ATLANTA – Jodi Lott hasn’t had much time for her election to the House of Representatives to sink in because she quickly found herself in the midst of the legislative hubbub.
She won a spirited special election and runoff in December to complete the term of Ben Harbin who resigned after 20 years to become a lobbyist. Before her inaugural legislative session ends, she’ll have to qualify for re-election and start campaigning all over again the moment the final gavel falls March 24.
Already the mother of two has missed a birthday – the 8-year-old’s. And she relies heavily on her husband Jason to keep the household running while she’s away in Atlanta.
It was when her youngest – the other child is 14 – entered school that she had a little time to take from the small physical-therapy clinic she and Jason run. She used the time to get involved with the local chamber of commerce, which included her only trip to the Capitol before she became a legislator.
“I probably would not have thought to run for office if it were not for the Affordable Care Act,” she said.
Her company’s insurance was canceled three times, and the premiums grew with each new insurance policy. The frustration led her to monitor Congress closely, but it was the chamber’s trip to the statehouse that prompted her to think about state government.
But politics was never really foreign to her. Lott’s grandfather was a legislator in Maine, and she keeps his legislator car tag in her office. An uncle was also a legislator. Her father was president of her hometown city council.
“I grew up with my dad spending every weekend at city meetings,” she said.
So, she had a realistic idea of how much work was involved. She just wasn’t ready for the volume of information with more than 1,000 bills pending in the House.
“When you get here, you think you can control it all,” she said.
Despite arriving to the office at 6 a.m. except on days when she drives in from Evans, she’s discovered no one can read and master every bill, policy paper and email. Lott’s quickly learning to rely on her colleagues for help. Their expertise often comes from their own professional backgrounds, so one trick to deciding how to vote on a given bill is to find the colleague who works in that field, she said.
That’s why she’s pleased to have been assigned to the House Committee on Health and Human Relations so she can draw from her own career knowledge and be a resource for other lawmakers as a nurse running Evans Rehabilitation with her physical-therapist husband.
Already, she’s making her mark.
Feb. 8, she passed her first bill in the House. The leadership assigned her a noncontroversial “housekeeping” bill to clarify some wording in existing law about medical labs that had become an issue in a lawsuit. It passed unanimously, but not before she was initiated with some nonsense questions from the veterans while she was standing alone in the House well for the first time.
“It’s legendary, the fact of having her first bill on the floor of the House in less than a month being of in the chamber,” said Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem. “I think she’s going to do a good job for Columbia County.”
He credits her with a host of assets that contribute to her success.
“Jodi’s made a very positive impact on the members of the House, in my opinion,” he said “She’s intelligent. She’s always cheerful. She’s catching on very fast to the process.”
Someone who has a more recent memory of what it’s like to be the newest rookie in the 180-member House is Rep. Brian Prince, D-Augusta. He was also elected in a special election a month before the 2014 session, meaning he was junior to even the other freshmen who started a year earlier, just as Lott is.
Prince says she has a key attribute for working with the diverse personalities and policy positions in the House.
“She listens to both sides,” he said. “She’s definitely an asset, not only to Richmond-Columbia County, but she’s going to be somebody useful to the whole state.”
Lott considers herself “just an ordinary working person” determined to represent her district faithfully. By that, she means she hasn’t given up her role as finance manager for the family business, squeezing in attention to that job during odd hours between nonstop legislative meetings that begin at breakfast and continue until sundown or later. Plus, she’s still a mother and wife.
As far as ambition, she says her goal was pushing herself to a new challenge – not necessarily triumphing over the three other candidates.
“I would have been OK with not winning, but not OK with not running,” she said.
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