by: Atlanta Journal-Constitution Updated:
ATLANTA - Republicans in the state Senate picked a new leadership team Thursday in a decision that may signal its members are tired of the intraparty strife that has gripped the chamber.
GOP lawmakers nominated Sen. David Shafer of Duluth to serve as president pro tempore, the highest-ranking lawmaker in the Senate. The current incumbent, Sen. Tommie Williams, earlier announced that he would not run again for the leadership post, though he remains a lawmaker.
Every state senator, including Democrats, can vote on the president pro tempore when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Since the Republicans hold a nearly two-thirds majority, their candidates for leadership posts are effectively guaranteed election. The GOP caucus also selected Sen. Ronnie Chance of Tyrone as its majority leader, Sen. Butch Miller of Gainesville as its caucus chair and Sen. Cecil Staton of Macon as majority whip.
"I am humbled by the support shown by my Senate colleagues in today's election," Shafer said in a statement. "With the upcoming legislative session less than two months away and with several critical issues needing immediate attention, it is imperative that we begin work now."
The Senate Republicans have been hobbled by internal conflicts. A group of GOP senators moved to strip powers away from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — for example, the power to appoint committee chairmen — after he was re-elected in 2010. State leaders complained the power struggle derailed negotiations on major legislation and made it difficult to conduct daily business. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal tried unsuccessfully to mediate the dispute. House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, publicly scolded the Senate after closed-door negotiations over a major tax bill collapsed in 2011.
"I'm at a point where I think I need to say that they need to resolve their leadership issues and they need to do it quickly or the people of Georgia are going to be the ones that suffer," Ralston told reporters at the time. "I have tried this session to avoid meddling in the business of the Senate but we have come perilously close to their little experiment over there harming the people of Georgia."
The caucus vice chairman, Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, said the vote was not a referendum on Cagle.
"It's important to have a speaker with a united voice through a leader we've united around when working with the other branches of government and our business community while continuing to fully represent our own individual districts," Hill said.
It remains to be seen how power will be split within the Senate. Sen. Ross Tolleson, R--Perry, said Thursday that the Senate caucus may discuss the chamber's internal rules, which define how power is split up, during a second caucus session on Friday. It was not immediately clear when or if the Republicans would vote on the issue.
"I think what you'll probably see is a real balance of the lieutenant governor having some of the authority and the floor having some of the authority," Tolleson said. "I think people want a balance."
Notably absent from the leadership team was Sen. Chip Rogers of Woodstock, the current Senate majority leader and among those who moved to take power from Cagle. Tolleson said Rogers decided against running for the leadership post shortly before the caucus. Rogers said Thursday that he did not have any challengers for the post but decided against seeking re-election because the job was taking a toll on his family life.
Senate Democrats will hold their caucus Monday.
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