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Ralston wins speaker vote, Richardson bids emotional farewell
By JIM WALLS
Dec. 17, 2009 — House Republicans today chose reform candidate David Ralston to replace disgraced Speaker Glenn Richardson, after hearing reminders that their political future might depend on it.
Ralston, a Blue Ridge attorney who lost his committee chairmanship after challenging Richardson a year ago, won on the second ballot with a reported victory margin of fewer than 10 votes. He won over Reps. Larry O’Neal of Houston County, an ally of Gov. Sonny Perdue, and Bill Hembree of Douglas County, who was eliminated after the first ballot.
Supporters of Ralston leapt in the air as the result was announced in the House chambers.
Ralston, making his case to GOP caucus members before the vote, warned that Republican legislators could find themselves in the minority again if Georgia voters do not believe the House has addressed perceived abuses of power by Richardson.
“The need now for change is beyond debate because this caucus cannot afford business as usual any more. That day is over. … I’ve been in that minority and I don’t want to go back back, and I don’t think you do, either.”
O’Neal, who was once Perdue’s personal tax attorney, had spent the last few days defending language in a 2005 tax bill that gave the governor a $100,000 tax break. O’Neal, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, spoke in favor of the bill at the time without telling colleagues it would benefit Perdue. He told House members the IRS audited the transaction but took no action, and he complained that the Senate, not the House, actually tacked on the retroactive provision.
(Immediately after today’s vote, the joke in the House press gallery was that O’Neal would now get the Senate to pass an amendment making him speaker.)
Ralston’s candidacy still must be confirmed next month by the full 180-member House of Representatives. Richardson resigned from the Legislature effective Dec. 31, after his ex-wife gave an explosive TV interview that he had carried on an affair with a lobbyist pushing a bill that Richardson had sponsored.
Before the vote was announced, Richardson took the well to make an emotional farewell to House Republicans and apologize — sort of — for unspecified “failures” during his tenure as speaker:
“Along the way, wherever we may have failed, I take full responsibility for those failures. All of ’em. … When you leave here today, you leave all those behind. You leave them on my shoulders as I walk out of here. They’re mine.”
For the first time publicly, Richardson also addressed his struggle with depression and his Nov. 8 suicide attempt. He tried to take his life, he said, because he had hoped to reunite with his ex-wife and children after a 2008 divorce.
“I thought it was going to happen, and when the realization hit me a few weeks ago that it wasn’t, I didn’t think there was reason to live. That was all it was about. There was no other agenda other than me deciding … I didn’t want to be here.”
Richardson stopped to compose himself a few times before finishing a short speech. He left the chamber without speaking to reporters.