On a sleepy Wednesday afternoon, in a state Capitol smothered with poinsettias and scented with a freshly cut Christmas tree, Atlanta television was engaged in a third-floor stake-out.
Lori Geary of WSB-TV covered the front door to the office of House Speaker Glenn Richardson. Paul Yates of WAGA-TV, still groggy from election night duties, covered the back door.
They had the right idea. But the venue was wrong.
Off-campus meetings and telephone conference calls abounded on Wednesday, among Democrats as well as Republicans. And all pointed to the resignation of Richardson as a matter of when, not if.
“I think sometime in the next week, a decision will be made,” said state GOP chairman Sue Everhart.
In a matter of days, following a confessed suicide attempt on Nov. 8, the second most powerful figure in the state Capitol has gone from the state’s poster child for depression to – by the televised description of his ex-wife – a man obsessed.
One is discomfiting but politically acceptable. The other is not.
Richardson’s transformation began with a mesmerizing interview of Susan Richardson, conducted by WAGA’s Dale Russell.
In 2007, a legislative ethics panel dismissed a Democratic complaint lodged against Richardson, accusing him of an inappropriate relationship with an AGL lobbyist – while AGL legislation that the speaker co-sponsored was under consideration.
The ex-wife produced e-mails indicating the affair indeed took place. She said that, on one occasion, Richardson e-mailed her 49 times, threatening to sic the State Patrol on her. She said that following his attempted suicide, Richardson called her from his hospital bed, to ask whether she was ready to take him back.
On Wednesday morning, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin said he hosted a conference call with his fellow Democrats to discuss their approach to the Richardson situation. There was talk of whether to pursue – or renew – an ethics investigation into the House speaker’s conduct.
Also on the table: Whether 49 e-mails, containing threats to bring down the power of the state upon an ex-wife’s head, amounts to a criminal violation of the state’s anti-stalking statute – and should be brought to the attention of Attorney General Thurbert Baker or another prosecutor.
Both Porter and Baker are 2010 candidates for governor. But that wouldn’t make the prospect of a criminal case any less threatening to Republicans.
By sunset Wednesday, calls went out to the three Republican leaders of the House: Richardson, Speaker pro tem Mark Burkhalter of Johns Creek, and Majority Leader Jerry Keen of St. Simons Island, asking them to assemble at the residence of Gov. Sonny Perdue for an evening discussion.
One item on the agenda, we’re told, was how to ease Richardson’s exit. The $99,082.95 he earns each year as speaker is his primary source of income, and times are hard.
Item No. 2: Upon resignation, Richardson’s authority would pass to Burkhalter, as speaker pro tem. The question is whether an internal Republican struggle would result. Keen is said to have ambitions, but he’s not the only one.
A split GOP caucus might allow Democrats to weigh in and help decide the matter – allowing them to increase their influence in the chamber.
Complicating the matter of succession even further is the fact that, by coincidence, Burkhalter is a finalist in the search for a new executive director of the all-important Georgia World Congress Center.
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