Sitting behind the desk of his tiny office in downtown Dawsonville on a morning in early December, Rep. Kevin Tanner reflected that throughout his time in the general assembly, he was proud to rise above politics and focus on policy.
But after four terms serving Georgia House District 9, which encompasses Dawson and Lumpkin Counties and part of northern Forsyth County, and an unsuccessful bid for Georgia's District 9 Congressional seat, Tanner will step out of the world of politics this January and says he has no plans to return.
“The last four terms in the general assembly have really been the time of my life, in a lot of ways it's been challenging, but I've been able to do what I wanted to do, and that was to work on some meaningful bigger issues,” Tanner said.
Thinking about the big issues he worked on over the last eight years, Tanner said that he and other policymakers on both sides of the aisle were able to do good work with Georgia’s Freight Logistics Commission and Mental Health Reform Commission.
“I worked on things like education and transportation and mental health, and things that I felt like would really move us forward as a state,” he said. "So I'm going to miss that, I'm going to miss the policy side of it.”
A lifelong resident of Dawson County and with family ties to the north Georgia area going back a century or more, Tanner said that he has had a front-row seat to the changes that have swept through, bringing new people, business and development.
Tanner said that he still remembers when many roads were just dirt roads and the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office had just a handful of employees.
“We had two deputies on at night and one deputy on during the day and that was it. That was all we had. We had 12 employees in the entire sheriff's office. The dispatcher was also the jailer," he said with a laugh.
"I've been able to have a front-row seat, specifically for Dawson County, to see it completely change and it's been exciting,” he added. “As far as the district as a whole goes, it just continues to grow."
But beyond all the physical changes to northeast Georgia, Tanner says that since he took office he has seen a dramatic change to the field of politics, which he attributes to social media.
“Social media has changed the nature of politics,” he said. “It's good, because it allows an elected official to push out information directly to constituents, but it's challenging because there's no filter on facts vs. fiction."
With the two huge challenges of development and misinformation on social media in mind, Tanner said despite his departure from the general assembly, the people of Georgia and District 9 are in good hands.
For Will Wade, who will take over the District 9 seat come January 2021, Tanner had one key piece of advice, “stay true to who you are" and don't focus on getting reelected.
“I've known Will a long time, I've watched Will on the school board and as a leader in civic organizations locally and involved in the banking field, so I know Will to be a man of integrity and I think Will will do a great job for us," he said.
But even though Tanner is stepping out of the world of politics, it doesn’t mean he’s retiring. Last week Forsyth County announced that Tanner was the sole finalist for the role of Forsyth County Manager.
It’s a role that Tanner knows well and loves, having spent five years as the Dawson County Manager prior to his stint as District 9 Representative.
The role of Forsyth County Manager would blend his love for policymaking with an ability to take immediate action to solve problems in a community, which seems tailor-made for him, Tanner said.
"It's the person that stands between the political side of government and the operational side of government,” he said. “When you've got the right team in place, it's amazing what can be accomplished. You can do good things for the community."
"I like a challenge and I'm excited about the challenge,” he said.
To the Dawson County residents that have supported him over the last decade, Tanner shared a message of admiration.
"It's been the honor of my life to serve and represent them in Atlanta and even though I won't be in the role of being their state representative after the second Monday in January, my door will always be open to them," he said.