Celebrating its historic growth in this month’s elections, the Georgia House Republican caucus on Monday elected a new majority leader, welcomed Governor-elect Nathan Deal and grew by another member when a Democrat switched parties.
The caucus, which will welcome more than two dozen freshmen in January, elected Rep. Larry O’Neal, of Bonaire, to serve as House majority leader. He beat out Rep. James Mills, of Gainesville, for the job. O’Neal will replace former House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, St. Simons Island, who recently resigned.
“We now have momentum on our side,” said O’Neal, who has worked as an accountant and tax lawyer and has served as chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.
“And the time is right to seize and embrace the opportunity to further our conservative agenda. I want to help us continue to grow and prosper. But most importantly – and hear this loud and clear – we must keep the conservative promises we all made to our constituents and fellow Georgians.”
On Monday, the caucus grew to 109 members – its most ever — when Rep. Alan Powell, of Hartwell, switched sides. The former Democrat appeared at the GOP caucus meeting in the House chamber Monday. Powell said he decided to switch after observing how voters largely voted for Republicans in his Northeast Georgia district.
“My politics have not changed, but I saw the numbers crystal clear last week,”
Powell said. “I am reflecting my constituents.”
Powell said he switched parties with no promises of any plum committee assignments. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, confirmed Powell’s statement.
“That high water mark that we reached last Tuesday night just keeps getting higher — more Republican members of the Georgia House then at any time in the history of this state,” Ralston said as the caucus applauded.
The caucus also renominated Ralston to serve as the speaker and Rep. Jan Jones, of Milton, to serve as the speaker pro-tem next year. The full House will vote on these positions when it convenes in January.
Deal briefly addressed the caucus as well, saying he intended to be bold and cautious at the same time.
“I am not looking for any foxholes,” the Republican governor-elect said. “I am looking not only to be brave and bold but to also be cautious, to be careful, to be considerate of those who may have opinions different from our own. And as we do that, we will all work together for the benefit of our state.”
The caucus welcomed many new members, including Lynne Riley from north Fulton County. And it gave Rep. Austin Scott, of Tifton, a standing ovation for unseating Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall.
Georgia’s House Democratic Caucus is planning to choose its leaders Wednesday.