Update 1:23 p.m.: The House caucus confab has broken up and members made for the door fairly quickly. The headlines: The caucus will meet next Thursday to vote for their choice of speaker and speaker pro tem and will elect majority whip.
The choices for speaker and speaker pro tem will go before the full House in January.
Also, an effort from Rep. John Lunsford (R-McDonough), one of the candidates for majority whip to open up all the caucus officer positions for election apparently fell short. Lunsford’s motion would also put the caucus chair and majority leader up for a vote next week. Lunsford, however, said his effort isn’t dead and he’ll keep trying to get the necessary votes.
Update 12:59 p.m.: Well, Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter managed to sneak past the media to get into the meeting and he’s now apparently managed to sneak back out again. Reporters had all the obvious doors staked out, but security at the Tech conference center wouldn’t let us access to all of them.
Update 12:44 p.m.: They’re still going in there, and save for the occasional member making for the bathroom, very little movement in and out. Once little piece of news: Rep. John Lunsford (R-McDonough) came out and told a few us that he has resigned his position as senior hawk.
The hawks are a team of members appointed by Speaker Richardson who have the power to sit and vote on any committee at any time. They are used to stack committee decks in favor of the speaker’s position. It’s a system that mightily upsets many rank-and-file members and certainly minority Democrats.
Lunsford, who is running for speaker, might be reading the caucus’ mood. Many members have said they want the next speaker to end the hawk system.
Meanwhile, all we can really pick up from out in the hallway is occasional bouts of applause, a few raised voices — something about “families” or “family values,” not sure which.
Update 11:20 a.m.: Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter is said to be inside the closed caucus meeting, although he must have slipped in through a back door because he certainly didn’t pass through the scrum of media outside the main entrance — like everyone else.
Update 10:51 a.m.: Gov. Sonny Perdue just emerged from the closed caucus meeting and while he did not divulge what he told the gathered Republican lawmakers, he defended their right to meet in private and said the caucus will recover.
“Representative government is not all that neat sometimes,” Perdue said. “The decision they’ll make over the next few days are very critical. They’re a little unsteady right now, but they’ll regain that confidence.”
As for the decision to close the meeting to the public, Perdue said that was to be expected.
“I don’t invite the media when we’re having a family discussion in my home, either,” he said. “That’s their decision.”
Moving forward, Perdue said, the party will not suffer for these episode.
“We don’t understand the degree to how people out there are worried about their kids’ education, health care,” he said. “These internal battles, as long as they’re able to go forward … I don’t think there’s any damage.”
Update 10:20 a.m.: The House caucus is now meeting behind closed doors after a secret-ballot vote to kick the media out of their meeting.
The House Republican Caucus is governed by its own set of rules, which say that all meetings must be open to the public and the press unless a two-thirds of the caucus votes to close the meeting.
However, the rules also allow for a majority of the caucus leadership to vote to close the meeting and go into executive session. Still, the rules say that a majority vote of the caucus can overturn that decision. Reps. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) and Jill Chambers (R-Atlanta) made the motion to keep the meeting open and ballots were handed out to the members.
Caucus chairwoman Rep. Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula) did not announce the actual vote count but said the caucus had voted to ban the public.
It’s worth noting that the only members of the caucus leadership in attendance are Sheldon, Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simon’s Island) and Majority Whip Rep. Jan Jones (R-Atlanta). Not present are Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) and Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek).
Update 9:50 a.m.: Gov. Sonny Perdue has arrived by caucus invitation and said he plans to address the Republican caucus. Meanwhile, Caucus Chairwoman Donna Sheldon just told the press we’re getting kicked out.
It’s 9:30 a.m. and House Republicans are beginning to gather at the Georgia Tech Research Center on 14th Street in Atlanta.
Thus far we’re inside the meeting room. Several House members have pointed out that Republican caucus rules require all caucus meetings to open to the public and press, unless a motion is made to close it. But that requires a two-thirds vote.
As long as we’re allowed inside the room, we’ll provide updates. It should be an interesting session. If you need the background, check out today’s story on ajc.com.
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