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.