Decisions have finally been made: Glenn Richardson is leaving and Mark Burkhalter will take over come January 1. Reading the paper this morning it seems most House members support Burkhalter which is good for him. When I first heard that Richardson would resign but not until January 1 I wasn’t too happy. Why wait until then? The first reason that comes to minds is O.C.G.A. § 28-1-6.1 which has been mentioned on this blog several times. By waiting until 1/01/10 to resign, there is no need to elect a new Speaker until after the Legislative session is over. There may be other reasons that Richardson will wait to resign and it appears to me this was some sort of negotiated resignation. Why the guy who is the principle cause of all this mess was allowed to negotiate his resignation is beyond me. Nevertheless it’s done and absent some sort of coup in the House we have what we have.
Let me say that making Mark Burkhalter Speaker of the House is probably the best decision that could be reached given the short time until the next legislative session. Power will transition smoothly from Richardson to Burkhalter and as I said above, it seems most members like Mark. I do think Burkhalter needs to do a several things immediately upon assuming the Speakership and I’d like to offer my free advice now.
I think Speaker Burkhalter should do these things immediately upon assuming power:
1) Change the way the House has is run. It would have been better to have the GOP Caucus vote on this decision rather than have it forced upon them. I’ve often heard that Burkhalter enjoys broad support from the Caucus, so much so that if he wanted to be Speaker he could make the move almost whenever he wanted to. If that’s the case, why not give the Caucus a chance to endorse his leadership and strengthen his hand going into the Session? Again, what’s done is done, but the “we’re going to cram this down your throat and you’re going to like it” behavior perfected by Tom Murphy and carried on by Glenn Richardson has to stop. That’s not leadership. Leadership is rallying people to the vision you create. Leadership involves empowering people not threatening them. The House GOP Caucus contains many bright, creative people. Get them involved and trust them to make good decisions.
2) Memo to House members: Knock it off. The press is sniffing around. More revelations are likely to come. Things are going to get worse before they get better. The Speaker should tell the GOP Caucus: “If you have a girlfriend in Atlanta and a wife back home you won’t be protected and we’ll do nothing to keep it out of the media. You are one you own to deal with the consequences of your actions.” There are no indispensable House members, don’t protect the guilty.
3) Reduce the influence of lobbyists…now. I’m not necessarily in favor of more restrictions on lobbying but I am in favor of restraint by Members. Glenn Richardson took $50,000 in lobbyist gifts over the last five years. Even if every penny of that was justifiable it’s created the appearance that something is fishy in the House, and in politics appearance is reality. That reality must change and the Speaker can do it by setting this tone: “The House is about getting good things accomplished, not partying.”
4) Get stuff done. There are important issues that have languished over the last few years. Some of that was Richardson’s fault, some was not. It’s vitally important to the State that key issues get dealt with, and dealt with this session. Once again, budget cutting will take center stage, but transportation, water and a host of other issues have reached crisis level. These things must be dealt with or frankly the GOP won’t deserve to be the majority party anymore.
I think Mark Burkhalter has the capability to be a good Speaker and get the job done. I hope he will take this advice in the spirit in which it is offered. I want to see conservative ideas talked about and implement not because I want to see the GOP cling to it’s political power, but because I believe the conservative principles of limited government and personal freedom provide the best chance for our citizens to thrive. Ultimately that’s what is at stake.