Scott Rogers The Times
Doug Collins was elected without opposition in the November election as State Representative for the 27th House District. The minister-turned-law-school-student is a native of Hall County and a member of the Air Force Reserve.
Personal: 40; wife, Lisa, a teacher at Mount Vernon Elementary. Children Jordan, 14, Copelan, 10, and Cameron, 8. The family lives in North Hall.
Elected: To state House District 27 in November. After others withdrew, he faced no opposition in the Republican primary or the general election.
Occupation: Attending John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. Air Force Reserve chaplain. Served as pastor at Chicopee Baptist Church for 11 years, through May 2005. Worked from 1988 to the mid-1990s in sales and training involving health, safety products used by public safety departments.
Education: Graduated from North Georgia College & State University (1988). M.A. in divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (1996).
Community: Activities include coaching youth sports, such as the North Hall Junior Trojans, a community program that helps prepare youth for North Hall High's football program.
Military: Joined Navy Reserve in 1990s as a chaplain. Has served the same role in the Air Force Reserve since 2002.
Doug Collins, the freshman state lawmaker from North Hall, does not sound like a political novice. Nor should he.
Collins, 40, has dabbled in campaigns and tracked political trends here and elsewhere since the 1980s. The North Hall High graduate majored in political science and criminal justice at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, interned with then-U.S. Rep. Ed Jenkins and first kissed his wife-to-be Lisa on the steps outside a campaign telephone bank.
Considering his more recent record, though, as Chicopee Baptist Church's former pastor and now a law school student, it is understandable why people asked Lisa after her husband announced for House District 27 last year: What in the world is he doing?
"She said, 'You just don't know Doug,'" Collins said.
Know this: The reverend is ready to try his hand at the Gold Dome.
He has been reading and meeting. The former comes first. "I try to find out about them before I ever meet with them," he said, referring to groups wanting to bend his ear.
He made it into office without a race. Ralph Taylor dropped out of the Republican primary. Then Fred Pounds, the Democratic candidate, withdrew before the general election.
But Collins said he was prepared. He had been working the meetings circuit. A Hall County native, the son of Georgia state trooper Leonard Collins, raised behind the patrol's post on Thompson Bridge Road, he also had deep connections reaching from Chicopee Baptist parishioners to the families whose children he helped coach in youth sports programs.
It was his first race as a candidate. "But this was not my first rodeo, so to speak," Collins said.
He had switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in 1988, a shift he couches in Zell Miller terms. "My values never changed. It was the party that changed."
He replaces Republican Stacey Reece, a popular Gainesville lawmaker who decided not to run for a third term and, later, a bid for the state Senate. District 27 reaches from northern Gainesville to southern Lumpkin and White counties, or in Collins' words, from Chattahoochee Country Club to Turner Creek.
"So we go from true suburbia to true Appalachia," he said.
He lists state budget and tax issues, along with education, as critical topics for the legislative session that opens Monday. "We've got to look at how we fund the systems," he said.
He sees part of his role as bringing "common sense and practicality."
Illegal immigration is for him more of a federal issue, particularly in light of the state laws passed last year, changes he called good. The question, Collins said, is whether any immigration reform from Congress will supercede the state legislation.
His plate is already full. Collins, who cuts a gentle figure at a slim 6-foot-4 with gold-rimmed glasses and close-cropped hair, has three children: daughter Jordan, 14, and sons Copelan, 10, and Cameron, 8. Lisa teaches at Mount Vernon Elementary -- the Collinses live off a dirt road just behind the school -- and rates as his steel magnolia, he said.
He turned to her when he thought about leaving Chicopee Baptist and following a desire to attend law school. The change was almost 180 degrees.
Collins had been pastor at Chicopee 11 years. He had been in part-time ministry before at Concord Baptist in Clermont and Pleasant Hill Baptist on Browns Bridge Road. He still serves as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve, based at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
But, said Collins, "I've always felt God was going to lead me into public service at some point."
Lisa agreed. Collins passed the needed test and was accepted at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. He told Chicopee he was resigning in May 2005.
As he was driving to his first day of class that August, friend and eventual campaign manager Don Delozier called to suggest Collins consider running for Reece's seat.
When Reece later said he was not running, Collins told Lisa, again thinking she might squelch the notion. Her response: This might be the time.
Collins said he "quickly picked up the support needed that put us in the seat."
He is hoping the GOP-controlled legislature provides key committee assignments, such as a seat on Health and Human Services, a role Reece held.
Joe T. Wood Sr., a 23-year state representative from Gainesville and Chicopee Baptist member, said he cannot remember another local House race in which the candidate faced no opposition in the primary and general election. He said Collins was an excellent preacher who had always expressed "great interest" in politics. Wood said he even counseled him on a previous occasion not to run for office.
Collins will be among only about 30 freshman representatives this week, a small class that reflects Republicans' tighter hold on the House.
Wood, who spent 40 years under the dome as a lawmaker and lobbyist for the Medical Association of Georgia, said his advice for his former pastor would be the same as for any first-time representative. "Make as many friends as you can. Learn everything you can. And stay in the background until you get your feet underneath you."
Then step out.
If the U.S. presidents Collins admires most are any indication, he might be ready to move sooner. He lists Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.
"They did what they thought was right," Collins said.
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Originally published Sunday, January 7, 2007