House Republicans and Democrats will gather separately next week to fill vacant leadership positions.
On the GOP side, the only major post at issue is that of House majority leader, vacated by Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. James Mills of Gainesville and Larry O’Neal of Bonaire are the two candidates. The GOP caucus meets Monday.
The politics are far more precarious among Democrats, who next Wednesday will be asked to elect a successor to House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin who left the chamber to make a run for governor.
Porter is a vanishing breed in the House – a white male Democrat.
The next leader of the caucus will be African-American. The announced candidates are Stacey Abrams of Atlanta, who was Lisa Borders’ campaign manager in the 2009 race for mayor of Atlanta, and Virgil Fludd of Tyrone.
The question, which must be posed delicately, is this: Which one best represents the promise of reviving the biracial coalition that is the only hope of returning Democrats to statewide prominence? The formula for success in Georgia has been, roughly, 90 percent of the African-American vote plus 35 percent of white voters.
Democrats estimate that their candidates pulled 22 percent or so of white Georgia voters on Tuesday.
Add to this the fact that Abrams, we’re told, remains much at odds with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed – whose sway in the party organization increased on Tuesday.
Many Democrats are urging a third figure into the race for minority leader: state Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, an African-American who is currently caucus chair and a former chairman of the state Democratic party. Smyre is – beyond any doubt – the most well-connected Democrat in the state.
And he has long provided much of the glue that has held white and black Democrats in the Capitol together over the years.
Moreover, neither Abrams nor Fludd has been through a redistricting session – which next year could be very ugly indeed.
But here’s the thing: Smyre has been in the House for 36 years. Retirement must come eventually. If it comes in two years – even four years – then choosing Smyre next week would simply delay resolution of a pressing question.
In that case, it might be better to give the next generation its chance. And keep Smyre in reserve and use his status as a kind of fire extinguisher for emergencies.