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Georgia House to decide on GOP leadership
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Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives will gather this morning to elect their party officers, including speaker of the House. It marks the first time since the GOP took control of the House in 2004 that Speaker Glenn Richardson faces a challenge from within his own party.

State Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, announced earlier this year that he would challenge Richardson for the top post.

A number of lawmakers, including two members of the Hall County delegation, have lined up behind Ralston. State Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, and state Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, announced earlier that they planned to vote for Ralston.

Collins, who is on active duty in Iraq, will be able to cast a proxy vote due to the intervention of Richardson, who has proposed a rule change allowing a proxy vote only for lawmakers in the military who are on active duty.

Collins has selected state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, to vote his proxy during today’s caucus.

The caucus comes at a time when Republicans saw their numbers decline slightly in last Tuesday’s election. The GOP had a net loss of two members statewide, but in Northeast Georgia, two longtime Democrats, state Rep. Jeanette Jamieson of Toccoa and state Rep. Charles Jenkins of Blairsville, were defeated by Republican opponents.

Richardson, in a statement released Wednesday, sounded confident, citing the 105-75 majority for Republicans.

"Despite a historic push by the Obama campaign and state Democrats, coupled with a tough national political climate, we still won 24 state House seats to the Democrats’ 14 in the 38 contested races," Richardson said, adding that he was now turning his attention to "working with the caucus to again earn the Republican nomination for speaker of the House."

Ralston, who once worked as a reporter for The Times, sent a letter to House Republicans saying that Richardson was his friend, but criticized how the lower chamber was operating.

"We have become defined as a chamber where heated rhetoric, name-calling and in-fighting have become the order of the day," wrote Ralston. "We suffer as a chamber from our lack of cooperation and meaningful dialogue with the executive branch and the other legislative body."

At the end of the 2008 session, Richardson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Chestnut Mountain, became deadlocked over a number of issues, including a measure to repeal the tag tax on automobiles.

"It’s time to get a new lieutenant governor," Richardson told the House in the final minutes of the session.

However, much of the political posturing likely is to be overshadowed by the state budget, which is facing a shortfall now estimated at $2 billion.

The difficulty of the approaching session, which will be heavily involved in budget cutting, will likely be one of the arguments for returning Richardson for a third term as speaker.

Lawmakers will gather at 10 this morning in the House chamber for the vote which will include selection of other party officers including speaker pro tem, majority leader and majority whip.