At 12:18 p.m.: The House has picked David Ralston, a Republican from north Georgia, as the speaker to lead the chamber out of a scandal-plagued period.
The vote was 116-58. Several Democrats voted for Ralston.
Mark Burkhalter, who served as House speaker for 10 days following the the formal resignation of Glenn Richardson with the new year, immediately gave Ralston a bear hug and handed over the gavel.
Burkhalter characterized himself as an emergency co-pilot. “If nothing else, I got us in without a crash landing,” he said.
With Ralston’s election, the House moves past a three-month period that included an attempted suicide by then-speaker Glenn Richardson, and a confession from his ex-wife that Richardson had had an affair with an AGL lobbyist.
Ralston declined to speak for himself before the vote. But afterwards, Ralston said Georgians need to believe that the state Capitol belongs to voters and not “the special interests.”
“Sometimes renewal is born by adversity,” Ralston said.
Ralston said he was humbled by knowing that some of Georgia’s greatest politicians had held the House speakership. He named several. Richardson was not among them — Ralston never mentioned his name.
The new speaker noted that he was nominated by the House GOP caucus on Dec. 17, the anniversary of the death of former Speaker Tom Murphy of Bremen.
Ralston immediately backed Brian Kemp, who was sworn-in last week by Gov. Sonny Perdue to replace Karen Handel as secretary of state. Handel is running for governor. Ralston also had a kind word for Kasim Reed, the newly elected mayor of Atlanta.
Ralston defeated Calvin Smyre, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, who was nominated in a mostly symbolic gesture. Smyre called for House Republicans to immediately relax restrictions on debate.
“I understand politics. In politics, the spoils go to the winner. But win or lose, politics should be an open process,” Smyre said. “Participation is the key here, to be included in the process.”
At 12:05 p.m.: The race for House speaker has begun. But like the race for speaker pro tem, there’s little drama.
David Ralston of Blue Ridge is certain to win. Democrats nominated Calvin Smyre of Columbus.
Ralston was nominated by state Rep. Larry O’Neal of Houston County, who ran against Ralston for the Republican nomination. “We’ve got some leading to do. We’ve got some changes to make,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal identified himself as the only Republican who hadn’t yet voted for Ralston for speaker. He said he wouldn’t let the chance slip by again.
Smyre, one of the longest-serving members of the House, was nominated by House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, who is running for governor. Smyre was first elected in 1974.
Porter emphasized Smyre’s national clout, and told of listening to Smyre receive calls from sitting U.S. presidents. Porter declared that Smyre would do away with the “hawk system” in the House, which he called “the largest threat to democracy in the entire United States.”
The hawk system, instituted under former Speaker Glenn Richardson, allowed House leaders to pack committees for particular votes.
Ralston, too, has vowed to get rid of the system.
At 11:47 p.m.: The House just elected its first woman as speaker pro tem. Republican Jan Jones of Alpharetta won the No. 2 position of power in the chamber, by a party-line vote of 113 to 61.
She is the first woman to hold the post.
In a brief speech before the vote, Jones promised to pay attention to the “silent center” of the caucus. “I am about the quiet people in your caucus and the people in your district,” she said.
With her election, chances of a fight over a new Milton County ratchet up a bit. That’s been one of her several causes.
In her speech, Democrat Kathy Ashe of Atlanta called for more open and polite debate in the chamber. She quoted her Presbyterian pastor, asking how different the world would be if those who disagreed “were thought of as our Creator’s beloved rather than hopeless idiots.”
At 11:37 a.m.: The race for House speaker pro tem, the No. 2 position in the chamber, has now begun.
Jon Burns, a Republican from Newington, nominated GOP colleague Jan Jones of Alpharetta, who is nearly certain to win.
Her best trait, according to Burns: “Unquestionable integrity – the commitment to do right even when it hurts.”
The Democratic nominee is Kathy Ashe of Atlanta, a former Republican. She was nominated by Carolyn Hugley of Columbus. “If a man can turn the world upside down, a woman can turn it right side up,” Hugley said.
At 11:25 a.m.: House Speaker Mark Burkhalter just announced that former speaker Glenn Richardson, whose downfall in November prompted a wave of leadership changes in the chamber, has resigned his Paulding County House seat, effective today.
“He’s a great man, and he’s getting better,” Burkhalter said. Richardson tried to commit suicide on Nov. 8. “He wishes he could be here today, but doesn’t think that was the best thing to do.”
