State Rep. James Mills lost his bid Monday to become the next majority leader for the Georgia House of Representatives.
Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, was defeated by Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, during a secret ballot vote at the House Republican Caucus.
Mills has served in the House since 1992. He serves as chairman of the Banks and Banking Committee.
Although Mills called O'Neal "a fine legislator and a good man," he believes his defeat had a lot to do with legislators being wary of too much power consolidated in one region. Hall County already has Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, with House Speaker David Ralston from Blue Ridge.
"I naturally wish I could have won but I just could not overcome the North Georgia issue," Mills said. "It seemed that many felt all the power was residing in North Georgia and they did not want to give the majority leader position, too."
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, agreed with Mills.
"Folks came up to me and said, ‘well everything can't be from Hall County,'" Rogers said. "It would have been nice to have the majority leader from Hall County, but it didn't happen, so we move on."
The competition was a polite one. O'Neal called his win bittersweet because he had to defeat someone he respects.
"Mr. Mills is somebody that has mentored me and somebody I have learned from since I've been here," O'Neal said. "I'm overwhelmed and humbled."
O'Neal said though he hopes geography wasn't the determining factor in the vote, he believes he can bring a different perspective to the position.
"I probably think there's a benefit and a balance," O'Neal said. "We're sent here by voters from very distinct districts."
The Hall County Republican Party sent its members an e-mail last week urging them to contact the other members of the Hall County delegation to encourage them to vote for Mills.
None confirmed publicly that they would vote for Mills.
"I think the caucus had a tough decision. Larry O'Neal is a colleague and a fine representative," Mills said. "I wish I would have gotten commitments from my own Hall County delegation, that would have helped. But that's water under the bridge. I respect their right to have a secret ballot vote."
The position of majority leader was open following the retirement of current leader Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons, earlier this year.
Also Monday, Ralston was re-elected House speaker.
Deal addressed the House Republicans saying Georgia voters "have placed great confidence" in their conservative agenda to lead the state.
The House GOP added three seats in last week's election. On Monday, state Rep. Alan Powell, a Democrat from Hartwell, joined the Republican caucus, meaning the party now has 109 seats in the 180-member chamber.
Mills said he looks forward to supporting Ralston and O'Neal.
"We're going to have a great session," Mills said. "Its time to roll up our sleeves and go to work."