Charlie Harper: Sine Die for Jim Tudor

Charlie Harper

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Today’s Jim Tudor Day.  Actually, that was a couple of weeks ago when he was honored for his years of service as a lobbyist at the Capitol.  Jim is the capitol face for the association that represents Georgia’s gas stations and convenience stores.  At least, that’s his official role. Jim is also the embodiment of the Southern Gentleman.

Let me first take a step back and say something about the Capitol community – and it is one in every sense.  For those that don’t get to experience the Gold Dome in person, you may have a certain idea about the profession of lobbyists.  Often, it’s less than a flattering one.  Like any profession there are bad actors.  Hopefully the following few words about Jim can help you change your perceptions a bit.  He’s not just a credit to lobbyists.  He’s a credit to Georgians and as the pictures I’ve included below will demonstrate, he’s a window into our history.

I’ve been Facebook friends with Jim for a few years, and believe we met for the first time during last session.  As you might imagine, Jim also has followed the evolving process that led to this year’s transportation funding bill closely.  We saw each other at most of the study committee hearings.  He testified at at least one of them – Rome I believe.

And as you may guess, we didn’t exactly see eye to eye on the issue.  Jim politely but strongly urged those that would listen to consider the plight of his members, especially those in border areas like Columbus and Augusta, that would lose business to customers that could quickly drive across a short bridge to save a dime or more on gasoline.  He clearly had to struggle to maintain his gentlemanly persona when the idea of adding a buck or more to the pack of cigarettes was floated.  Gas prices get customers to the stores.  The money for most of his association’s members is made by what they purchase on the inside.  If customers start making their purchases where gas is a bit cheaper and cigarettes are a lot cheaper, there would be real pain to operators near the state line. It was Jim’s job to make sure that fact was included in the discussion.

And it was.  That’s one reason the excise tax ended up at $.26 instead of the House’s proposed $.29, with the balance made up by increased hotel taxes.  It spared some of the burden to be born by stores where interstate competition could leave them with fewer customers.

Relationships matter at the capitol, as does the level of respect for those that you know who do their job well and with honor. I reached out to Jim to let him know where I stood on increasing the excise tax, but also wanted to know I heard his concern. I made sure he knew that I would be glad to help him disseminate any information he felt relevant to the debate, regardless of any policy position I may be editorializing.  We talked frequently since.  I learned a little in every conversation. 

The “friends in the hall” at the capitol that fill the 3rd floor railings each perform a similar task.  The importance of this to a legislature made up of everyday citizens can’t be underestimated and is something I’ve come to appreciate now that I’m spending a bit of time down there myself.  While some have clients that back large expense accounts, most lobbyists are there to be subject matter experts.  When bills come to committee that will affect Georgians, it’s often the lobbyists that can point to the consequences – intended and unintended – before votes are taken.  It’s not just their job to sell, but to inform.  How each lobbyist conducts him or herself goes to the level of trust that each legislator will put in him/her.  With trust comes relationships, and with relationships comes influence.

In addition to being a subject matter expert, Jim also begins his day as a matter of service.  I believe I recall him telling me he gets up at 4am to drive in to Atlanta from his home in the East Atlanta exurbs, picks up morning refreshments, and stocks the House & Senate anterooms daily.  He’s also kind enough to leave a few plates of donuts for those of us in the press gallery.  We never see him in there, but we know who does it.  Every day.

Jim leaves a position he’s held since my senior year in high school.  Reminder: I now have gray hair.  He’s seen a lot.  He’s influenced a lot.  And by everything I’ve witnessed and everything I’ve heard about him, he’s done everything honorably and by the book.  It can be done, and Jim retires today from an honorable career in an honorable profession.  It’s been an honor to work around him.