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Benfield Calls It a Career
By Bobby Tedder
District 85 State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Atlanta, is set to conclude a memorable legislative run in the coming weeks.
Benfield announced last month she will finish her term but will not seek re-election, bringing her 14-year legislative career to a close.
The University of Georgia law school alumna will start the next chapter of her professional life as executive director of GreenLaw, a state environmental advocacy organization dedicated to clean air and water.
The self-described optimist reflected on her time in the Georgia House of Representatives, offering a frank assessment of victories large and small, as well as the next chapter of her life.
“I think I’ve been a consensus builder,” said Benfield. “And I try to be inclusive.
“A question I always like to ask is ‘Who’s not at the table?’ Who’s not being represented?”
Benfield’s new post with GreenLaw will primarily entail public speaking engagements and fundraising. Monies raised will facilitate the litigation of cases like that involving the Live Oak landfill in south DeKalb, which GreenLaw attorneys successfully argued should be closed.
“I’ve worked on clean air and clean water in a legislative capacity,” said Benfield, a member of the House natural resources committee during her entire tenure. “Now, I’ll just transition over to the nonprofit sector.”
She leaves behind a General Assembly stint highlighted by contributions to the passage of several pieces of key legislation.
Benfield helped bring about the Georgia Equity in Sports Act, designed to eliminate gender disparities in public school athletic programs more than a decade ago. She also had a hand in the legalization of high-gravity beer in 2004, which has since resulted in a boon for the Georgia craft beer industry.
“Since then, being in the minority party, you have to measure success in the bills you defeat,” said Benfield, pinpointing the recurring rejection of a bill allowing inter-basin water transfers to make up for Atlanta water shortfall to illustrate her point.
District 86 State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, lamented Benfield’s departure.
“I’m very sad to see her go,” Drenner said. “She is an outstanding legislator.
“And not only in the sense that she does good policy work,” Drenner said. “She’s also outstanding at constituent work. She genuinely cares about her constituents and has spent an inordinant amount of time attending meetings, helping people and making the world a better place.”
As intense as her call of duty as an elected official was, Benfield acknowledged the pull of of her young family was far too great to maintain her spot in the House.
“Spending time with my children and husband was definitely a big factor in my decision,” Benfield said. “Politics is not always conducive to family life.
“My kids really don’t care that I’m a legislator. They’re at a critical age … they need me.”