Republicans Seize Control of House, Grow Majority in State Senate

Surprising insiders and political pundits across the state, Republicans seized control of the Georgia House of Representatives, which had been dominated by more than 130 years of Democratic leadership.  Republicans completed their clean sweep of the Georgia General Assembly by solidifying their control in the Senate with a margin of 34 to 22.  While House Democrats managed to capture many of the seats that had been seen as pivotal, several veteran Democrats lost in an election that gave President Bush a 17 point lead in the state and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Johnny Isackson an 18 percent victory over Denise Majette.  

To view a complete rundown of the races in Georgia, cut and paste the following link into your web browser:

http://www.sos.state.ga.us/elections/election_results/2004_1102/
Election Creates Challange for Republican Leadership

For the first time in Georgia history, Republicans will have to lead the House of Representatives.  While Governor Perdue has presided for two years over  a divided government, suddenly, overnight, the stakes have become much higher and the responsibility for governing much greater.  Unfortunately for Governor, the new Republican House leadership and the Republican Senate leadership, times are difficult and it will be no small task to govern effectively.  

The state is both more politically divided and financially challenged than it has ever been.  Republicans will not enjoy the benefits their Democratic predecessors were lucky to have, including a Sunbelt economy, that from the late 1960s through the turn of the millennium produced almost boundless economic prosperity.  Jobs no longer flow automatically to the South as they did in recent decades.  In fact they go overseas and many small towns have been stripped of their economies because of a dearth of manufacturing jobs and fundamental changes in everything from agriculture to local retailing and food service.  With these changes, the ability to finance government at the local and state levels is increasingly difficult.  

Perhaps the first test of the newly elected Republican majority will be to lower expectations with regards to what government can and must do.

January will Bring New Leaders to the Forefront of the General Assembly

When the Legislative Session begins in January, there will be many new people in leadership positions, including some committee chairs in the Senate that will be freshmen.   The learning curve is likely to be steep as the Republicans get up to speed, especially since the Democrats have guarded the inner secrets of state government for more than a century.  In the midst of and because of the confusion, there will opportunity for change.  At the top of that list, expect major strides in tort reform, ethics legislation, privacy protection and a reduction in the size of government.    

In the area of ethics reform, everything from campaign finance to disclosure requirements involving legislators and lobbyists, including conflicts of interest could be on the table.  For example, will legislators still be able to chair and sit on committees where they have a vested interest?  Will legislators who have direct interest in the insurance industry be able to serve on insurance committee?   Will a motor vehicle dealer be able to serve on the motor vehicles committee?  And, will a trial attorney--Democrat or Republican--be able to serve on the judiciary committee?
Republicans Compromise--Form Leadership Team

Just hours after learning of their victory, House Republicans have apparently reached a compromise that will determine their body?s new leadership.  Many had thought that there would be a bitter fight for Speaker between Mark Burkhalter and Glenn Richardson.  It now appears that a deal has been struck between the two.

* Glenn Richardson (R-Dallas) will become Speaker

* Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta) will become Speaker Pro-Tem

* Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island) will become Majority Leader


As a conciliatory gesture, Richardson may grant Burkhalter the important job of assigning committee positions and chairmanships.  A Republican press conference is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday November 4th, when it is expected that this House leadership will be announced.
Conservative Democrats Once Pivotal?Now Mostly Marginalized

The conservative Democrats who could have switched to make a pre-election Republican majority a reality, now appear to be left out in the cold, as their party affiliation is no longer necessary for solid Republican control.  Current results show the Republicans holding 95 seats in the 180-member body.  With such a comfortable margin, the Republicans no longer need to promise plum committee chairmanships or assignments to induce party switching.  In fact, some Republicans point out that if such incentives were handed out to party switchers, it would deprive veteran Republicans of their much-deserved rewards.  However, in the days and months ahead, look for a number of rural, conservative Democrats to switch and, thus, align themselves more appropriately with the constituents in their districts.  

Several House Democrats did not even get a chance to return to Atlanta.  Among them are longtime members Buddy Childers and Curtis Jenkins.  Childers, who represented a Republican leaning district in Rome, was the chairman of the Health and Human Service Committee.  He suffered a resounding defeat to Republican Barry Loudermilk?s 61% to 39%.  At press time, another powerful House Democrat, Curtis Jenkins, Chairman of the Special Judiciary Committee and likely successor to Jimmy Skipper as the Democratic Majority Leader had the Democrats retained control, appears to have lost.
Keep Your Eye On Future Leaders

Expect major changes in both the State House and Senate.  The House has a clean slate with its new Republican majority, while there are many open positions in the State Senate, including a number of committee chairmanships.  For example, longtime House Insurance Committee Chair Jimmy Lord will no longer preside over the committee?expect Ben Harbin or Rich Golick to be major contenders for this post.  

The Senate will also select a new Insurance Committee chair because former Chairman Robert Lamutt left to run for Congress.  Other open Senate chairmanships include

Banking and Financial Institutions (Don Cheeks?Defeated in General)
Children and Youth (Ginger Collins?Defeated in the General)
Ethics (Mike Crotts?Retired)
Interstate Cooperation (Chuck Clay?Ran for Congress)
Judiciary (Charlie Tanksley?Retired)
Natural Resources (Hugh Gillis?Retired)
Public Safety and Homeland Security (Rooney Bowen?Retired)
Reapportionment and Redistricting (Tom Price-Ran for Congress)
Special Judiciary (Rene Kemp?Retired)

Historical Change Different From What Meets the Eye

Although Georgia had been a Democratic state since reconstruction, the 2004 sweep of the Georgia General Assembly is less about being a philosophical shift than it is about being a correction including?aligning the state?s views correctly with party affiliation.  As late as the 1980?s, being a ?Georgia Democrat? meant that you were a conservative and that you did not side with the national party.  Today being that same ?Georgia Democrat? means that you are a Republican.  Perhaps the single biggest contributing factor that Democrats  made to support this realignment in this election was allowing the gay marriage amendment to be placed on the ballot. Georgia, along with ten other states, overwhelmingly supported the same sex marriage ban, reflecting the state?s conservative religious values and the desire to restrain overreaching judges.  

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