Feb. 11, 2008: GOP Rebels Lose Battle; Speaker Loses War


I called Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, the other day to see how he likes living in the political doghouse. Graves was one of several House members who defied the wishes of Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, wishes and voted for the re-election of Mike Evans to the State Transportation Board from Georgia’s 9th Congressional District. Members of the Transportation Board represent each congressional district in the state and are elected by the state representatives and senators within that district.

Richardson had made it clear that he didn’t want Evans, the current chairman of the board, re-elected because he had voted for Gov. Perdue’s candidate for transportation commissioner, Dr. Gena Abraham, and not the speaker’s candidate, Rep. Vance Smith. However, Evans was re-elected by a vote of 13-10.

As a result of crossing the speaker, Graves, a second-term representative who represents parts of Gordon, Pickens and Bartow counties, has lost everything but his car keys. The speaker took away his committee assignments and his role as deputy whip and even made him move out of his office in the Capitol. While booting Graves out of the building, Richardson also stripped three other members of the House of their committee assignments: John Meadows of Calhoun, Doug Collins of Gainesville and Martin Scott of Rossville. No word yet on whether their potty privileges have been revoked.

If I was expecting Graves to be repentant or intimidated by what happened I was wrong. He said his decision to vote for Evans’ reappointment was very simple. “In my opinion, the majority of the people in my district favored Mike Evans,” he said. Graves said he wasn’t subjected to any lobbying from the governor to vote for Evans. He told me that he didn’t let either candidate know how he would vote. “I voted my conscience,” he says.

That is when the speaker went ballistic — not an uncommon occurrence. So what did Graves do after being cashiered out of the House leadership group? “I went home and sat down at the kitchen table with my wife and kids and we talked about life lessons. We talked about how every decision we make has a cost to consider and how important it is to do the right thing even though it may bring on unpleasant circumstances. We had a great conversation,” he says.

Graves and his colleagues are not the first to feel the scorn of their leadership, by the way. Dick Pettys, editor of the political newsletter InsiderAdvantage and the dean of the Capitol press corps, reminded me that Lt. Gov. Zell Miller demoted Senate Rules Chairman Nathan Dean of Rockmart for voting against Miller’s wishes, and Democratic Speaker Terry Coleman removed Tom Bordeaux of Savannah as judiciary chairman for being slow to move tort reform legislation.

The ultimate loser in this political catfight has to be Glenn Richardson. His candidates for transportation commissioner and board member were defeated. Richardson’s punitive actions have no doubt succeeded in making heroes out of Graves and the others back in their home districts. There are rumblings from grassroots Republicans, such as the Liberty Caucus of Georgia, who have called on the speaker to reverse his decision to demote the four GOP lawmakers. “These members answer to the voters back home; that is their constituency,” said Chris Farris, the group’s chairman. The ultimate zinger came from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who said, “I think in this business, you win some, you lose some. And I don’t know anything that he [Richardson] has won yet.” Ouch!

As for Tom Graves, he went to the well of the House after his demotion and called it “a low point and a dark day in the history of the House.” He talked about another independent-thinking young lawmaker who back in the 1960s had lost his committee assignments because he had crossed House leadership. That representative persevered through his dark days, too, Graves said. His name was Tom Murphy, who later served as speaker of the House for nearly three decades.

I think what Rep. Tom Graves was saying is that we haven’t heard the last of him either. I would agree.