0201EvansAudHear Mike Evans talk about his efforts to keep his post on the State Transportation Board and the campaign waged against him.
Mike Evans remembers when a freshman lawmaker from Paulding County was elected to the Legislature. Evans, who had been in the state House for four years at the time, welcomed newcomer Glenn Richardson in 1997.
A member of the House from 1992 until 2000, Evans, as Republican caucus chairman, was delighted to have another GOP member in the House minority.
Richardson quickly ascended in Republican ranks, and when his party assumed control in 2004, was named speaker.
A few months after Richardson became speaker, Evans, Richardson and former state Rep. Garland Pinholster were having dinner. Both Evans and Pinholster, who were active in recruiting Republican candidates to run for the Legislature, recall that Richardson thanked them for laying the groundwork for what would become the Republican majority.Today, Evans and Pinholster find themselves at loggerheads with Richardson over their vote in favor of new Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham.
Evans is chairman of the DOT board, and Pinholster, who left the House in 2002, is vice chairman.
Richardson had supported state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, for the job. A similar showdown is expected at 11 a.m. today when 24 members of the Legislature will gather to vote on Evan’s re-election to the DOT board.
While none of the House members contacted for this story will confirm it, Evans and Pinholster say they have been told that the speaker has threatened loss of powerful committee chairmanships and a willingness to recruit and fund opponents to run against those who vote for Evans.
"There’s always pressure on these DOT elections," said Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain. "I’ve never made decisions based on pressure when (Tom) Murphy was speaker, when Zell (Miller) was governor or when Roy (Barnes) was governor. I don’t plan on operating any differently now."
Mills said there are supporters on both sides and good reasons on both sides, which makes a decision difficult.
"You’ve got two good folks who want the position," Mills said.
Evans’ opponent is said to be former state Rep. Stacey Reece, R-Gainesville. Reece, who was an announced candidate in 2006 for the state Senate seat currently held by Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, abandoned his campaign after news accounts of a lobbyist-sponsored wedding shower at a private club in Atlanta.
While Reece has not confirmed that he is seeking the post, state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said Reece was recruited by Richardson.
While Reece lives in Gainesville, Evans continues to have the support of municipal and county government, as expressed in letters and resolutions sent to Hall’s legislative contingent. The business community, through the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, is also supporting Evans.
"I’ve been humbled by people I know and don’t know who have supported me," Evans said.
Evans has had vocal public support from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has been working for Evan’s re-election.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said Thursday that he was supporting Evans, although a spokesman said the governor was not contacting House members on his behalf.
"Everybody knows where he (Perdue) stands," said Bert Brantley, a Perdue spokesman. "He (Evans) has been one calling for reform and change at DOT."
Evans has been visible at the Capitol this week trying to make a case for his re-election. Also this week, Reece has been seen under the Gold Dome, adding fuel to the speculation that he would seek the DOT post.
"I don’t know that a speaker has ever invested as much political capital in a DOT board race as this speaker has," Evans said. "When they think they have enough votes, they quit wrestling these guys (representatives) to the ground, For now, it continues."
State Rep. Doug Collins,
R-Gainesville, who succeeded
Reece in the House, said that he has had more calls, letters and e-mails on the DOT election than on any matter since he came to the House last year.
"There’s been a little pressure, yes," said Collins. "This is big time politics."
Collins declined to say how he would vote, but said both sides had offered valid arguments.
Evans feels confident that he has at least 13 votes, which is enough to win another five-year term. The vote has traditionally been a secret ballot, where the name of the candidate is written on a slip of paper. Proponents argue that this system eliminates the possibility of a political backlash from a DOT member, who has the power to influence transportation projects in a legislator’s district.
He is likely to receive the votes of the seven senators who can vote in the election; however, he must be able to sway six of the 17 representatives to win.
There has been talk of a public vote, as well as speculation that Richardson might require House members to show their ballot to a designated representative. This would make the vote known to Richardson, but not the public. A request for clarification of the voting process was not provided by Richardson’s office.
A source close to the process told The Times that Richardson has been emphatic in his desire to preside over the voting session. Traditionally, the event is convened by either the lieutenant governor or the speaker and the process is completed by a designee. Richardson, the source said, wants to supervise from start to finish.
Hawkins said that on the Senate side there has not been any arm twisting, although Cagle has been adamant in his support of Evans. "Our lieutenant governor is highly respected in the Senate and is listened to," Hawkins said. "He has made some good points in this matter."
Calls to Rogers seeking comment were not returned.