One of the quiet issues that hasn’t been addressed – yet – during this one-week campaign for House speaker and other leadership positions is the role of abortion and stem cell research.
Despite Glenn Richardson’s shortcomings in the marital department, the Georgia business community silently applauded the soon-to-be-former speaker’s approach to transportation and science, and thus economic development.
For the last several sessions, it has been Richardson’s House – not Casey Cagle’s Senate — that sat on legislation to ban or even criminalize embryonic stem cell research in Georgia, provoking a great deal of criticism from the Republican party’s right-to-life base.
None of the candidates for House speaker have addressed the issue, at least in public. So far, the urgency of the state budget situation has been enough to deflect inquries.
The major religious conservative organizations – Georgia Right to Life, the Georgia Christian Alliance and the Christian Coalition – have yet to weigh in. But you can be sure the topic is getting an airing in private.
Perhaps the greatest first mark a new House speaker can make is his choice of committee chairmen. State Rep. Larry O’Neal of Houston County has dropped the largest hints of a shake-up:
I will set a high ethical standard that will apply to all members equally. No one will be “above the law,” including myself.
Accordingly, I will be re-evaluating all committee chairmen before the session to ensure they have met that standard, and decisively make changes if required. There will be no witch hunts, but no committee chairman will be exempt from this review, no matter how important the committee or chairman.
One of the safest jobs in the Capitol may belong to Joe Wilkinson of Sandy Springs, chairman of the House Ethics Committee. No matter who becomes speaker, it would not look good to move the fellow.
This was in a memo sent Friday by Fran Millar of Dunwoody, now a candidate for speaker pro tem:
…[W]e need to deal with ethical issues on an objective bipartisan basis. It has been suggested a code of conduct may be in order for House members. Bottom line, Joe Wilkinson and his committee should be allowed to do its job with no interference from leadership.
But one of the most vulnerable chairmen may be Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and thus controls the flow of legislation through the chamber.
Not because of any ethical flaws, but because he was, simply put, Richardson’s closest ally in the Capitol.
Which brings us to state Rep. Jill Chambers of Atlanta, chairman of the House-Senate MARTA oversight committee. She has become the first member of House leadership to endorse the insurgency campaign of David Ralston of Blue Ridge.
Chambers has offered up her chairmanship, should Ralston need to win someone else’s support. She also supports state Rep. John Lunsford’s efforts to force a vote on House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (St. Simons Island) – the only to House leader who hasn’t agreed to leave his position.
Here’s her letter to members of the House Republican caucus:
I first met David Ralston during his campaign for Attorney General. I have been to his district and I know firsthand how much his constituents respect and appreciate their State Representative. We do not always agree on issues or vote the same way, but, as a committee chairman and as a friend he has always been available.
Politics is about the art of the deal. As part of the deal making process for Speaker, I have offered David my chairmanship of MARTOC and my ranking position on the Appropriations committee as a tool for his campaign. This House leadership election is far more important than my own ambitions.
The Legislative Branch has 236 ambitious people serving our state of Georgia, myself included. We are now offered a chance to set our egos aside and focus on the budget crises facing all levels of government.
The independence of the House is at stake. We are not family. We are members of the Legislative Branch of state government. The House is not subservient to the Senate, the Judicial Branch, or the Executive Branch.
My signature is the second name on the Lunsford petition. At this time, I call on our remaining caucus leadership to hold an open election for their positions of trust. If the caucus re-elects them, they will go forward with a vote of confidence. Even if they lose, they can still honorably represent their constituents.
In closing, I respectfully ask you to consider the need for steady independent leadership in the House. Vote David Ralston for Speaker.
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