A state representative from Hall County who is on active duty in Iraq sent an e-mail to his Republican colleagues Wednesday saying he is being kept from making an absentee vote for speaker and other leaders of the Georgia House.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, has been on active duty in Iraq since September. His assignment is expected to end in January, in time for the legislative session in Atlanta.
In his e-mail, Collins said he asked House leaders to allow him to cast a ballot by proxy in the vote, which is scheduled to take place on Monday.
House leaders, according to Collins, kept him in limbo until the night before he left for Iraq.
State Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, chairman of the Republican caucus, told Collins there was nothing he could do to change the caucus rules that require a member to be present in order to vote.
Collins said he had earlier requested the help of House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who deferred to Roberts.
"All members do not mean the same to this speaker," Collins wrote. "This action was made even harder to understand and to swallow after all of the talk by the speaker about his changing and being available to all the caucus members."
Earlier this year, Collins and several House members announced their support for state Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who is challenging Richardson for the speaker’s gavel.
Collins also broke with Richardson during the session with his vote for Mike Evans for a seat on the State Transportation Board.
Collins responded to questions from The Times in an exchange of e-mails from Iraq. He said he believed the decision to keep him from voting stemmed from his support of Ralston and not his earlier vote for Evans.
"I went through what I felt was the proper route, and only in the end did I appeal to the speaker for help, and my plea was met with a deafening silence," Collins said in his e-mail to The Times.
He does not expect anything to change between now and Monday’s vote.
"It is past that point," Collins wrote. "I am no longer in the country and could not make an informed decision on any other votes that my proxy would be asked to vote on. In my opinion the issue in regard to me voting is over. I had been asked about it over the summer and I just wanted people to understand what had happened in my situation."
Collins has support from his two Hall County House colleagues, James Mills and Carl Rogers, both Republicans and with close ties to Richardson.
"I’ve let my voice be made known that if he’s defending our country, he should be able to vote in the caucus," Mills said. "This is somebody that’s fighting for our freedom so that we can vote."
Rogers takes a similar stand.
"If he can vote absentee for local, state and national elections, he ought to be able to vote in the caucus," Rogers said.
Ralston, who is cautiously optimistic about his chances against Richardson, said the rules should be changed, but it may be too late for this race.
"I absolutely believe our rules should provide that someone who has been deployed by the military to a war zone ought to be able to vote in the caucus," Ralston said.
The caucus is scheduled for Monday at the state Capitol, according to a memo sent by Roberts.
"No proxy votes from absent caucus members will be counted," Roberts wrote in the memo dated Oct. 21.
A spokesman for Richardson said any comment on the matter should come from Roberts, the caucus chairman.
Wednesday afternoon, Roberts sent an e-mail to members of the caucus responding to Collins, saying the two discussed the matter before Collins was deployed to Iraq.
"The reason we don’t allow proxy votes is because no one knows who is running until the day of the caucus meeting so you don’t know how to direct a proxy," Roberts wrote. "I later told Doug that if someone wanted to change the rules, they could change them by a two-thirds vote of the members of the caucus. Doug didn’t ask me to change the rules. If our caucus wants to change the rules and allow votes by proxy we can. I just don’t know how you can have a proxy vote until you know who is nominated and is actually to be voted on the day of the caucus."
He informed lawmakers that if they want to change the rules on Monday, the request would have to be made in writing by Friday.
"In the meantime, if Doug wants to send me the names of all the people he would like to vote for, I will put it in an envelope and hold it and we can decide how to handle it on Monday."