PARROT -- When news of Georgia's census-based reapportionment was handed down last year, Bob Hanner and his longtime friend and fellow Southwest Georgia state representative, Gerald Greene, were braced for the inevitable bad news.
The loss of regional population in a state that was among those with the most growth over the last decade meant one thing: Something had to give. Unfortunately for Hanner, a Parrott Republican from the 148th District, and Greene, R-Cuthbert, who represents the 149th, that something came directly down on them. For Hanner to return to the Golden Dome for his 38th year or for Greene to come back for his 31st, the two would have to face each other later this year, much as they did more than three decades ago.
"We talked about it -- knew it was coming -- and I told Bob I wouldn't run if he decided to," Greene said of the possible showdown for the newly redrawn House District 151 seat. "Of course, Bob being the person he is, he said he wouldn't run if I decided to. That's kind of the secret we've kept between us for a while now."
Hanner settled the matter once and for all on March 29 when he announced from the House floor that he would not seek re-election. With his family in attendance, the long-serving representative said an emotional farewell to his colleagues in a speech that Greene called "a real tear-jerker."
"That was a pretty hard thing to do," Hanner said of his announcement. "I did it with mixed emotions. I'd asked the speaker (David Ralston) for five minutes to thank the people of Southwest Georgia and my family, and he said, 'Mr. Hanner, you've been here 37 years; take as long as you want.'
"I plan to stay involved with local activities, but my health now is as good as it's been in a while and I'm ready to do a little more fishing. It's time to move on."
Greene, who ran unsuccessfully against Hanner before finally winning a seat in the House in 1982, said that while Southwest Georgia will lose one of its legislative champions, Hanner will still impact the region.
"Everyone in this position comes to that time in their life, when they know the time is right (to step down)," Greene said. "Bob came to me and said, 'It's time to enjoy my grandchildren, time to enjoy my life.'
"It won't be the same without him in Atlanta, but I know he's not going to just be sitting around. He's just like everyone who stays in this for any period of time: There's something wrong with us. I talk with him all the time anyway; we're always sharing ideas. I don't see us breaking that chain."
Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, called his soon-to-be former colleague one of the House's true gentlemen.
"Rep. Hanner has always been a master of old-school politics," Rynders said. "He never offended anyone; he had an even-tempered approach to difficult situations and difficult votes.
"Simply put, Rep. Hanner was always a gentleman. The respect he got was genuine; everyone likes Bob."
Lee County Commission Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge praised Hanner for advocating for the unique needs of the region.
"Bob Hanner will be sorely missed in Atlanta," Muggridge said. "He's been a great advocate for rural and Southwest Georgia. He sat on vital Natural Resources and Agriculture committees, and those are the things that are so important to our region.
"Bob knew everyone (in Atlanta), and he knew how to get things done. Our region remains under-represented, and champions like (Hanner) are few and far between."
The owner of the Dawson-based Bob Hanner & Associates insurance agency, Hanner was first elected in a special called election in 1975. He spent most of his career as a Democrat but announced, along with Greene, in 2010 that he'd decided to switch parties.
"It was the right decision to make," Hanner said. "The way I looked at it, whether I was a Democrat or a Republican, I was still Bob Hanner. I was still going to do what I thought would best serve the people of Southwest Georgia. In order to do that, I thought (in 2010) it would be better to be part of the team rather than be one of those people on the outside throwing rocks."
Hanner was impacted by serious health problems recently, but he said those issues were not part of his decision to step down.
"I'd really like for folks to know that my health had nothing to do with this," he said. "I'm in better health right now than I've been in the last several years. I'm eating right, walking every day, and I'm really pleased with the way I'm coming along."
Greene vouches for his friend's improved health.
"He definitely had some issues there for a while, some serious issues," Greene said. "But looking at him today, you can see he's had a real Lord's blessing."
Hanner leaves office as a member of the House Appropriations and Rules committees and as secretary of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment as well as the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
"I think the work I did as chair and co-chair of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee is the most important of my career," he said. "We passed a statewide water management plan that is going to be vital for years to come. Water is going to be THE issue of the 2000s."
Just as it was when he entered office, Hanner says economic development is one of the most crucial issues facing Georgia as he leaves the House.
"What (the Legislature) has to look at is that you can't just grow one part of the state," he said. "The metro (Atlanta) area is going to run out of water and clean air if they keep adding more people and more businesses. The state has got to develop more opportunities outside the capital.
"The (Hartsfield Jackson) Atlanta airport is a big attraction, so the state could push for growth outside the metro area by beefing up regional airports."
Greene, who said he would make a run for the new 151st district -- which will include all are parts of nine counties: Dougherty, Terrell, Calhoun, Early, Randolph, Stewart, Quitman, Clay and Webster -- said he'd rely on his old friend as he attempts to return to Atlanta, a trip he'll make without Hanner for the first time in three decades.
"Bob taught me so much over the years," Greene said. "If I have an opportunity to continue to serve, we'll still be in close touch. But it won't be the same without him."