Exactly why Mark Burkhalter decided against pursuing the House speakership relinquished by Glenn Richardson is a topic that has yet to be fully explored.
“As has been reported, I have personally been pursuing other career opportunities for several months. Out of respect and fairness for our Caucus and the House of Representatives, I want to be transparent about my career interests and let a process commence for the election of a new speaker,” the Speaker pro tem said in an e-mail dispatched to House GOP caucus members last night.
This is apparently a reference to Burkhalter’s pursuit of the high-paying executive directorship of the Georgia World Congress Center. The problem is that Burkhalter let it be known last week that he had removed his name from consideration for the GWCC post.
It’s a contradiction that requires resolution.
Otherwise, one must assume that something else is afoot, and that the state Republican party may be facing its most damaging crisis since the GOP first grabbed power in 2002.
Republicans are using the language of scandal, and not just in reference to Richardson – whose affair with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist came to light after an attempted suicide and some televised payback from his ex-wife.
Last night, state Rep. Rich Golick of Smyrna, who is entering his 12th year at the Capitol, said that he’s considering a run for one of the top leadership posts now available. Maybe speaker, maybe not.
But it was the way Golick said it that mattered. “What we need now is stability, maturity and experience,” Golick said. “What we need is a Denny Hastert at every slot.”
That is a historical reference to the collapse of the U.S. House speakership of Newt Gingrich in 1998, after a poor mid-year performance and emerging details of an extra-marital affair. The speakership devolved upon Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who was unanimously chosen by Republicans to replace Gingrich.
Livingston was gone in a matter of days, after his own extra-marital indescretions came to light. Like Gingrich’s, they came while House Republicans pushed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for sins committed in the company of Monica Lewinsky.
Hastert, a congressman from Illiniois, was brought in as a reliable third choice to stabilize a situation that was quickly coming apart. So invoking his name means something.
One female Republican veteran this morning is suggesting that, given the current zipper situation, House GOP members consider a woman for speaker – Jan Jones of Alpharetta or Donna Sheldon of Dacula.
Also consider the entry of state Rep. Larry O’Neal of Warner Robins into the mix for speaker. He’s an older gentleman — soft-spoken and well-versed in budgetary matters. That he is very close to Gov. Sonny Perdue may handicap him with some Republican members of the House. (O’Neal’s candidacy would also revive discussion of that 2005 retroactive tax break the governor enjoyed.)
But the fact that Perdue would inject himself (even tangentially) in the speaker’s contest is a measure of how seriously the situation is being taken, as a threat to Republican hegemony in the state Capitol.
We now have a situation in which Democrats could offer to put their weight behind of the several Republican lawmakers certain to offer themselves up for speakership. To prevent this would require a unified House Republican caucus – a caucus that is currently foundering on exactly what it means to be Republican.
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