Originally created 11/19/02

Speaking of history ...

Just because there's been so much Augusta political news - the mayoral runoff, upsets in the congressional and state legislative campaigns and Sen. Don Cheeks' switch to the GOP - doesn't mean historic developments haven't also been happening elsewhere.

One such change is that, with the Nov. 5 defeat of Tom Murphy, the mantle of Georgia's most powerful Democrat - and perhaps the second most powerful man behind the governor - passes to Terry Coleman of rural Eastman.

Although the official vote will have to wait until January, it became clear in the nomination process last week that Democrats - who still control the House by a whopping 74-seat margin - have chosen Coleman as speaker of the House. He succeeds Murphy, who ruled that roost for 28 years.

Coleman will assign committees and name the chairmen. This means the panels will go where the speaker points or be reassigned to obscurity. Coleman will also have the power to make or break the agendas of the new GOP governor and Senate.

Some political observers are looking for a political fight to the death - as might have been the case if Murphy had won the election and gotten his old job back. In a last-hurrah talk to his colleagues, Murphy denounced the Democratic senators who switched and urged the House to "fight (Perdue) like good Democrats should."

Coleman, fortunately, seems more conciliatory. "Sonny Perdue is a Georgian first, and we (Democrats) are Georgians first. What we are going to do is try to work with him on every issue."

The speaker's problems may not come only from Republicans. Concerned at GOP inroads in the state's rural areas, Democrats named two other rural lawmakers to powerful House positions: DuBose Porter of Dublin will become speaker pro-tempore and Jimmy Skipper of Americus will be the new majority leader.

Some blacks feel, not without justification, that giving the three most powerful House posts to small town white Democratic lawmakers came at their expense, reinforcing the notion that the party takes blacks for granted. African-American candidates lost bids for the top jobs as well as for majority whip, which went to another white, Nancy Orrock of Atlanta.

The challenge for Coleman - and for Perdue and GOP Senate leaders as well - is to get used to the alien notion that Georgia is a two-party state.

Some two-party states get bogged down in partisan warfare, but others find a way to work together and move ahead. Which road will Georgia take?


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