At 4:40 p.m. Monday, Jeff Mullis was slouched in a red chair outside chambers, in conversation with yours truly, when an aide brushed by to let him know that the letter containing his Senate leadership assignment had been sent out.
“What’s it say?” the senator from Chickamauga asked, pretending that his appointment as chairman of Senate Rules Committee wasn’t the most badly kept secret in the state Capitol.
With a reporter present, the aide refused to bite, and said the sealed news was waiting for him in his basement office. The committee assignments had been due out at 3 p.m., but had been delayed due to some last-minute tweaks – made to account for angry floor speeches from former Senate president pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan.
Both had expressed disappointment that their fellow senators, by adopting a new set of chamber rules, this morning returned much of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s authority over the Senate – powers stripped from him in 2010.
Cagle’s return and the election of David Shafer, R-Duluth, as Senate president pro tem would be the first of a cascade of changes in the chamber’s governance.
Mullis’ appointment as rules chairman would be the largest of the smaller power shifts. Mullis is a 12-year veteran of the state Capitol and was formerly chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “The trick is to take your job seriously, but not yourself,” he said in the elevator on the way down to his office. Mullis was Cagle’s closest ally during the lieutenant governor’s two-year exile.
The north Georgia lawmaker intends to make a good start of things. For instance, he paid for his own tickets to Sunday’s Atlanta Falcons playoff game.
As we neared his office, we passed some of Mullis’ belongings on their trip to his new digs. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, the man whom Mullis is replacing, was already moving his furniture into Mullis’ quarters. The two shook hands. Balfour smiled.
“Where’s my letter?” Mullis asked his staff. Upstairs in your new office, he was told.
So back up the stairs we go. The presumed rules chairman grabbed an object d’art – a plaster elephant – out of a young female aide’s hands and headed for the fourth floor.
Once there, Mullis began a search for the letter. It wasn’t on the new desk, not on the chair, not in any of the boxes. His search was interrupted by House members – Allen Peake, R-Macon; Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, and Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula – who had trooped in to offer their congratulations. For good reason.
Before any House bill makes it to the Senate, it will need Mullis’ approval. If he indeed is the Senate Rules Committee chairman.
That letter never did turn up. But Mullis’ furniture is in the office of the Senate Rules committee chairman. And that means something.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider