Running for a fourth two-year term, Rep. Jan Tankersley says that serving in the Georgia General Assembly isn’t all about the few issues that tend to make headlines or that divide the parties.
Tankersley, 68, a Republican from Brooklet, faces Democratic challenger James “Major” Woodall, 22, a Georgia Southern University senior eligible for a degree in political science, in the Nov. 8 general election. Each ran unopposed in their respective party primaries in May.
“Once we’re elected, we’re there to represent all the people, and that’s usually around 53,000 people in any state representative’s given district, and at that point in time the party lines fade away, and you’re just there to represent the people, and when people call with a constituent issue, you don’t say are you a Republican or a Democrat,” Tankersley said to start the interview.
She also emphasized that she is a lifelong resident of what is now District 160. It encompasses southern Bulloch County, including a big slice of Statesboro, plus northern Bryan County, including Pembroke. Tankersley and her husband, Hughie, recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. Both their son and daughter, as well as their daughter-in-law and son-in-law, graduated from Georgia Southern, Tankersley said, and one of the three grandchildren is now a student there.
Tankersley herself took a few classes at Georgia Southern, but did not complete college. She graduated from Statesboro High School and later attained accreditation as a medical records technician. Now retired, she worked for 10 years or more at Willingway Hospital, as a bookkeeper and later as director of aftercare.
Five years on Brooklet City Council gave Tankersley her first experience in elected office. Then she was the first woman elected as a Bulloch County commissioner and served 10 years. In 2010, other Association County Commissioners of Georgia delegates elected her ACCG president.
Later in 2010, Tankersley was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, besting one primary opponent to win the seat held by former Rep. Bob Lane after he did not seek re-election.
Tankersley said she believes her experience in town and county government prompted House Speaker David Ralston to ask her to lead a committee at the beginning of her fourth year, earlier than most representatives are offered a chairmanship.
Local bills chair
She chairs the Intergovernmental Coordination Committee, which handles “local bills” that apply to specific cities and counties. A recent example here was the legislation two years ago that created Statesboro’s Tax Allocation District for the South Main Street corridor. This year, 151 bills came through the committee as specifically local, plus one bill, making a school board nonpartisan, that was treated as general legislation.
The local bills appear on a “consent calendar” she submits to the House clerk for daily votes through the session. The Statesboro area’s small delegation, consisting of Tankersley, Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, and Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, informally agree to submit only local bills they all support. But larger delegations, including some in the Atlanta area with more than a dozen members, submit delegation rules to Tankersley at the start of each two-year session.
When delegations do not agree, local bills can meet opposition on the House floor or require a hearing by her committee members from all over the state, she said.
“And so my role is to try to get them to reach a consensus before I put it on the House calendar,” Tankersley said.
This requires her to work with all 180 members from both parties, she said.
Tankersley also serves as a regular member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, and on the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for economic development.
After several years of cuts in funding to state government departments and local school systems, Georgia’s tax revenues are now resurging. One important use for this money, Tankersley said, is to rebuild the state’s reserve, depleted during the downturn.
The Legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal have also begun to put a chunk of the cash into pay raises for state law enforcement officers. In the last session, they funded a 6 percent raise for these officers, including agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources as well as the Georgia State Patrol.
Before that raise, GSP salaries were the lowest of any highway patrol in the 50 states, Ralston and Tankersley have said in separate interviews. Since the initial raise, the agency has reported a continuing shortage of qualified recruits.
Deal has proposed a further 20 percent raise next year for state law officers and has the support of Tankersley and many other legislators.
“One of the big things that we’re concerned about is public safety, and we want to make sure that we can recruit candidates and that when we invest in their training that they will stay with us,” she said.
The Legislature also approved raises this year for educators, school bus drivers and lunchroom workers, Tankersley noted.
When additional money is available, she wants it directed to budget categories that grow jobs, she said.
“Education, workforce development, having good transportation and other good infrastructure, all that is economic development, and I’m going to remain dedicated to doing what we need to do as a state to encourage new industries with higher paying jobs and also do what we can to help the existing businesses with expansion,” Tankersley said.
Constituents expect legislators to bring state investment in these areas to their districts, she said. She points to almost $79 million for new buildings and equipment at Georgia Southern and $6.6 million for construction and renovation at Ogeechee Technical College since fiscal year 2012 and into 2017.
She said she loves Georgia Southern and wants to continue to lobby “for appropriate funding … to keep it a desirable place to be in school and that’s well equipped to prepare our students out there for their future.”
This year, the Legislature put an additional $59.1 million into the lottery-funded HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarship programs statewide. This was need for “the growth in the number of high performing, eligible students staying in the state for college, Tankersley said.
She said she will work to see that HOPE never goes away.
Legislators also serve as liaisons between local governments that apply for grants and state agencies, she noted, such as grants of about $500,000 each for Pembroke and Statesboro city infrastructure projects recently approved by the Department of Community Affairs.
She called the Department of Transportation commissioner to secure a project that will add a flashing caution light near Bryan County Elementary School in Pembroke and a sidewalk to the school.
Tankersley also noted ways she has brought local people to Atlanta, such as an event she arranged for the Statesboro-based Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation, of which she is a member. Selected young women from the area went to the Capitol where they were met by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, House Majority Leader Jan Jones, R-Milton, and other female legislators and lobbyists.
“I love it, and I am not aspiring for higher office,” Tankersley said. “I am pleased to be serving right where I am.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.