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North Georgia influence may have affected recent decisions
Some say leadership should span the state
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North Georgians may be pleased with their regional power, but others in the state could have concerns about the geographic concentration of the state's top officials.

Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle are both from Hall County and House Speaker David Ralston is from Blue Ridge.

Recent events with the House and Senate Republican caucuses appear to have some ties to regional tensions.

On Monday, Rep. Larry O'Neal of Warner-Robins was elected House majority leader over Rep. James Mills, R- Chestnut Mountain.

Mills attributed his loss in part to what he called "the North Georgia issue."

Tom Crawford, a Times columnist and the editor of The Georgia Report, said geography matters, though it isn't the overriding issue.

"I think the decision to elect Larry O'Neal instead of James Mills was based on a lot of factors, one of them being that Larry O'Neal is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and tax issues are going to be very important in the upcoming session," Crawford said. "But I think it's fair to say there were some geographical concerns that also had an impact ... There were some legislators that felt other parts of the state should have a say as well."

O'Neal, whose district is in middle Georgia, said he will be able to provide a different perspective to the leadership.

"I think there's probably some benefit and balance," O'Neal said. "We all are sent here by voters from very distinct districts."

During the Senate Republican Caucus, senators voted to remove some of the powers that Cagle has enjoyed as lieutenant governor.

"That decision was made for a whole host of reasons, but one of the effects, again, is to take some of the power that has been centered in Gainesville and spread it around a little bit, geographically speaking," Crawford said. "Those powers flow to Chip Rogers, who is the majority leader of the Senate, and he's from Cherokee County, and also to Tommy Williams, the president pro tem, who is from deep in South Georgia."

Eric Johnson, a former gubernatorial candidate and state senator representing coastal Georgia, doesn't believe having more leadership from North Georgia is that significant.

"North Georgia is one of the fastest-growing parts of the state," Johnson said. "North Georgia anchors the Republican party. In the old days the power base came from South Georgia. That's the natural progression of demographics that shouldn't surprise anybody."

He pointed out that there are still plenty of leaders from other parts of the state, including the president pro tem of the Senate from Toombs County and the Appropriations Committee chairman from Tattnall County.

Though Johnson, who was recently appointed to Deal's transition team, said it is likely that the future governor will appoint more people from North Georgia to boards and commissions.

"It's common for governors to turn to people they know and trust to fill critical positions. Gov. Perdue was middle Georgia heavy with his appointments," Johnson said. "I think this is a normal situation."

Still, Crawford said, politicians look out for the whole state and it is natural to first think of constituents at home.

"As the old saying goes, all politics is local," Crawford said.

Regional events