Anna Bentley 2016-01-29 01:13:21
EIGHT STATE LEGISLATORS WHO BRING A UNIQUE ENGINEERING PERSPECTIVE TO THE STATE'S CAPITOL The Georgia General Assembly is a citizen legislature, composed of men and women from all walks of life - different upbringings, educational backgrounds and areas of expertise - who take a few months away from their regular jobs each year to represent their communities under the Gold Dome. Teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, pilots, restaurant owners, insurance agents, contractors, farmers, funeral directors and small businessmen and women bring their diverse backgrounds and perspectives to the mix. But there’s also a lot of common ground, especially among the eight state Representatives and Senators with backgrounds or careers in engineering. Whether a software engineer or agriculture engineer, these engineering lawmakers bring their attention to detail, process-oriented approach and solution- focused mindset to the laws and regulations up for debate in each year’s session. Get to know Georgia’s “Engineering Caucus” - what they have in common, their unique strengths and how they are helping craft much more than the state’s buildings, roads and networks. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE DUDGEON The son of a University of Alabama electrical engineering professor, Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) has been an engineer - whether at heart or by profession - for as long as he can remember. “Even in the ’70s I was doing some very early computer stuff well before any other kids were, so I kind of caught the bug from my dad,” he says. Dudgeon earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Highlights from his more than 25-year career include five U.S. patents; plenty of custom software engineering, hardware design engineering and custom consulting solutions; and three successful technology startups. Dudgeon currently serves as chief technology officer at Hi-Rez Studios, a video game development company based in metro Atlanta. His transition to public service came about in the mid-2000s as a result of frustration with his local school board. After serving on the Forsyth County Board of Education, he ran for an open seat in the House of Representatives to continue pursuing his passion for education policy. Now, technology in education is one of his main focuses in the House - he serves as Vice Chairman of the House Education Committee and Chairman of the Education Subcommittee on Academic Support. For Dudgeon, his engineering background and project management focus help to frame legislative issues as a sequence of logical steps, with A following B following C. “It helps solve problems,” he says, “and politics is filled with problems. It’s easier in politics just to have the sound bite, but at the end of the day you have to have a 10- to 15-page bill filled with detailed policy. “Most people who get into politics are people- people. You have to be at least somewhat of a people-person to be in politics. The problemsolving background is sort of a different way of thinking about things, and it really helps.” SENATOR FRANK GINN “For me, I’m really a utility engineer,” says Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville). “I’ve been in the utility business for most of my career. ” Ginn followed in his father’s footsteps by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Georgia. After graduating in 1985, he started a three decade career in Georgia’s utilities businesses, first starting with Jackson EMC in different capacities and then as City Manager for the cities of Royston and Sugar Hill, which both provide their citizens with natural gas. He also served as the first County Manager for Franklin County for 10 years, all the time gaining experience in the water and sewer utility business. From his experience, first in electric utilities engineering at Jackson EMC and later as a city and county manager, it was a natural progression to the Senate: “You think about guys in the electric business, they’re there to serve the people. And then you look at local government, we do the same thing,” he says. “As a legislator, we also serve people, but we’re actually chosen by those we represent. I never thought I’d ever run for anything, but it’s quite an honor to be in this position, and for me, it has expanded my horizons exponentially. ” First elected in 2010, Ginn uses his experience as both a utilities engineer and city/county manager to serve as Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee and Vice Chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. SENATOR TYLER HARPER “Engineering is all about a challenge,” says Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), a Senator representing the state’s 7th District. Harper is a 2009 graduate from the University of Georgia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering with an emphasis on mechanical systems. “I like the challenge. Engineering is all about critical thinking and trying to solve problems,” he says. “Even though I’m not an active engineer with an engineering firm, I still use the techniques that I learned every day in my work, whether it be working in the rental property side or the agricultural side of my business.” Harper runs and operates a farm growing mainly peanuts and cotton in south Georgia, as well as helps operate multiple other businesses from rental property to small construction. Agriculture serves a big role in Harper’s work; he currently serves as President of the Georgia Young Farmers Association. He also credits a congressional fellowship for U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, who served on the Senate Agriculture Committee, for igniting his interest in local politics. “That experience was really when I fell in love with the political process,” he says. “I knew then that someday I’d want to serve in some capacity and be involved with politics.” In his second term, Harper is Chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee and Vice Chairman of the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. SENATOR BILL HEATH Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), who has served District 31 for more than 10 years, transferred a lifelong interest in systems engineering and controls processes into a successful engineering business, as well as a somewhat unexpected political career, first in the Georgia House of Representatives and then in the State Senate. “I feel like it’s a calling, if you will,” he says. “It’s a job that needs to be done and a role that requires attention to detail. While I don’t think that I always get everything right, I do believe what I’m doing is a service to our state.” Heath recalls building alarm systems for vehicles and houses throughout high school, an interest he continued to pursue at Southern Polytechnic University by earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology. Since then, he’s continued to focus on controls and controls systems for coin and currency processing and security clients through his family business, Design Specialists. Here, he designs and constructs circuit boards, system mechanics and software for custom solutions. He’s also named on eight U.S. patents relating to coin and currency processing, either as an inventor or co-inventor. “I pay a lot of attention to the details. I can attribute that to my engineering