Jackson “Jay” Powell passed away last week at the too young age of 67. He was perhaps one of the most powerful
people in Georgia that you may never have heard of.
elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2008 representing his home
county of Mitchell along with portions of Decatur and Colquitt counties. He served as Mayor of Camilla Georgia for the
decade prior to his service in the House.
collapsed and died at a leadership retreat of House members who were meeting to
prepare for the upcoming session of the Georgia legislature. He served as the Chairman of the House Rules
Committee, which is the committee all legislation must pass before reaching the
floor for a final vote in the Georgia House.
It is rare
that legislation will pass a committee over the objection of a Chairman. As such, the Rules Chairman of the House and
Senate serve as gatekeepers on the flow of bills on their way to become
It’s a position
of great responsibility that is rarely the subject of headlines and usually
only followed closely by the true insiders of the political sausage making
process. Those that do follow however,
understand that a smile from Powell meant things were going to be OK for a
bill, whereas a scowl or a thumbs down meant trouble at a minimum, and a
terminal road block if concerns could not be assuaged.
Prior to his ascension
to Rules Chairman, Powell served as Chairman of the Ways and Means
Committee. There, he oversaw Georgia’s tax policy for the
House. His committee was responsible for
setting tax rates that raised the revenue required to pay our teachers, public
safety officers, and public health programs while maintaining Georgia’s “number
one state to do business” ranking.
It was always
a difficult balancing act, which required maximum attention to detail. Powell excelled at the details, both on
spreadsheets, legal documents, and personal relationships.
He was a
champion for rural Georgia. He, along
with House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, was a founding co-Chairman of
the House Rural Development Council. The
committee traveled the state for two years studying complex issues facing rural
Georgians and proposing many initiatives that were incorporated into
legislation that became law.
He was a
confidant of Speaker David Ralston who said on his passing, “Jay Powell reflected the
best of the Republican Party’s traditions. At the same time, he enjoyed an
unrivaled respect and admiration from members of the minority party.”
And it is the words of praise regarding Powell’s substance
that demonstrate the power and work of someone who prioritized results over
headlines. Atlanta Democratic
Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, who attended church with Powell when he
was in Atlanta, said in part “Jay and
I sat together on both the Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees for
years, and worked on many issues through final drafts and negotiations. He was
usually the smartest and hardest working legislator in the room, but also the
one I could trust the most.”
political emphasis today is given to the bomb throwers and back benchers who
give good headlines and generate media clicks.
Not enough is given to those who are responsible for balancing budgets,
setting unwanted but necessary tax rates, and knowing when to say “yes” and
when to say “no” to legislation as it works through the process. They are the ones who ultimately must bear
the consequences of tough decisions.
To be a
mayor is to be able to balance a budget while keeping the police force on
patrol and keeping the potholes filled. To be a legislator is to represent the
concerns of the folks back home while in Atlanta. And to be a committee chairman is to take
responsibility for any issue before the legislature as the definitive subject
matter expert to the other citizen legislators on the issue before the
Powell did all of that over two decades of public service. He did most of it
quietly but deliberately, calling little attention to himself along the
way. While you may not have heard of
him, his imprint on Georgia is one that has touched us all.
Publisher of GeorgiaPol.com
UGA & GSU degrees in Economics
Executive Director for PolicyBEST
Interests are public policy solutions in Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation that keep GA competitive and a great place to live.