Legislator picks pulpit over politics

Legislator picks pulpit over politics

May 29th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Georgia State Rep. Martin Scott, R-Rossville, has announced he will not run for re-election. Contributed photo

Bills sponsored 2011 Legislature

• John Meadows, R-Calhoun: 48

• Jay Neal, R-LaFayette: 47

• Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold: 41

• Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta: 37

• Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo: 30

• Roger Williams, R-Dalton: 24

• Martin Scott, R-Rossville: 1

Source: Georgia House of Representatives

Wearing baggy jeans and an untucked dress shirt, Martin Scott stood in church, preaching on a message from the apostle Paul, telling Christians to give up wealth and power to serve God.

"Paul says you've got to give it up," Scott told the congregation of 20- and 30-somethings gathered at River City Church on Rossville AvenueCQ. "You can't hold onto that old cherished stuff."

Next year, the state representative-turned-pastor will put Paul's message into practice. Scott, a 39-year-old Republican from Rossville, said he will not run for re-election in 2012 because he has been "awakened to reality."

"I've realized it's not all about Republican versus Democrat or conservative versus liberal, it's about the gospel," he said. "What kind of person am I if put my politics ahead of people's salvation?"

Scott was elected in 2004 to represent District 2, which includes part of Walker and all of Dade County. He joined Republican freshmen Jay Neal, of LaFayette; Tom Dickson, of Cohutta; and John Meadows, of Calhoun. During his time in office, Scott has been involved with anti-abortion bills and in 2007 embarked on a statewide "Let Them Live" tour advocating tougher abortion laws. He also introduced legislation tweaking the dates of deer hunting season and cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Scott, along with then-state Rep. Tom Graves, helped start the conservative-minded 216 Policy Group before he, Graves and Meadows were stripped of their committee leadership roles in 2008 by former House Speaker Glenn Richardson. All three had voted against Richardson's nominee for a state Transportation Board post.

But by the time he was re-elected without opposition last fall, Scott said he already was thinking it would be his last term.

"I was part of a very frustrating system of government," he said, already using the past tense. "I would have to include myself with what I was frustrated with."

Scott's involvement in this year's General Assembly may hint at that frustration. He introduced only one bill, compared with more than 40 by some of his colleagues. Scott's bill would have made it easier for adults to have their records expunged of crimes committed when they were younger.

The bill failed, and some in Scott's district are concerned that, with a lame-duck legislator, that may become a familiar result.

Charles Pittman, former Democratic Party chairman for Dade County, said he doesn't like the idea of having a legislator who may be checking out early.

"If his heart tells him [to get out of politics], I think he ought to go ahead and resign," Pittman said. "The people of this district need a representative who is engaged."

Scott defended his time in the session, saying he decided to focus on just one bill. He said having a name on a bunch of bills can be "an image thing" for some legislators.

In an interview, Scott said, "I've already given up politics" and called himself "apolitical." But in a second interview, he said he was still "100 percent fully engaged" in helping constituents.


Scott, who already had a master's degree in business administration from Kennesaw State University, enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta to pursue another master's.

In Scott's church, which meets in the Loose Cannon building on Rossville Avenue, members aren't afraid to wear shorts and tennis shoes. One long-haired guitar player in the worship band went barefoot last Sunday, swaying to the music in a fedora and purple T-shirt.

In his sermon, Scott read Philippians 3, verses 7, 8 and 9, where Paul writes, "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ ... I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ."

When it comes to self-righteousness, Scott, who says he was saved at 15, called himself out.

He re-counted for his flock his time as a campaign consultant, when he advised young politicos to support only devout Christian candidates whose beliefs aligned with his. From his teenage years on, he believed good Christians were political activists, pushing their agendas.

Looking back, Scott said he at times "put activism above people," meaning he focused more on his agenda than on the individual needs of constituents. He also admitted he had cast some votes he wasn't proud of.

"I believed it - I was sincere as I could be," Scott said from the stage last Sunday. "Paul says if you stay on that path where it's all about your righteousness, you're going to fail."

So Scott said he has refocused on spreading the gospel person to person rather than in the Legislature.

Several other members of the legislature are church leaders, including Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, a part-time pastor at Hillcrest United Methodist Church in LaGrange.

Nix said he has no problem doing both, but said his Sunday job is a "double-edged sword" on the campaign trail. Many people have expressed their support and encouraged him to let his faith guide him, but not everyone.

"I've had people on the other side of the coin who have come up to me and said they don't think I should be in the legislature because of the separation of church and state," Nix said.

He said Scott's starting a church is a "marvelous thing," but added it would take more time than pastoring an established congregation.

"If you feel like you're called to full-time ministry, then that's probably what you need to do," Nix said. "If I get to the point in politics where I don't feel like I can be a Christian, I'll get out of politics."

Scott plans to remain firm with his decision to get out. Deciding early in his term will give potential replacements plenty of time to consider campaigns, rather than a chaotic scramble for a costly special election.

Interested candidates will have about a year to decide. The dates have not been set for the 2012 election or primary but the primary is normally in late July with qualifying in June. The new representative will be sworn in in January 2013.