Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Alter ego: “I really always liked Spider-Man. He could bounce around, he could zip around, but he was this regular guy. He had kind of tough high-school experiences. I can relate to that, you know?”
In Spencer Frye’s Barber Street office sits a box of old comic books he cadged from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore next door, which he runs, after hours. “Growing up, my dad always brought us a lot of comic books,” he says. “We always had a lot of ‘Sgt. Rock,’ because I’m an Army brat.” When he was building churches and teaching English in Haiti in the late 1980s, he found a man who mail-ordered comic books, which he read at night by lamp, including Neil Gaiman’s legendary “Sandman.”
Frye’s superpower may be his boundless energy. By day, he holds down what amounts to two full time-jobs heading up the local branch of the affordable housing nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and representing Athens as our lone Democrat in the state legislature. By night, he raises two kids with his wife, Gretchen, a nurse. The Mississippi native has started an environmental company, sold ambulances in the Middle East, worked in construction, fronted rock bands and a few years ago re-enrolled at UGA to finally finish his degree.
The difference between his gigs at Habitat and under the Gold Dome, Frye says, is their scope. “In Atlanta, you’re passing policies on a grand scale that affects 10 million people,” he says. “Here, today we went through a stack of homeowner applications. You’re holding the lives, the futures of these people in your hands. That’s touching individual families one-on-one.”
As a member of the Democratic minority, Frye can’t use brute force to push through legislation. But he’s displayed a knack for working with Republicans (including his colleagues from the Athens area, Regina Quick and Chuck Williams) to ease bills through the House. Sure, they’re relatively small potatoes—streamlining medical records, requiring drivers to stop for flashing beacons at crosswalks, a tax exemption for housing for the disabled—but when you’re outnumbered two-to-one, passing anything is an accomplishment. He’s also influenced legislation behind the scenes; for example, helping to include set-asides for minority-owned contractors in last year’s massive Transportation Investment Act.
“Spider-Man’s weakness is his care for others,” Frye says. “In the legislature, if there’s legislation that helps people, I’m all over it. Like the concept of expanding Medicaid—that’s exactly what we’re fighting for, figuring out ways to get people to health care.”
While he insists he wouldn’t want Superman’s powers—sensory overload, he says—one would empathize if he longed for the ability to fly, given the commute between Athens and Atlanta. Hopefully, though, in a few years we won’t need capes. Frye was recently appointed to the Innovation Corridor Joint Development Authority, a regional group of counties along Highway 316. From that perch, he’s working with Quick to put together a bond package, repaid with revenue from future growth along the corridor, to supplement Georgia Department of Transportation funding for improvements to the dangerous highway. “I’d like to see 316 reach limited access in the next decade,” he says. Now if only he can get us passenger rail—that would be a feat worthy of a superhero.