time. Collins’ new role will give him substantially more visibility in Washington in 2017. How does he use his expanded influence to his benefit? For starters, one of the first bills passed by the House will likely have his name on it. On the other hand, will Collins be forced to become a cheerleader for unpopular but necessary legislation he doesn’t necessarily love such as raising the debt limit and government spending bills in order to be a team player?
David Scott, D-Atlanta – Ok, Scott isn’t exactly new to Congress or Georgia politics, but he’s one to watch because of his status as a virtual endangered species on Capitol Hill: a centrist, Blue Dog Democrat. Indeed, he hasn’t been afraid to (vocally) buck his party on some national security, economic and foreign policy issues in the past. We’ll be watching Scott to see if he’s more willing to look across the aisle now that the GOP controls all levers of power in Washington in order to advance his agenda, which at the moment includes creating a new pot of money for 19 historically black colleges and universities and incentivizing businesses to hire and train young black men for infrastructure work.
Jody Hice, R-Monroe – Hice largely flew under the radar during his first two years in Congress, but he’s recently been picked for a spot on the board of the House Freedom Caucus. That gives him a bigger opportunity to shape proposals coming out of the new but immensely influential group. Comprising of roughly 40 rambunctious conservatives, the Freedom Caucus has been unafraid to buck its own party leaders in the two years since its inception in order to shape (or block) key legislation and put checks on power. Going into 2017, the group has enough members to essentially veto any Republican legislation it doesn’t like. That gives it enormous power in an era of united GOP government. Will Hice emerge as a key figure on any issues?
There’s also Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, whom we’ve written about a lot recently. We’re particularly interested in how he, Graves and U.S. Reps. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, and Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, work to rebuild Georgia’s clout in Capitol Hill’s tight-knit defense community, particularly with another possible round of military base closures on the horizon. Pooler Republican Buddy Carter’s new spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee will also put him at the center of key battles over health care, energy and trade.
Check out our other 2017 previews: