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Friday, December 4, 2009

Richardson resigns, opens up to GOP House members

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As they say, there are two sides to every story.

And this afternoon, in a conference call to the House Republican Caucus, Speaker Glenn Richardson told his.

"I think everybody was surprised by the level of detail the Speaker went into about his personal life," said one lawmaker who was in on the legislator-only phone call.

Another described Richardson's frank revelations as "the most personal phone call possible — it was his explanation to all of us."

Please excuse the uncharacteristic sensitivity here, but I'll touch on just a couple of those details. For additional servings of tawdriness, please consult your local TV listings.

In an interview that aired Monday on Fox5, Richardson's ex-wife, Susan, had portrayed him as something of a possessive stalker bent on bullying and "guilting" her into reconciling with him. For instance, she told reporter Dale Russell, Richardson had sent her 49 text messages while she was out of town with another man, accusing her of abandoning their children and threatening to use the Georgia State Patrol to find her.

But in his call to House members, Richardson said the reason he kept texting his wife is that he didn't know where their teenage children were and she wouldn't answer his calls. He threatened to call the State Patrol because he was considering filing a missing persons report to locate his kids, he explained.

Contrary to what the ex-Mrs. Richardson told Fox5, Richardson also said his suicide attempt was not a stunt or a plea for sympathy; he even told House members what kind of pills he'd taken and how many.

"Folks were probably more sympathetic to the Speaker after getting off the phone call," one Republican told CL.

And yet, there were no suggestions that Richardson stay on the job through the 2010 General Assembly. If anything, I was told, the call reaffirmed "our grim resolve that the Speaker should step down."

For one thing, Richardson himself "admitted he could no longer be effective as Speaker" — either emotionally or politically, one House member said.

But just as important are the lingering conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from what Susan Richardson called her ex-husband's "full-out affair" with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist at the same time he was co-sponsoring legislation sought by the utility in 2007.

Apparently, Richardson didn't try to refute those accusations in today's call. In fact, he admitted to legislators that the affair had happened.

"Everyone is so relieved that the crisis is over," one House Republican said.

But what happens next? Under House rules, when Richardson formally resigns on Dec. 31, Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter, R-Johns Creek, immediately takes the job.

Earlier this week, various GOP sources told me the caucus seemed to be leaning toward elevating Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons, the current Majority Leader, to the post. But now I hear that Burkhalter will likely hang on to the Speaker's gavel, at least through the upcoming session, which convenes in less than six weeks.

"At the beginning of the phone call, Mark made it very clear that he intends to be Speaker," said one colleague. Burkhalter even told members that was not planning to pursue the top job at the Georgia World Congress Center, as had been widely rumored.

Still, the caucus isn't likely to meet again until next week, which could give an ambitious House member time to mount a challenge to Burkhalter's succession. That would be the worst-case scenario for Republicans — and, by extension, state government.

As one legislator observed: "It would not be good for Georgia for there to be a protracted fight over the Speaker's chair."

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