Originally created 11/15/02

GOP senators elect leadership



ATLANTA - Meeting for the first time in Georgia history as a majority party, Senate Republicans on Thursday elected their leaders and pledged to work with Democrats at the state Capitol.

Savannah lawmaker Eric Johnson was tapped to lead his party into the new era, unanimously elected by his colleagues as the Senate's president pro tem.

With GOP senators expected to strip Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor of much of his power as Senate president, Mr. Johnson would effectively become that chamber's most powerful member.

As Senate minority leader in past sessions, Mr. Johnson often launched into fiery, emotional speeches protesting Democratic plans. But on Thursday, he promised a more gentle approach to governing.

"As minority leader, my role was the loyal opposition," Mr. Johnson said. "But it's time to put the old Eric away and bring out a new Eric."

Others elected to the GOP leadership agreed.

"Our mission is not one of revenge," said Sen. Tom Price, of Roswell, who will replace Mr. Johnson as Senate Republican leader.

Last week's election left Democrats in control of the Senate by a margin of 30-26. But in the wake of Republican Sonny Perdue's upset win over Gov. Roy Barnes, GOP leaders persuaded four re-elected Democrats to switch parties. All four former Democrats - Jack Hill of Reidsville, Don Cheeks of Augusta, Dan Lee of LaGrange and Rooney Bowen of Cordele - were present at Thursday's caucus meeting.

Mr. Johnson said it's not yet clear how Republicans will move to change Senate rules and diminish Mr. Taylor's duties. Currently, the lieutenant governor presides over the chamber, appoints members to committees and assigns bills to those committees.

Reach Doug Gross at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.