PARROTT/CUTHBERT, Ga. -- The state Democratic party lost 63 years of legislative experience this week when longtime Reps. Bob Hanner and Gerald Greene announced they were switching party affiliation.
Hanner, a Parrott insurance executive who was first sworn in as a Democrat in 1975, and Greene, a Cuthbert retiree who has served as a Democrat in the state House since 1983, both said they made the switch to better serve their Southwest Georgia constituents.
"I really prayed about this and just decided to leave it in the hands of the Lord," Greene said. "But reapportionment is coming up, and that's a big thing for Southwest Georgia. We can't have an impact if we're not at the table."
Hanner, too, said he expected to have more of an impact working with the majority party.
"I've talked with several folks in my district, and I think they understand that with the changes in Atlanta, I have an opportunity to be a more effective representative by working with the majority Republican party," he said. "I look forward to the opportunity to do positive things for our region."
Hanner represents the 148th House District, which includes part of Lee County as well as Chattahoochee, Quitman, Stewart, Terrell and Webster counties. Greene's 149th District includes Calhoun, Clay, Early, Miller, Randolph and Seminole counties.
Hanner, who chaired the House redistricting efforts in 2000, was among a group of state and area officials that endorsed Democratic U.S. House District 2 Rep. Sanford Bishop in his recent successful quest to win a 10th term. Hanner said Wednesday he stood by his support of Bishop and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes.
"I endorsed Sanford Bishop because I felt he's done a good job in the U.S. House," Hanner said. "And I make no bones that I supported Roy Barnes as well. I have always -- and I will continue to -- support the people who I think will do the best job.
"I'll admit that I am a little sad to be leaving the Democratic party after more than 35 years, but I have always been a conservative Democrat and I expect I will continue to vote the way I always have, the way that best supports the people I represent."
Greene said that while he has been thinking about a party switch for a considerable amount of time, he had a tough time making the ultimate decision to move forward with his plan.
"I did not sleep well before or after I made this decision," he said. "It just wasn't an easy decision to make. I love the Democratic party, and I have no ill will for anyone in the party. This isn't about anything that anyone did. I just wanted to be where I could help the people of this district most.
"I've talked with a number of people in my district since I officially made the decision, and about 99 percent of them said they understood why I'm making the switch. I'll still be Gerald Greene tomorrow, just as I am today. I don't think a party label is going to make that much difference."
Greene said he hopes the change will have an impact on such issues as the state Transportation Committee "stymying me the last few years on the last 23 miles of (Georgia) Highway 27" and on the "water issue."
"We have a new governor and new leadership now," he said. "This was a hard, hard decision, but it was not about Gerald Greene. It was about the people of Southwest Georgia and the people of this district."