From the gallery of the Georgia House of Representatives, a morning session of the General Assembly bustled below with resolutions, morning honors and roll call before Leadership Bartow participants heard private presentations from Bartow delegates, state officials and lobbyists to get a better understanding of what happens under the gold dome.
Executive Director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter Jessica Mitcham helped organize Wednesday’s state government program.
”Our goal yesterday was to help the Leadership Bartow class be better aware of what happens down at the state Capitol,” Mitcham said. “To help them understand what our local legislators and local delegation are working to do on behalf of our community and help make sure the Leadership Bartow class was aware of who their legislators are as well as others with significant roles at a state level who are from this community working to serve our community and the entire state.”
In addition to hearing from state representatives and senators, Wednesday’s state government day also featured other familiar faces to Bartow County residents, including Georgia Department of Transportation Board Member Jeff Lewis and State School Superintendent John Barge.
Lawmakers were able to share some about the process of the legislative session and what actions are in progress now, including those with local ties. Those discussed included work being done to a tourism bill for large projects, designed in part with LakePoint in mind. The proposed tourism bill will allow for a larger percentage of sales tax dollars to remain at the local level to help cover the cost of infrastructure, maintenance projects and public safety.
Hearing from state-level officials on topics from education to transportation, Leadership Bartow participant Cheryl Hyde found the greatest impact from Wednesday’s program was realizing a difference between the community she experiences in Bartow compared to other places she has called home.
“I’ve been to the Capitol probably 10 times and I learned more yesterday than I have in my entire life,” Hyde said. “My overall takeaway from the day, was the fact that I have never lived anywhere before where I knew who my legislators were, and frankly I didn’t care; but now that I live here, I first of all, knew all five of them when they walked in the room and second of all, they were all willing to take the time to come talk to us for as long as they did. I don’t think there’s any other place I’ve ever been affiliated with that I even had a clue who they were.”
Hearing from class members, Mitcham found that the highlights for many were either hearing the positive news from Barge about education initiatives around the state or the chance to meet Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham.
“I think that it was really positive to hear from State Superintendent John Barge and hear some of the successes that Georgia is having as a state in working to continue doing a better job educating children,” Mitcham said. “We always hear about areas where we need to improve, but tons of improvement is already happening and that can be seen in our children’s performance in school.
“I’m also amazed at how many people don’t realize that there is a justice on the state supreme court from Bartow County and has been serving the Georgia Supreme Court longer than any other justice.”
Benham, a Cartersville resident, was appointed to the court of appeals by Gov. Joe Frank Harris in 1984 and won state-wide election to serve the court of appeals for five years before being nominated by Harris in 1989 to become a supreme court justice, he was the first African-American to hold either position in the state of Georgia.
A graduate of Summer Hill High School, Benham shared some of his memories growing up in Bartow, including a well-meaning teacher that told him he could never be a lawyer because of his race. Despite the obstacles he faced, Benham credits the support and encouragement of Cartersville and Bartow County for all that he has accomplished.
“It was awesome just to hear about him growing up here and where he’s gone, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots,” Hyde said. “He’s so humble and credits Cartersville for who he is. I just really appreciated his humility.”
Leadership Bartow is a program of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce for local business and civic leaders spanning nine months with one program day a month highlighting a different facet of the community. For more information, visit www.cartersvillechamber.com or call 770-382-1466.