Burkhalter: ‘My heart is going in a different direction’

Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter on Thursday reaffirmed his commitment to helping the Georgia House make a smooth transition to a new leader, but also reconfirmed his intent to pursue the executive director’s position with the Georgia World Congress Center.

“My heart was going in a different direction for many months,” Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek) said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the House Republican caucus meets to nominate a new speaker.

He said if he is named to the GWCC job he will leave the General Assembly.

But he does not yet have the job, he stressed.

Burkhalter also said he has not been avoiding the media and didn’t “slip in and out” of a caucus meeting last week, as it’s been reported.

His son, he said, was at Northside Hospital alone preparing for surgery this past Monday. Burkhalter left him at the hospital to get to the caucus meeting and leave as soon as possible to return.

Still, the confluence of the events of the past month have been surreal, he said.

“This thing with the speaker was just uncanny in timing,” Burkhalter said.

Burkhalter was already preparing a presentation to the World Congress Center search committee when Speaker Glenn Richardson tried to take his own life on Nov. 8. He had a final interview set for Dec. 7. In between, Richardson’s ex-wife told an Atlanta television station that Richardson had cheated on her with a lobbyist for a utility company that stood to benefit from legislation the speaker was championing.

From there the calls for Richardson’s resignation grew and Burkhalter was pulled into the fray.

“Between the time they said, ‘OK, Mark, here’s your time to come in and do your final interview’ the speaker tried to take his life, his ex-wife gets on the news and a week unfolds of us trying to intervene and help him make the right decision,” Burkhalter said.

Richardson announced on Thursday, Dec. 3 that he would resign on Jan. 1. Burkhalter, knowing he had in interview the following Monday for a job he very much wants, said he promised his fellow Republicans he’d help guide them through the transition.

But it wasn’t until the following Monday, the day of his interview, that he announced he would not be a candidate to permanently replace Richardson as speaker.

He gave media interviews the day after Richardson’s announcement that made it appear as if he planned to serve as speaker beyond the crisis. But he already knew, he said, what he had to do.

“I wake up (Friday) with a number of members calling me, assuming I’m going to be, that I wanted to be long-term speaker,” Burkhalter said. “Suddenly, you’re right in the midst of this career change and the unthinkable happens. And this constitutional responsibility gets thrown in your lap. It’s just one of those things that you don’t think or expect will happen.”

So, he said, he made his decision. He will serve as speaker after Richardson resigns and lead the House through formal elections for new speaker and speaker pro tem after the Legislature returns Jan. 11. Then, he said, he’ll serve as a rank-and-file lawmaker, and if he gets the World Congress Center job, he’ll resign his seat.

Burkhalter would not talk for the record about Richardson’s decision or his current condition. While he acknowledged that top Republican leaders met with Richardson at the Governor’s Mansion to convince him to resign, he would not divulge details of the meeting or what was said.

10 comments Add your comment


December 17th, 2009
10:14 am

Let’s see — first he said he wanted the GWC job, then he said he was withdrawing his name from consideration for the GWC job to be speaker, now he says he is withdawing his name from consideration for the post of speaker so he can focus on getting the GWC job.

Who would hire this tool? I don’t want him to be speaker because he’s hyper-partisan and is more interested in power than doing good for Georgia — but I don’t want him taking a $400K a year government job either.

Hey Mark, how about just going away and quit suckling from the public weal?


December 17th, 2009
10:25 am

Easier to avoid the public scrutiny of Cheetah girl/lobbyist implications taking the GWCC job.


December 17th, 2009
11:34 am

who are the other candidates for the wcc job? qualifications? why is salary the same level as guy leaving, who did the job successfully for 30+ years? how much does #2 make?

Aaron Gould Sheinin

December 17th, 2009
11:39 am

TC, those are good questions and ones we’ve asked. The WCC has refused thus far to release the names of any of the finalists. They’ve never actually confirmed that Burkhalter is among them.


December 17th, 2009
11:51 am

as i said before, i believe the fix is in. we’ll know once the vote comes in.

Surely U Jest

December 17th, 2009
1:13 pm

Burkhalter’s candidacy for Executive Director of the GWCC is a bit intriguing. Did political connections or relevant experience make him a finalist for a coveted position that pays several hundred thousand dollars a year? The highly successful and well regarded Executive Director of the GWCC, who he would be replacing, honed his skills and demonstrated his expertise as the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Convention Center prior to being hired.

A professional search firm would have certainly tapped a similar pool of people to source a replacement in fulfilling the GWCC Board’s stated intent of conducting a nationwide search. So, it’s a perplexing how a politico/real estate developer would be a competitive candidate based on the magnitude and complexity of the job. Of course, Mr, Burkhalter would certainly have a good understanding of what it takes to successfully oversee the GWCC having served as a member of the Legislative Oversight Committee for the GWCC authority.


December 17th, 2009
1:20 pm

He would rather have a permanent job that you don’t have get elected to every year and he will make more money.Legislators should be banned from seeking agency head employment.What a fix!

say what?

December 17th, 2009
1:30 pm

Wait a minute. This is a guy who represents a part of the metro Atlanta area that is anti-Atlanta, and he wants the director job for a place in downtown Atlanta? Sounds as if GWCC will be moved outside of downtown Atlanta in the next 5-10 years if he is chosen. Something is not right with his wanting to be the next executive director of a place many outside of 285 despise.


December 17th, 2009
5:59 pm

i think those are good points, wonder if wcc is land locked and thus losing competitive edge? but seems like it would need to be closer to airport than farther north.

Randolph Phillips

December 27th, 2009
1:32 pm

The Georgia World Congress Center is one of our state Government’s great boondoggles, and the current manager has not only managed it since its inception, but he has also expanded it into his own empire. The people of Georgia have no idea what the WCC–which is a convention center for the City of Atlanta, not the state of Georgia–has cost us in construction costs, expansion, debt service, and operations–mainly as a public relations facility to make Atlanta famous and make money for chain hotels, downtown restaurants, and the Atlanta Establishment.

We need a Georgian to manage, downsize, and stop the growth of an agency the state could best do without. Certainly not another Los Angelano or anyone who views the people of this state and our culture with distaste and contempt like the guy there now. Good riddance to him asap.