This time, they chose a chamber suited to their numbers.
After the 2010 election, Democratic members of the House gathered in their huge chamber, dwarfed by a space that emphasized their shrinking numbers.
On Monday, they gathered in the room at the state Capitol used by the 56-member state Senate. The 59-member House caucus filled the room quite snugly.
The occasion was the election of officers for the caucus, which two years ago was also a debacle. Shortly after being elected chairman of the Democratic caucus, state Rep. Doug McKillip of Athens switched parties and declared himself a Republican. (He was defeated in this summer’s GOP primary.)
There was the odd reference to the fleeing of white lawmakers to GOP trenches. “I’ll never leave this ship,” declared Scott Holcomb of Atlanta, who just survived a tough Republican challenge and was a candidate for chief deputy whip.
But the big surprise was a challenge to the House Democratic leadership team. Minority Leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta faced no opposition, but Brian Thomas of Lilburn, the caucus chairman in charge of recruiting and fundraising, was opposed by Virgil Fludd of Tyrone.
Thomas was clearly puzzled. “When you have someone challenge you, the message clearly is, whether it’s explicit or not, you have not done the job,” he told his caucus before the vote.
When the secret ballots were counted, Fludd was the winner. “I think we can do better. I think we’ve done things well, but I think we can do better,” Fludd said.
Fludd’s election violated an unspoken agreement that House Democrats have observed, to keep leadership positions balanced by race – which suggests some serious divisions. (Thomas is white, Fludd is black.) But given that most of the caucus strategy is called by Abrams, one could also interpret Fludd’s election (as well as his remarks above) as a way to express dissatisfaction with Abrams – without engaging in an open, embarrassing revolt.
Abrams was having none of the latter.
“We’re all political animals, and as such we all seek office,” Abrams said as she congratulated Fludd on his win. “I don’t think there’s any signal of dissatisfaction or challenge. These spirited races show that our caucus sees that there is something to stand for.”
Here’s the Democratic team in the House:
– Minority Leader Stacey Abrams;
– Minority Whip Carolyn F. Hugley;
– Minority Caucus Chairman Virgil Fludd;
– Minority Caucus Secretary Debbie Buckner;
– Minority Caucus Treasurer David Wilkerson;
– Minority Caucus Vice-Chairman Billy Mitchell;
– and Minority Caucus Chief Deputy Whip Scott Holcomb.
House Republicans caucused at nearly the same time. State Rep. Rusty Kidd, an independent from Milledgeville, was a no-show. He had threatened to convert to Republicanism and give the GOP a supermajority of 120 in the 180-chamber.
Speaker David Ralston, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal of Bonaire and other caucus leaders were all re-elected. The only fuss was a challenge by tea party conservative Delvis Dutton of Glennville to Donna Sheldon of Dacula for chairman of the caucus.
A letter from Dutton to House Republicans, obtained by my AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin, signals some dissatisfaction with Ralston – as has been the case with some of the most conservative GOP factions. Wrote Dutton:
”The role of Caucus Chair is not to tow the party line or talk you into voting a certain way. The primary role is to listen. After listening, the role then transfers to advocating. In a group our size, it is easy for good ideas or constructive criticism to be lost in the mix….”
Sheldon was the winner.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider