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State's budget woes could be an opportunity, Lt. Gov. Cagle says
Rep. Carl Rogers, left, and speaks with Rep. James Mills, left, before the start of the 2009 session. Rogers' wife, Linda Rogers, accompanied him for the start of the 2009 legislative session. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s legislative leaders struck a conciliatory tone as they opened the 2009 session Monday at the Capitol.

Lawmakers voted by acclamation to re-elect Glenn Richardson as the House Speaker with the support of the chamber’s Democrats. House Minority Leader DuBose Porter said his caucus wanted to "put aside the partisan rancor."

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the budget challenges "create wonderful, wonderful opportunity."

State legislators are trying to signal a united front as they face a steep budget shortfall, and budget cuts are expected to dominate the 40-day session.

However, Monday was a day for ceremony and family as spouses — and fidgety children in some cases — stood by as a loved one took the oath of office for a two-year term in the General Assembly.

Jennifer Austin, wife of Rep. Rick Austin, fought back tears as she held the Bible for her husband as he was administered the oath by Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward-Sears.

In the Senate, 13-year-old Carter Cagle of South Hall Middle School was given gavel duty by his dad, the lieutenant governor.

The younger Cagle would tap the gavel, at his father’s direction, as the Senate passed each of its organizational measures.

State Sen. Jim Butterworth, R-Clarkesville, was joined in the Senate chamber by his wife, Amy, as he took his oath of office.

"For a minute, I was the guy with my camera phone out taking pictures on the Senate floor," Butterworth said. "It was a humbling experience. I want to learn the process and build relationships as my first main step."

Butterworth was joined by about 50 friends and supporters from his district, which covers much of the Northeast Georgia mountains.

State Rep. Michael Harden, R-Eastanollee, 28, stood with his wife, Jeanelle, who held a family Bible.

"It was a huge honor and is something I’ve waited on for a long time," Harden said. "It’s a honor to sit in the people’s house and represent Northeast Georgia."

Missing from the opening day ceremony was state Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who remains on active duty with the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

During a speech on the House floor, Rep. Kevin Levitas, D-Atlanta, noted Collins’ absence and asked his colleagues to honor him with a round of applause. An "E" marking an excused absence appeared beside Collins’ name on the electronic board where House votes are recorded.

While Collins’ travel plans were not revealed due to security reasons, his tour of duty in Iraq was expected to end near the start of the session.

On Wednesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue is scheduled to appear before a joint session of the General Assembly to present his "State of the State" address. It is during those remarks that Perdue is expected to outline his plans for addressing the state’s $2 billion budget shortfall and his plans for a projected $1.2 billion in bond-financed building projects.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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