TRENTON, Ga. - After his first 15 days in Congress, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., has decided he needs a "sounding board" of North Georgia leaders to discuss economic issues.

On Thursday morning, Rep. Graves started a 15-county tour announcing his Economic Advisory Council, saying something new has to be done after "15 to 16 months of failed policy" from the president and Congress.

"A lot of these taxes are going to directly affect businesses," he said.

The council will hold monthly phone conferences and quarterly meetings to advise Rep. Graves on economic issues.

The 40-year-old Gordon County resident announced that state Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, would head the council.

Sen. Pearson, who said in May he will not seek a fourth term this fall, said helping small-business owners will be a key goal of the group.

"They're scared to hire anybody; they're scared to borrow money, even if they can," he told those gathered in Trenton. "Furthermore, they're scared of government."

Rep. Graves said he would work to scale back federal control.

"Entrepreneurs are the big risk-takers, and right now they aren't taking risks," he said.

During the event, newly appointed council member Wes Hixon, who runs Wes Hixon's Outdoor Adventure & Travel, said the country is in "terrible shape" and lamented all the work by small-business owners that "has gone down the drain" in the recession. He said he planned to bring an "open-minded, down-to-earth approach" to the meeting.

"That's the way I'm going to go into it - a sounding board listening to people," he said.

Rep. Graves was elected to the House in a special election runoff June 8 and is campaigning again for the general Republican primary July 20. He will face special election runner-up and Gainesville dentist Lee Hawkins, Chickamauga business owner Steve Tarvin and state Rep. Bobby Reese, of Sugar Hill.

Bill Stephens, Chris Cates and Bert Loftman also will be on the ballot but are not actively campaigning.

At Thursday's event, Rep. Graves made no mention of his candidacy, did not bring any campaign staffers with him and did not distribute any campaign material or signs.

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