A switch in time 

Big shoes. Little feet. Before the April 25 vote on the Georgia flag, that was the general consensus on the leadership of Terry Coleman, D-Eastman. When the camera-awkward Coleman won election to the speaker's office in January, few thought he could live up to the legacy of Speaker Tom Murphy.

And until the final days of the session, he was proving the skeptics right. His leadership was dividing House Democrats into black vs. white, rural vs. urban camps.

First, on predatory lending, the House leadership ignored what was one of the top concerns of the Legislative Black Caucus and formed a coalition with conservative white Republicans to pass a bill favorable to the banks.

Then, the first time the flag bill came through the House, Coleman cut off debate to pass Perdue's preferred version of the bill, which contained an option to vote on the racially divisive flag that prominently contains the Saint Andrews cross. Black lawmakers were infuriated.

But when the flag bill was amended in the Senate, thereby sending it back to the House, black legislators knew they would have a second crack at limiting the referendum to one vote -- a newly designed flag against the flag designed by former Gov. Roy Barnes' administration. Black legislators pressed the speaker. According to Rep. Bob Holmes, D-Atlanta, Coleman apologized for cutting off debate during the first vote and assured them he would back the Black Caucus in the next vote.

A lot was riding on Coleman's words, Holmes maintains. "We felt like this would be the third strike and you're out," he says of Coleman.

By casting the deciding vote in the House, Coleman not only did the smart thing for the state, he probably prevented the speaker's gavel from being handed off to someone else.



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