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Posted: January 2, 2014 8:06 p.m.

A guide to being a state legislator

After Rep. Doug Holt (R-Social Circle) announced he wasn’t seeking reelection, three contenders immediately stepped up, and with every state seat up for election in 2014, more announcements are coming.

With no shortage of people eager to try their hand at politics, The News decided to give residents a guide to being a state legislator. We asked local legislators about salary, benefits and the traits needed to be a successful elected official.

Salary: Georgia senators and representatives both get the same salary — $17,342. Legislators are considered part-time positions.

Benefits: Legislators also get a $7,000 expense account for costs like legislative aides and office space and supplies, according to state Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-Locust Grove).

They also get a $173 payment for each day they spend in session (the session is generally 40 days long) and for any special hearings they have to travel to outside of session, which nine-year Rep. Doug Holt (R-Social Circle) can add up to around $8,500 during the months the Georgia General Assembly is in session. For those legislators who live within 50 miles of the Capitol (which includes all of Newton County), the per diem costs get taxed as regular income.

Finally, legislators do get retirement benefits, both only if they serve for at least eight years. When a legislator reaches retirement age, they get $36 per month for every year of service. They also get to keep health insurance benefits if they serve eight years or more, said former state senator John Douglas.

Schedule: The Georgia General Assembly is usually in session for 40 days, which are generally spread from mid- January to mid-April (this year, the session is expected to end in March because of earlier election dates).

Holt said a standard work week during session is around 70-80 hours. Jeffares said the first month of session is generally a little slower, so legislators may end up working closer to a 40-hour work week, but he said the time spent ramps up as the session goes along.

The rest of the year is considerably slower, though elected officials do spend time attending events and helping constituents with issues. Jeffares said the time immediately after the session and before a new session starts are generally the busiest times and he’s generally asked to speak at least twice a week.

Douglas said he was on the road “within my five counties at least three nights a week and usually on Saturday morning. I made it a point to attend city council meetings in the 12 incorporated cities I represented because it was a great way to keep abreast with issues and meet citizens coming to those meeting. There were also Republican Party meetings to attend and other types of meetings as well.”

Holt said the one year he added up all of his time, he totaled 1,400 hours.

And none of those estimates included direct campaigning.

“You will lose money being a legislator. The base salary is just shy of $18,000 per year and if you put the time and effort into the job that it should have, you cannot make a monetary profit from it. Do not go into the campaign office thinking otherwise,” Douglas said.

Advice for candidates: “Get out there and work hard 6 days a week to get elected. Meet people, be accessible, be on time, stay late to talk to people, dress the part and speak correct English,” Douglas said. “If you want to be a legislator, you have to look and act like one. Also remember that these days, someone always has a camera and while you may not think you know someone in a room, restaurant or wherever you are, someone in that room knows and is watching you.”

Holt said a good legislator has to be a self-starter and be dedicated to the causes he undertakes.

“If you’re going to take care of the folks at home and have an impact on the issues they’re concerned about, you have to be after it working with other legislators and trying to continue to build groundswell support,” he said.
Having good people skills, being willing to work with all types of people and being accessible were also mentioned as important traits for an elected official.

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