Following weeks of media attention about his attempted suicide and, more recently, his wife’s allegations of an affair with a lobbyist, Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson announced his pending resignation Thursday.
Richardson, a Republican representative from Hiram, will step down Jan. 1, according to a statement he released Thursday. House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter will become interim speaker, and the Republican caucus will have 120 days to elect a permanent replacement.
Richardson has been a representative for 14 years. He has held the post of speaker, the top job in the House of Representatives, for the last five years.
The announcement came as no shock to local members of the House. State Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, said he had been encouraging Richardson to resign “for several days.”
“The speaker has made many wrong choices, but today, he made the right decision,” Mills said. “And I hope this will be the beginning of him getting his life together and the help he needs. I believe he has done the right thing for Georgia and for his own life at this time by submitting his resignation.”
Richardson was the first Republican to lead the Georgia House since Reconstruction and was once considered a formidable candidate for governor in 2010.
He recently revealed that he had attempted suicide on Nov. 8. His ex-wife told an Atlanta television station this week that Richardson had an affair with a lobbyist for Atlanta Gas Light at the same time he was co-sponsoring legislation being sought by the utility.
On Thursday, the statement Richardson released said the decision to make his suicide attempt public was to raise awareness and encourage others to seek treatment.
“I fear that the media attention of this week has deflected this message and done harm to many people who suffer from this condition,” Richardson said.
The statement Richardson released did not address his affair, but State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said Richardson discussed the affair with Republican caucus members Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a situation that, you know, some marriages unfortunately end up in,” Rogers said. “But we representatives, any elected official, we all live in glass houses and you have to be careful, you have to watch all your sides.”
Rogers said he was only expecting Richardson to resign from his post as speaker, but said that Richardson’s decision to also resign as representative was “the right thing” to do to keep his medical and marital issues from becoming a distraction in the upcoming
session. Mills made similar comments.
“Maybe we can move on and none of that will resurface again,” Rogers said.
Mills said he had not been aware of Richardson’s relationship with the lobbyist at the time Richardson was co-sponsoring legislation that would have allowed Atlanta Gas Light to build a $300 million pipeline.
“It was certainly information that I was not aware of, and trust was broken,” Mills said.
House Democrats filed an ethics complaint over the same alleged affair in 2007. The complaint was dismissed within a week for lack of evidence.
But Richardson’s ex-wife, Susan Richardson, told Fox 5 Atlanta on Monday that she had e-mails between her ex-husband and the lobbyist for Atlanta Gas Light that prove the affair. The couple divorced in February 2008.
In one e-mail, according to Fox 5, the lobbyist worried that she would be fired if the affair became public. Glenn Richardson responded by saying he would “bring all hell down” on Atlanta Gas Light if that happened.
Susan Richardson’s allegations have spawned a new ethics complaint by a government watchdog this week, and Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s office said Thursday it had begun looking into the complaint.
But, like most Republicans who made comments to the media Thursday, both Mills and Rogers focused on Richardson’s health and the need to address the problems Richardson says he has with depression.
“It was the best thing for him to do to get his life back together,” Mills said. “A person’s life is more important than the legislature.”
Mills said he hoped the House could regroup with little complications.
“This does not need to dominate the issues,” Mills said. “We need to lead and move forward. ... We do not have time to be divisive and fractional. We need to elect new leaders, and we need to move forward.”
Though Richardson’s resignation was expected, there are “still a lot of questions to be answered” for the Republican caucus, said state Rep. Doug Collins.
“I think just some of the things that’s left to go, questions within the caucus,” Collins said. “I know that there’s a plan set forth, but I think, you know, we’re just making sure that everything works out as it should so we can be prepared for the session and the people as best we can.”
In 2008, Richardson stripped Collins of his chairmanship of the Children’s Health Issues subcommittee after Collins helped re-elect Mike Evans to the state Department of Transportation Board.
But on Thursday, Collins said the past was the past and wished Richardson well in his recovery.
“I made the stand that I believe was right; he did what he felt he needed to do at that point, and we move forward,” Collins said. “I try to make it a policy never to make it personal. I believe both politics and policy are not personal, although they can be. I am not naive enough to not recognize that. Was that point a disappointing time in my career? Yes, but at the same point it is not something that I held onto in any detrimental way. We’ve had our disagreements, but I’ll also say the speaker and I have always had a chance to communicate. I have always been able to work with him since that day...”
Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, did not return calls seeking comment from The Times.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.