May 14, 2007: House Speaker Goes From Political Penthouse To Outhouse


You live by the sword, you die by the sword. In my not-so-humble opinion, House Speaker Glenn Richardson got badly gored during the recent budget fight in the General Assembly. He had it coming. He may be King Kong in the House of Representatives, but to a lot of people he comes across as hot-headed and arrogant.

In 2006, at a dinner to recognize the importance of an “independent judiciary,” Richardson told the assembled guests that legislators had the power to punish judges with budget cuts if they were unhappy with a court’s decision, adding, “Don’t make me mad when we’re in session.” So much for an independent judiciary. A past president of the group sponsoring the event sent a letter to judges who had attended the dinner apologizing for subjecting them “to such an offensive and inappropriate speech.”

The speaker told a local newspaper that he believed shutting the public out of economic development decisions wasn’t a bad thing, and if voters didn’t like the decisions that political leaders made, then voters could turn those politicians out of office the next election. (A bill to take economic development matters behind closed doors never saw the light of day in the 2007 session, so we citizens didn’t get the chance to test his theory.)

Glenn Richardson hasn’t made many friends on St. Simons Island either, by insisting on his right to build a house on accreted land — which up until now has been an environmental no-no. He has vowed to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court any decision to stop him. When concerned residents sent the speaker an e-mail asking that he not build on accreted property, pointing out that other beachfront properties were available and that his efforts would invite a lot of media scrutiny, Richardson shot back, “I seldom bow to pressure or threats. More often than not, if I feel that I am correct, and if someone issues a veiled threat to me or my family, I dig in for the long haul.” Oh, please. Not the John Wayne thing again.

Now, he has had his head handed to him by Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. John Wayne is now Wayne Newton.

What happened in short form was that the House passed their version of the 2007 supplemental budget bill that contained more pork than a five-pound bag of sausage. A few hours later, Lt. Gov. Cagle sauntered over to the speaker’s office and told Richardson that the Senate was going to gut the House budget of all the local goodies. Oops! The House then claimed they had been planning for a $142 million tax cut all along. Then another shock: Gov. Perdue said he would veto the tax cut because the state’s current economic condition wouldn’t allow it. His spokesperson, Dan McLagan, said the House was acting like a bunch of kindergartners. (I may be confused on this: It could be that McLagan vetoed the bill and Perdue said all the ugly stuff. I can never remember which one is the governor.) After having won the battle, the governor “un-vetoed” the budget bill, which sounds like something that could only happen in Georgia politics.

Cagle said the governor had exercised “strong leadership.” Richardson said Perdue was showing his “backside”, which is a nice way of saying his you-know-what. He later apologized, but old habits are hard to break.

Gov. Perdue is still mad at the House, probably because the brouhaha required him to stay late at the office for a change. Casey Cagle came out of the debacle all smiles because he sandbagged his main rival for governor in 2010, and the current governor took the heat. And Glenn Richardson? Well, he was cruising along like a Ferrari on I-95, running the House of Representatives with an iron fist, planning to be governor and then one day live on accreted land at beautiful St. Simons Island. Now, he is trying to figure how he went from the political penthouse to the outhouse so quickly.