By John Schaffner

In recent consecutive Thursday mornings, the Buckhead Business Association (BBA) has hosted two politicians and the Georgia Lottery president and CEO as breakfast meeting speakers. At least the two politicians were not there in the same week or breakfast could have turned into a late lunch before it ended.

On May 29, Georgia Lottery President and CEO Margaret R. DeFrancisco told member how she worked in the entertainment industry—offering a few moments of fun to those who purchase lottery tickets.

She said it is all about offering HOPE (scholarships that is) to Georgia high school graduates in the form of scholarships and funding the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

“The lottery has been around for a millennium,” she explained. The first lottery in Georgia was in the 1700s to benefit injured seamen in Savannah. But the present Georgia lottery is one of the newest in the U.S., having been started by Gov. Zell Miller in 1993.

There are 179 lotteries around the world and Georgia’s is 17th in the world in gross sales.

Georgia lottery sales for the first half of fiscal year 2008 reached nearly $1.7 billion and proceeds to education topped $417 million – exceeding the record set in the first half of the last fiscal year by more than $16.9 million. This brings the total raised for educational programs in the state of Georgia to more than $9.7 billion since the lottery’s inception.

“The really big winners are the students of Georgia who receive a portion of every Georgia Lottery ticket sold,” DeFrancisco told the group. “More than 1 million students have had the opportunity to attend colleges and technical colleges through Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program and more than 860,000 four-year-olds have a chance to attend a pre-kindergarten program.”

A surprise guest at the May 29 meeting was U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who said it was a straw vote of the BBA years ago that convinced him to run for Congress.

In a brief speech, he told those attending that he was facing opposition in the July 15 primary for the first time in years and urged them to again support his campaign.

On June 5, State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine was the featured speaker at the BBA meeting and took the opportunity to bolster his race for the governor’s office in the upcoming election.

Many in the audience may have expected him to talk primarily about the responsibilities of the insurance commissioner and the specific trials his office has faced during the recent tornado that hit downtown Atlanta and other severe storms that have left paths of destruction throughout areas of the state.

However, those issues were primarily discussed in answer to questions from those attending the meeting. His personal talk focused on his philosophies of how state government should operate and what he would do (presumably as governor) to make state government more responsive to constituent needs for service.

One such change would be to keep state government offices open to 7 p.m. on weekdays to serve the needs of working citizens.