background. I’m also very process-oriented,” he says. “I probably look at the risk associated with different efforts we’re working on with a little closer eye than others may.” Heath, who also raises cattle and calves with B&S Farms, served as President of State Agriculture and Rural Leaders from 2010-2014. He currently serves as Chair of the Senate Government Oversight Committee. SENATOR HUNTER HILL Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), Senator from Georgia’s 6 th District, pursued a bachelor’s degree in general management with a minor in civil engineering from the Unites States Military Academy at West Point - a combination that has served him well in his career in the Army, engineering/real estate industries and the State Senate. “I liked the notion of infrastructure and building large roads, bridges and buildings,” he says. “I’ve loved the leadership aspect of it as well - managing architects, engineers and contractors - and seeing the idea come to physical life.” Hill further developed his leadership skills through multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan before beginning his career in the engineering and real estate industries at Carter & Associates, where he managed the buildout of large office buildings and industrial parks. Eventually, his natural inclination for public service and leadership led to running for - and winning - the Senate seat in 2012. He currently serves as the Majority Caucus Vice Chairman; Chairman of the Senate Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee; and Vice Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Although building public policy is not quite the same as building office complexes, he sees parallels in the skills needed to succeed at both: “There is a science behind it,” he says. “You have to gather facts. You have to get the foundational principles of any argument. “Thinking through issues from an engineering perspective is beneficial for the creation of good laws; having an engineer’s scientific mind is good for the development of sound public policy as well.” SENATOR RICK JEFFARES Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) has served the state’s 17th District since his first election in 2010, building on a nearly 10-year record of public service leadership and more than 30 years of experience in the water and wastewater industry across Georgia. Jeffares began his career with the Henry County Water Authority as a water plant operator in the early 1980s, eventually serving as Director of water and wastewater treatment for the City of Covington and Director of water and water pollution control for the City of McDonough. Now, Jeffares splits his time between G. Ben Turnipseed Engineers and J&T Environmental Services, a water/wastewater system operations and maintenance firm he founded in 1999. Between the two positions, Jeffares helps manage water and wastewater systems across the state, from initial surveying and plan design to everyday maintenance and emergency repairs. For Jeffares, his transition to the Senate was a natural progression from serving as Locust Grove’s City Manager and then on the Board of Commissioners for Henry County. He believes his fellow engineers bring a unique focus to the Capitol: “We’re detailed-oriented people. So, I think we may pay a little more attention to detail on some of the legislative endeavors.” Jeffares is currently Chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee and Vice Chairman of both the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee and the Senate State Institutions and Property Committee. He has also served as Vice President of the Georgia Rural Water Association for the last 15 years and volunteers with Water Missions International, a nonprofit that provides clean water and water system support to developing countries and disaster areas around the world. REPRESENTATIVE BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, P.E. Having just completed his first full term, Rep. Brad Raffensperger, P.E. (R-Johns Creek) considers his analytical decision-making approach - honed through decades of experience as an engineer and contractor working on bridges, nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams and post-tensioned concrete structures - an asset in tackling the state’s legislative issues. “As engineers, solutions are based on sound reasoning and practical judgment. We bring that knowledge and specific expertise that others might not have and our fellow legislators bring their unique talents and gifting. Working together we can sift through and develop a solid consensus that incorporates all of the relevant aspects to the policy objectives so we develop good legislation. Together, I think that’s how we end up with better legislation that reflects what the true needs are for the state of Georgia.” Raffensperger earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Western University and an MBA from Georgia State University. He is a registered professional engineer in about 30 states and a licensed general contractor in 10 states, and through his engineering/ construction firm Tendon Systems, LLC, he now focuses primarily on commercial structures such as hotels, multifamily apartments and office buildings. Before running for the House of Representatives, Raffensperger served on the Johns Creek City Council as a way to make a difference on a local level. Now, in the House, he hopes to continue making tangible impacts across the state: “Bit by bit, over a period of 5 years, 10 years - even 20 years, you can build some tremendous positive changes for your state and for your citizens,” he says. REPRESENTATIVE ED SETZLER “I think one of the strengths of our industry is the ability to delve into great technical depth when needed, but also be able to pan back out to see the big picture,” says Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), 35th District Representative. Managing uncertainty, small details and big- picture strategy have been constants throughout his career as an Operations and Project Manager for nationwide engineering, architecture and environmental programs. Setzler earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Furman University in 1992 before beginning a nine-year career as a U.S. Army officer with assignments in Europe, North Africa and the Persian Gulf. Setzler’s technical background includes management of military warehouse renovations, energy and environmental assessment programs nationwide. These programs include training and mobilizing nationwide project teams and managing sensitive client data. These professional skills were directly applicable to managing his first State House campaign in 2004. “Leading teams and managing technical data is a skill set we perhaps don't have enough of,” he says. “There’s a fair number of successful attorneys and small business people in the legislature, but there’s not many people in the engineering, environmental and development-related professions. I think that legislators from these backgrounds are able to contribute to the legislative process in a unique way.” Setzler was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2004 and is currently the Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.
Published by American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. View All Articles.
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