Daily Race Update: O’Neal Still In Lead, Jones Has Pro Tem Position As “Hers To Lose”

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.


  1. AthensRepublican says:

    Talking points from the status quo group to get everyone to rally behind Larry O’Neal. “Just do what we say and everything will be all right.” I don’t buy it.

    • Icarus says:

      Very fair to call one of my sources “status quo”. One is very much not. One, kind of in the vast middle.

      As I said, it’s fluid, and the “back bench” has grown, and the heat on the guys at the front is high and rising.

      There will be an election, not a selection. And I do believe that given the current vacuum of leadership from the top, the results of the election will demonstrate a mandate of change.

      • AthensRepublican says:

        Your message is geared to get everyone to rally around O’Neal by leading them to believe that in less than 24 hrs. all the caucus members are lining up like good little soldiers. That is exactly what I would call status quo.

        I hope several candidates run for this position and that each of them outlines how they will lead us past this mess and what they will do to change the image under the Gold Dome. If it’s the same old same old, I hope there will be many GOP primary challengers in the next election cycle.

        • Icarus says:

          If you think the caucus members are trying to line up like little soldiers, you probably should try calling a few of them. And I would encourage you to call the ones other than supporters of whomever you are supporting.

          As I stated above, O’Neal is the front runner today. Bill Hembree is gaining momentum, and the caucus meeting still has several days to go. I don’t think I said anywhere in there that O’Neal has this in the bag, or people should line up behind him.

          What I did do is ask actual caucus members their response to the criticisms of him, as published here in various comments and as featured in Jim Galloway’s column this morning. I think it is important for our readers to know how the caucus members view the criticisms that are pretty open and public.

          The only person that I said could have this in the bag is Jan Jones. She very much seems to be a consensus candidate, but again, things change quickly.

          And I can’t state again, your assertion that people are trying to line up like good soldiers is ludicrous on its face. Who exactly are they lining up behind? The entire leadership group of the house, save Keen, has been vaporized. And he’s fighting for his own survival. He is in no position to dictate who fills those other leadership slots.

          • AthensRepublican says:

            I don’t know who I would support since I don’t know who has announced they are running or for what. Also, I don’t think the caucus members are lining up like little soldiers. Your post is designed to make us believe that is exactly what they are doing in lining up behind O’Neal. The underlying message being is that O’Neal is the frontrunner so you better jump on the bandwagon now so you can get your plum assignments. If that is truly the case, then it is sad.

            Any candidate should first state they are seeking the position and then outline exactly what they would do. The Republicans have a serious image problem to contend with and need to give serious thought to their next batch of leaders.

          • Icarus says:

            I think you may still be confusing this with an election you actually get to vote on. It’s a vote for the caucus members. And the case that each candidate must make is to other caucus members, not to me, and not to you.

            For the record, I’ve never met O’Neal, and never spoken to him. And I don’t think him taking the time to call me or you would help him win the speaker ship.

            I’m thinking he’s probably spending his time calling and/or meeting the 120 or so House Republicans, stating the case why he would be the best Speaker.

            But the thing is, they already know him, and any other candidate that would be able to run/win. And these are some pretty opinionated consituents, so they generally can make up their minds fairly quickly.

            If you think he’s not the best person for the job, get on the phone with your legislator, and any other one you may have influence with, and tell him/her how you feel. If enough people agree with you, maybe the next update will be different.

          • AthensRepublican says:

            Yes, I am well aware the Speaker is elected by the House as a whole and the Republican caucus generally picks its candidate for that position.

            Other than Tommy Smith and I assume Larry O’Neal based on the posts here, there may be other candidates.

          • Ken in Eastman says:

            “Lining up like little soldiers” sure applied to most of them when Richardson was beating the drum. That’s the problem.

            Where was Larry O’Neil when we needed people to oppose Richardson last year?

  2. LongTimeListener says:

    There is no doubt there is enough talent in the Caucus to overcome these difficult times. The trick is to put the right people in the proper positions. O’Neal as Speaker and Jones as Pro Temp is a great start. Both are experienced legislators with the gravitas to lead the House, and they represent a nice balance in geography. Bill Hembree is a great guy and has been a wonderful Chairman, but unfortunately his district is just too vulnerable. The Dems would throw everything at him in an effort to claim his scalp.

  3. fishtail says:

    Hate to be a spoil sport, but has Larry O’Neal ever given a satisfactory explanation on his sponsorship of the legislative tax break for Sonny Perdue that he slipped through in the waning hours of a General Assembly session, saving Sonny over $100k? Maybe it’s just me, but this is a terrible example of the sort of behavior that we should expect from a squeaky clean Speaker.

  4. Sandy Brothers says:

    Larry O’Neal is Sonny Perdue’s tax lawyer. Look at all of Sonny’s issues–Oaky Woods, Florida land deals, and special tax breaks–not to mention others yet revealed, and O’Neal is close at hand.

    This will lead to further disasters for Republicans. A nice guy he is if you want a tax policy wonk, but he is not the stuff of a kind of speaker they need right now.

    • Icarus says:

      Frankly, his name hasn’t come up, and I haven’t asked.

      I’ll try to remember next time.

      I also see that Mike Coan has a FB group, but I really don’t think FB groups set up by political operatives, even good ones, have any bearing on this race. But it does show there’s someone pushing, fwiw.

      • flyonthewall says:

        I have heard from several people that Mike Coan is NOT running for anything at this time. As you stated, things could change, but not likely. Too bad, I was hoping he would consider because I do believe he would have brought a clean record to leadership….Just Sayin 🙂

        Lynn Walker would make a fine choice for speaker or speaker pro-tem. Put a preacher in the room and they will all straigten up!

  5. 1magnoliapeach says:

    Being fairly new to this blog, I would like someone who “Is in the know” about these matters to clarify something . It seems from all I read that the new “Leadership” has to be (1) Scandal free in public and private life/matters and (2) Not seen as a “Buddy” of Richardson.

    • Ken in Eastman says:

      Some of us also want someone who was pro-active in opposing Richardson. It didn’t require The Amazing Kreskin to see that Richardson’s fork was already bent. The GOP Caucus knew it and most were not brave enough to oppose him. The ones who actively stood against Richardson deserve the most serious consideration for speaker.

  6. Ludowici says:

    I spoke with someone today who said the silent maoprity will not support Jan Jones for any position, not even Whip. Apparently she’s been part of the machine that is now “Burning down the House”. Perhaps there will soon be a position available at the GWCC for her. Enjoy.

  7. foray says:

    Ludowici I don’t know who you were talking to- but every member outside of Atlanta that I have spoken to today including a number that voted for Ralston last year are 100% supportive

    Jan is smart- she wouldn’t leave her position as Whip if something else was not safe

    • Hissy Fit says:

      I have to agree with this. Jan Jones was not part of the burning of the House. If the House doesn’t elect her Speaker Pro Tem, they have done themselves a great disservice.

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