Local man lobbies at state capitol

By Clay Wilson

Jon Howell says he got his job by being in the right place at the right time.

The 27-year-old Hampton resident is a government affairs associate with the Georgia Nursing Home Association. Headquartered in Stockbridge, this group represents the interests of the nursing home industry and its patients to Georgia's Legislature.

" ? (In this job) there are opportunities to go and make a difference in people's lives, particularly for a population that needs some representation ?," Howell said.

Lobbying wasn't really the job Howell was seeking when he went to the state capitol in 2000. A 1999 graduate of the University of Georgia with a finance degree, Howell missed the training cutoff for the large bank at which he was to work and was going to have to wait another year.

"After about two weeks I was itching for something to do," he said.

He went to the capitol and put out numerous resumes for political internships. A representative agreed to interview him, but as Howell was waiting outside the representative's office a Georgia Nursing Home Association lobbyist approached him.

The lobbyist said that her intern had been in a car wreck and was unable to work. She warned Howell that as a legislative intern he would be "mostly making copies and pushing buttons."

She also asked if he wanted a job. Howell told her he would think about it.

"Fifteen minutes later she was introducing me as her intern," he said.

After the 2000 legislative session and a yearlong stint with the bank to fulfil his contract, Howell went back to the Georgia Nursing Home Association as a staff member. For 40 days each year since then he has been at the capitol, trying to persuade lawmakers to act in the interest of nursing homes and their residents.

During the rest of the year, Howell attends policy meetings, visits nursing homes and prepares for the next legislative session.

"I don't have a law degree so reading some of the lingo can be challenging," he said. " ? The only answer to that is that it takes time and a lot of dedication."

According to the state Nursing Home Association President Fred Watson, Howell has that kind of dedication.

"He's a fast learner, very smart," Watson said. "The biggest thing is that he's got the desire and the compassion to do this kind of work."

Howell said that the past legislative session was particularly tough. When the Department of Human Services was told its budget would be cut significantly, he said, "We had to come up with some creative ways to find funding."

He said the Georgia Nursing Home Association's efforts helped bring about the passage of the Nursing Home Provider Fee Act, a law that helped long-term care facilities get extra federal money.

And Howell's affiliation with the association has benefited him personally, as well. He is dating Emily Foster, Miss Georgia 2001, whom he met when she provided entertainment at the association's annual Miss Georgia Nursing Home Pageant.

The two recently attended the wedding of one of Foster's friends, who just happens to be Miss America 2003.

Besides work and weddings, Howell attends First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. And for now, he said, he is quite content where he is.

"Right now I'm really enjoying things and learning things and really am challenged day-to-day by the work that is presented," he said.