Pat Gardner, executive director for the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA), is a now a member of the Georgia state legislature.
As the representative for 160,000 constituents, her focus will be on quality of education, life and services in her Atlanta district, where she has lived for 28 years. Though mental health issues will not be a primary focus, Gardner believes other legislators will look to her when those issues arise.
She decided to run when her predecessor, Jim Martin, resigned to be commissioner of Georgia's Department of Human Resources. "I've always loved the legislative process," she says. "I love the learning that occurs when you get experts from both sides of any issue and listen to their arguments and find solutions that make sense."
Consensus-building with mental health professionals for 25 years in Georgia's association helped her create her campaign strategy, as well as the model she'll use as a representative, she says. "I am a grassroots person," she says, "representing people and building coalitions to solve problems rather than taking the bully pulpit."
Gardner brings years of experience to her new role as state legislator. She has served as chair of APA's Council of Executives of State and Provincial Psychological Associations and she served on APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice. She has held numerous community and public service leadership positions, such as chair of the Mental Health Services Coalition's Task Force on Fairness in Coverage for Mental Illness, and council member of the Georgia Network of Child Advocacy Centers.
She was sworn in Dec. 7 in the state chamber of the House of Representatives in Atlanta. The only current state psychological association executive director to simultaneously be a state legislator, Gardner has resigned as the GPA lobbyist but will continue her executive directorship.