The transition from Speaker Glenn Richardson to the next leader of the Georgia House will not be as scripted as first thought. Republican backbenchers bucked at the suggestion of a “show must go on” scenario.
Good for them. Georgians are not interested in seeing the House leadership carrying on, in either sense of the phrase.
A new direction, however, has yet to be set. The fallout from Richardson’s resignation — which came after his ex-wife alleged that he’d cheated on her with a lobbyist a few years back — has revealed a fractured House GOP caucus with serious misgivings about the way it had been led. A caucus vote on a new leadership team is scheduled for Thursday.
Here’s an idea: Give strong consideration to naming an interim leadership team.
Exactly six weeks will pass between Susan Richardson’s Nov. 30 television interview, which started this tumult, and the Jan. 11 start of the 2010 legislative session. Thursday’s caucus vote will take place less than halfway through that already short time period. That is precious little time for the kind of process House Republicans need to pursue.
First there’s the vetting that needs to take place. Choosing new leaders without zipper problems, or other ethical/moral/legal issues, is paramount.
The revelation of Glenn Richardson’s affair kicked up a lot of dust relating to other members’ private lives. More rumors hang in the air. If the caucus chooses poorly this week, it may find there is no third strike.
But clean isn’t the only criterion, and members need to think holistically about their next leaders. Right now there is an urgent impulse for “stability, maturity and experience…a Denny Hastert at every slot,” as Rep. Rich Golick, a Smyrna Republican and candidate for speaker pro tempore, has put it.
Stability sounds nice right now, and it’s true that Hastert — the Illinois Republican who became speaker of the U.S. House after Newt Gingrich stepped down — was a steadying force. But he also presided during congressional Republicans’ self-destruction, a time of big government, earmarks and a general betrayal of conservatism.
I’m not suggesting that Golick or anyone else in the running so far would lead the House or the state down such a path. But members run such risks if they make a decision with long-term implications in the shadows of today’s scandal.
Better to choose a “stability team” for now and pledge to revisit the question when there’s more time to debate the vision and governing style various candidates offer. Members of this interim slate may want to run again later and should be free to do so. The House needs stop-gaps, not necessarily mere seat warmers.
This approach isn’t without its own holes. One of them is the fact that the speaker traditionally is a powerful force in election campaigns, which House members will face next year.
Here again, though, a bad choice would not help matters for Republicans — and an attitude of seriousness, even humility, would serve the party well in November 2010. Make no mistake, the GOP majority’s attitude will be an issue in that election.
The electorate next fall will also judge all members, R’s and D’s, on how they deal with a treacherous budget situation, an overdue solution on transportation and other issues.
Along with seriousness of thinking, legislators need to display simple governing competence. All the more reason to choose a House leadership team that will focus chiefly on the current agenda and put the internal politics on pause.
Of course, politics will be served sooner or later. But a caucus so rocked and split can’t expect much good to come from “sooner.” Nor can the rest of us.