Consensus seems to be building around Larry O’Neal as the Republican caucus choice to be Georgia’s next Speaker of the House. His election is not a lock, but members from various constituencies within the caucus tell me that he still is viewed as the person who can bring the house together and effectively move forward from this mess.
I’ve asked each of them their thoughts on the criticism that O’Neal is too close to the Governor, or that he’s just a continuation of current leadership. I received two printable responses.
Regarding the ties to the Governor, I was reminded that O’Neal gave up his position as Floor Leader when he chose to align himself with the House’s tax policy position instead of represent the one from Perdue.
Regarding his ability to stand up to leadership, I was told a story. O’Neal was speaking to a group of Committee Chairmen and a few other capitol types, when he was chided by the Majority Leader Jerry Keen. O’Neal shot back that the House wouldn’t be having any institutional arrogance problems were it not for the leadership track that the current three leaders had put them on.
My understanding of the House operations is that very few people were tolerated to speak openly with any criticism of leadership, and certainly not in front of non-House members. The fact that O’Neal would do this without hesitation or any signs of apparent remorse makes me feel better about his potential Speakership.
I am told that many House members were surprised that Bill Hembree would put his hat into the ring. He is well respected, but had not been viewed as the type of person who had the ambition for Speakership. The folks that think he has the possibility of upward momentum still insist it is O’Neal’s race to lose.
As for the other positions, I am told that Jan Jones is all but a lock for the position of Speaker Pro Tem. Her biggest criticism is that she is too close, geographically, with Mark Burkhalter, but with him leaving the stage (apparently because of the lib’rals), this seems to be a non-issue.
The position of Majority Leader is not currently up for election. There is no official change on that as of today. Pete Randall has weighed in, and I intend to do so later today if time permits.
Jan Jones moving up would leave a position open for Whip. There is no consensus as to what might happen here. One person suggested David Ralston, another Ed Lindsey (and this person generally considers Lindsey an in-town liberal, so I think that the possibility is there if Rep. Lindsey wants it), and another suggested an un-named member who has served less than 3 terms to bring true fresh blood into leadership. I’ll note that the plug for Ralston was not from the back bench that pushed him for Speaker, but from someone much more “establishment”. Again, the opportunity is there if he wants it.
PLEASE understand this: This situation is very fluid. The House members are still trying to make decisions that both benefit the caucus, the House, The State, The Republican party, and themselves, and not necessarily in that order. New names or new information can change this at any time.