Staying power: they began their legislative careers in 1975--young, eager and committed; and their wisdom continues to guide them today.

Author:Cullen, Morgan
Position:LAWMAKERS
 
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Eight lawmakers from the "freshman class" of 1975--the same year NCSL was founded--are still serving in their state legislatures today. What does it take to have that kind of staying power? Here are three of their stories.

For Representative Calvin Smyre, public service has always been about community. He cut his teeth in politics at Fort Valley University, where he and some friends in student government created a public service organization called the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow. The group worked with the local police, fire departments and businesses to organize some community-based projects.

Smyre's participation in this grassroots organization first inspired him to run for the state legislature. "When word got out that our state legislator had decided not to seek reelection, community leaders who had recognized my volunteer work began encouraging me to run," he says. "After considering it, I thought, what the heck." So at age 26, Calvin Smyre became the youngest member of the Georgia House of Representatives

After earning a B.S. in business administration, his career path has taken him from being director of a "War on Poverty" program in Columbus, Ga., to executive vice president of corporate external affairs at Synovus, a diversified financial services holding company voted into "The 100 Best Companies to Work for" in America by Fortune magazine.

As Georgia's longest-serving state legislator, Smyre is often referred to as the "Dean of the House," and many of his younger colleagues often come to him for guidance. Smyre tells them first to learn the parliamentary rules of the Legislature. "It is pretty difficult to play ball if you don't know the rules of the game" he says.

"When I was first elected to the Georgia House, there were 155 Democrats and 25 Republicans. Today, only 60 Democrats are serving in the House. It is always a challenge when you are in the minority, no matter what party you belong to," he says.

"You have to find ways to pass legislation that your constituents care about, which means building coalitions across party lines to get things done. Being divisive and ideological will get you nowhere."

He serves on the Appropriations, Higher Ed, and the Rules committees and is chairman of the House minority caucus. He's proud of his work on making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a state holiday, developing the Georgia Dome for the Atlanta Falcons football team and creating a new Georgia State Flag.

In 1980, the Atlanta...

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