Brian Thomas: Legislature to Law School

ATLANTA — The life of a Georgia State law student can be hectic enough between classes, clubs, and other academic commitments. Imagine adding a family, a full-time job, and a seat in the Georgia General Assembly into the mix.

For Brian Thomas, a second-year law student in the part-time program, it is all in a day’s work.

Thomas (D – Lilburn) is the Minority Caucus Chairman in the Georgia House of Representatives and represents House District 100 in Gwinnett County. He serves on four committees: Natural Resources and Environment, Education, Ethics, and Defense and Veterans Affairs. He specifically requested appointment to these committees when he began his tenure in the General Assembly in 2005.

Thomas brings professional experience and personal passion to his work in the House. “I’m an archeologist by training,” he said. “My interest in environmental issues grew out of my archeology background.” Earning a Ph.D. in Anthropology from SUNY Binghamton in 1995, his dissertation research examined African-American slave sites at former President Andrew Jackson’s plantation near Nashville.

Thomas works full time managing the cultural resources practice for a national environmental services company, TRC Environmental Corporation. He is a leader in historic preservation in Georgia, having served as past president of the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists, a Board member of the American Cultural Resources Association, and Editor of the newsletter of the Society for Georgia Archaeology.

Thomas was motivated to attend law school to gain a deeper understanding of environmental law. “My work with the General Assembly making laws made me want to understand the legal system more broadly and the larger policy concerns behind legislation,” he said. “I hope one day to work in environmental advocacy.”

Thomas also hoped that law school would enhance his understanding of his role as a state legislator. “So far, law school has given me a whole new set of eyes in my day-to-day work at the Capitol,” he said.

He is also a member of the GSU Law Review. Thomas was recently appointed as Legislation Editor, and along with fellow law student Andrew Mullen, 2L, he will help to oversee the upcoming annual review of Georgia legislation known as the Peach Sheets. His Note, which was selected as an alternate for publication in the Law Review, addresses wetland protections in Georgia in light of two recent Supreme Court rulings.

Before his election, Thomas had no long-standing history of political involvement except for “voting at every opportunity,” he said. “I got interested in running for office because I didn’t like how things were going locally and nationally.” Thomas defeated a former state representative in his first election in 2004 and has retained his seat unopposed over the course of the last three elections.

Thomas’s legislative philosophy is that “you should influence the things you can influence.” As he puts it, “I work to make good bills better and to make bad bills better.” Acknowledging that sometimes the work can be frustrating as bad laws make their way in, he noted that still “it is a lot easier to influence the law from the inside than from the outside.”

Born in Patterson, New Jersey, Thomas grew up in Miami as the middle child in a family with four sisters. After college he served as an officer in the U.S. Army for four years, and then spent several years in the Reserves. He has held various research and teaching positions.

“Life is a balance, trying to juggle work and school and life and family,” said Thomas. Having gone through a doctoral program, he is used to rigorous academic pursuits. “Finding time is to do everything is still a big challenge for me,” Thomas admitted. “Often there’s little time left over in my week to play a game of soccer or enjoy a night out with Larissa,” his wife of eighteen years.

In addition to environmental protection and veterans affairs, Thomas focuses his legislative attention on education.  “Education is the most important thing that state government does,” he said. “There are no easy answers, but we’re trying to protect the things that are important to Georgians, including the natural environment and quality education for Georgia’s children.” Thomas opposes drastic cuts to the education budget.

“My view of life is really pretty simple. I think we should try to influence the part of the world that we can touch and try to make it just a little better,” Thomas reflected. “Being in politics helps to expand that world for me.  I think it’s the same for all of us attending law school-ultimately it expands the world we can influence and improve.”

For more information about Rep. Thomas, visit his page on the Georgia House of Representatives website, or follow him on Facebook (Representative Brian Thomas (D-100).

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