One day after his computer was linked to a barrage of incendiary e-mails allegedly from a 55-year-old female Republican volunteer, Cecil Staton of Macon excused himself from his duties as Senate majority whip, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
Staton announced his decision during a Republican caucus meeting, declaring that the issue had become a distraction at a critical time. He maintained that he did not pose as the mysterious “Beth Merkleson,” who wrote a series of e-mails attacking Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the spokesman said.
Through the spokesman, who insisted on remaining unnamed, Staton said he was having an Internet technician investigate the incident.
Sen. Greg Goggans, R-Douglas, will assume Staton’s duties during the final two days of the legislative session.
The incident is an apparent outgrowth of a six-month struggle for control of the Senate between Cagle and Republican senators who want a chamber controlled by its membership – as is the U.S. Senate.
Staton was one of the organizers of the November meeting in Macon, where Cagle was stripped of most of his authority – three days after his statewide re-election.
Over the last week, Capitol insiders and Republican activists have received near daily e-mails from a woman who called herself Beth Merkleson, and pronounced her self outraged by Cagle’s attempt to reassert his authority as president of the Senate.
“I am trying, though I feel like a lone voice at times, to get Republicans to wake up and demand that their Senators behave like Republicans and reject Cagle’s power grab. If we don’t, we’ll have one mad power hungry and immoral man in charge of one half of the legislative branch of Georgia,” she wrote.
Merkleson, who proclaimed herself as a computer novice, railed against senators who allied with Cagle, and even asked the chairman of the Habersham County GOP to drum up a primary opponent for state Sen. Jim Butterworth, R-Cornelia. Merkleson passed on resolutions of support for the anti-Cagle position, to be adopted by district GOP conventions over the weekend.
On Monday, members of the Senate Republican Caucus today were handed a 10-page report compiled by Arch Adams of Hartwell, an Internet junkie and campaign contributor to Butterworth, who says Merkleson and Staton shared the same computer IP address on Saturday, 19 minutes apart.
According to data from the secretary of state’s office, there is no Beth or Elizabeth Merkleson registered to vote in Georgia. Searches on Nexus turn up no evidence that such a person exists.
A spokesman for Cagle’s office called the allegations against Staton “troubling,” adding that Cagle trusts the GOP caucus to make any investigation or take any action necessary.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider