As they returned to work Monday, members of the delegation started the process of honoring the longest-serving House speaker pro tempore in the nation’s history. That is the second-highest post in the House of Representatives, elected by the members of the House.
The Augusta Democrat spent 34 years in the House, from 1968 until his retirement in 2002, the last 26 as speaker pro tempore. He had served four years as the majority whip, a leadership position in which he informed the members of the party and encouraged them to vote with the leaders.
“It is because of this unique record and length of service in a leadership position in the House that it is most appropriate that he be honored and recognized by having his portrait hung in the state Capitol,” said ex-Rep. Sam Nicholson of Augusta.
Nicholson wrote Augusta’s current legislators for help. Democrat Wayne Howard, the delegation’s chairman, replied that he was felt the same.
“I agree with your recommendation and would be honored to support this effort,” Howard wrote.
Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, said as a personal friend of Connell and his wife Nan, she would make the formal request to the Capitol Arts Standards Commission that determines what is displayed under the Gold Dome. Monday, she said she was just beginning her research of the process.
Connell, now in his 90s, is a resident at the Georgia War Veterans Long Term Care Facility, and has made few public appearances in recent years.
Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Atlanta, serves on the commission and was in the House during part of Connell’s tenure, and his legislative secretary, Debbie Lynn, worked for Connell for years.
“I consider him just a great Georgian, a remarkable legislator and my friend,” Wilkinson said.
The challenge is finding wall space in the building, he said. Georgia is the only state without an official history museum to display tributes to public officials, leaving the Capitol as the only option.
Sims noted that the current speaker pro tempore, Jan Jones, R-Milton, will one day get her own portrait as the first woman in the country to hold the position.