Richardson’s notification of resignation, to both House and the governor should prompt a special election in March.
The election of House officers has just started.
At 11:02 a.m. Elections have been briefly postponed while House members pad their souvenir collection: Speaker Mark Burkhalter is posing with member after member comes up to the dais to have a picture snapped.
Since Burkhalter’s reign begins and ends today, such photos will quickly become a collector’s item. Maybe.
At 10:45 a.m.: A move to honor Bill Curry, who is trying to put together Georgia State University’s first football team, turned into an effective discourse on race relations by the esteemed coach. Blood and sweat smells the same on everybody, he says.
As for progress: “At times we look like a football team,” Curry said.
At 10: 41 a.m.: A second decision by House Speaker Mark Burkhalter: To send Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory into a real den of iniquity – the glass booth that encloses more than a dozen print reporters from around the state.
The most reverend fellow sought out one reporter in particular: James Salzer of the AJC, who is a practicing Catholic. “The speaker said you were in need of a special blessing,” Gregory told him.
The archbishop escaped without injury, personal or sacremental.
At 10:16 a.m.: Mark Burkhalter’s brief reign as House speaker began at 10:05 a.m. today. One of his few decisions is selection of the chamber’s chaplain of the day.
Burkhalter, a Republican from Johns Creek, swung for the fences. He brought up the Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory, Catholic archbishop of the Atlanta archdiocese.
Gregory dedicated a large portion of his sermon to the need for lawmakers in the scandal-plagued House to behave themselves.
“There can be no dichotomy between our spiritual lives and our public lives,” the archbishop said. “Personal integrity is the very touchstone of public responsibility.”
At: 10: 01 a.m.: On Twitter, my former AJC colleague Tom Baxter says he’s spotted a new fashion trend: Longer skirts. Can’t back him up on that. I don’t see gender.
Also tweeting is GOP candidate for governor John Oxendine, who takes a dig at Republican rival Karen Handel:
While some attack our citizen legislators in the General Assembly, I ask you lift them in prayer today as they convene they need our support.
At 9: 42 a.m.: State Rep. David Ralston of Blue Ridge, the Republican most likely to be elected House speaker today, just finished a hand-shaking tour on the floor.
At 9:40 a.m.: First,he gave up permanent position of the House speakership. Now, Mark Burkhalter, the Republican from Alpharetta, has abandoned his quest for the $400,000-a-year-plus job as head the Georgia World Congress Center.
My AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin has posted the following at Gold Dome Live:
Burkhalter, who today is expected to pass the reigns as speaker to Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), is opening a London-based real estate development and consulting firm, he said Monday.
With the move Burkhalter also withdrew his name from consideration to be the next executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center, a job for which he was said to be a finalist.
Burkhalter has been House speaker since Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) resigned Jan. 1.
Burkhlater is the owner of Akin Properties and Burkhalter Realty.
“I have recently acquired numerous clients in the international market with enormous potential,” Burkhalter said in a release. “I could not pass up th is opportunity for my family or my business portfolio. The international arena is poised for solid growth for years to come.”
At 9:15 a.m.: Just finished a turn of the state Capitol, where lawmakers and lobbyists are still pouring in for the morning’s opening ceremonies.
The 10 a.m. start time in the House will feature official prayers and some housekeeping, followed quickly by the election of the House speaker. Republican David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is a near lock, but Democrat Calvin Smyre will carry the flag for the opposition.
One of the happiest legislators this morning is state Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton), a Republican candidate for governor.
Former House speaker Glenn Richardson, who tumbled from grace in November, was a firm supporter of U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal in the contest for governor. Richardson, Speaker pro tem Mark Burkhalter and Majority Leader Jerry Keen hosted a golf outing for Deal that same month.
Much pressure was placed on House members to support Deal, or at least ignore their colleague from Tifton.
Since his nomination by the House Republican caucus, Ralston hasn’t spoken much about the race for governor. A $500 check from Ralston to the Deal campaign was written in August.
But Scott received a $500 check from state Rep. Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta), who is very likely to be elected House speaker pro tem this morning. The check was written on Nov. 7, 2009.
Scott says he doesn’t know whether Ralston will continue to press the case of Deal, a fellow north Georgian. But he doesn’t think the speaker will require lockstep loyalty on the issue, and that’s good for him.
This morning’s PeachPundit, by the way, is discussing a $1,000 to former Gov. Roy Barnes from state Rep. Bob Lane, a Republican from Statesboro.
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