20 People to Watch - Sen. Jason Carter: The Georgia Senator

Grandson of Jimmy, this Georgia Democrat is making even Republicans take notice

Last year, a freshman state senator caught the eye of political observers. It was not for introducing attention-grabbing bills about microchip implantation, making gold coins Georgia's official currency, or declaring Charles Darwin an enemy of the state. He simply acted like a statesman.

When Republicans appeared dead set to steamroll changes to the popular HOPE scholarship program, Jason Carter, an eloquent Atlanta attorney and grandson of the former president with the same last name, dove headfirst into data that showed the changes would result in fewer awards in rural districts. Many GOP lawmakers recognized those included their own hometowns and took notice. Not bad for a freshman.

This legislative session, which starts in January, the 36-year-old considered one of the minority party's rising stars will again try to help Democrats push back against the bad ideas and red-meat legislation the GOP rolls out every election year.

"The current leadership of the state is failing in enough ways that we should all feel that this is not an immutable state of affairs," Carter says. "People are frustrated. That means there's room for people of all different political stripes to succeed — especially in the Senate, where you have real issues and a real lack of consensus among the majority party."

No joke. In the last year, the once-dignified upper chamber has adopted an almost circus-like atmosphere thanks to top Republicans — some of whom have shown increasing Tea Party leanings — bickering over leadership.

Look for Carter to play a role in trying to ensure that any new transportation agency charged with overseeing metro Atlanta's bus and rail systems would be overseen by representatives from cities and counties that actually pay for the transit services, rather than by state appointees from downstate. He and other Democrats might have some aces up their sleeves on education and tax reform as well.

"My plan's to keep working hard and try to come up with real answers," Carter says. "If people listen to them, great. If we impact the debate and make things better, great. Right now people are thirsty for answers. And the state leadership and majority party isn't giving it to them. Our job is to fill that void."