Originally created 01/04/03

House leader leaves Capitol



ATLANTA - Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy began packing up more than 40 years of memories from his Capitol office Friday, declaring he has no ill will for the voters in his west Georgia district who decided in November it was time for him to come home.

As workers bundled up scores of photographs, curios and mementos of a lifetime in politics, Mr. Murphy said he feels more relaxed than ever but is distressed by the continuing fight among fellow Democrats over who will succeed him.

"I am as relaxed as a human being can be, and I hold no ill will toward anybody," said Mr. Murphy, 78.

He added with a chuckle, "I admit there are some people I like less than others out home, but I'm proud of the fact that when the good Lord made me, he left that vindictiveness stuff out of me. Not much, any how."

Mr. Murphy was defeated Nov. 5 by Republican Bill Heath, who was barely born when Mr. Murphy first took the oath of office in 1960. A die-hard Democrat, Mr. Murphy could only watch year by year as his legislative district grew more Republican.

He had been speaker since 1974 and was the longest-serving presiding officer of a state legislative body in the nation.

"I'm just ready to go home and enjoy the rest of my life. That's what's amazing folks at home - at how relaxed I am," he said. "It's sort of like they've removed the world from my shoulders. Somebody else will have to worry about this stuff now. I was here early in the morning, late at night and everybody else going off partying and me still here working."

Over the years, the memorabilia in Mr. Murphy's office has grown to cover almost every available space. Besides the now-fading photos of Mr. Murphy and prominent politicians dating back decades, there were numerous oddities - a wooden oxen yoke, a stuffed bobcat - and homemade items made by his constituents.

The collection will go to the State University of West Georgia, which plans to re-create Mr. Murphy's office on campus and display the items just as he had them.

"They said they'd raise the money locally and personally. That's up to them. I'm not one that's really interested in that sort of stuff, myself. I was going to just pack it up and take it home and let the kids do what they wanted to," Mr. Murphy said.

If it sounds like Mr. Murphy is ready to ride quietly into the sunset, that's not quite right. He has taken an active interest in the contest to succeed him.

It's being waged between two top lieutenants - Reps. Terry Coleman of Eastman and Larry Walker, a former top lieutenant of Mr. Murphy. Mr. Coleman won the Democratic nomination at a caucus of House Democrats in November. The full House will vote on the question Jan. 13. Mr. Walker intends to challenge Mr. Coleman at that time.

Democrats hold a 106-72 majority with one independent and one legislative race unsettled. It takes 91 votes to win. Mr. Walker hopes to gather all the Republican votes with the help of incoming Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and spin off enough Democrats to win.

Mr. Murphy said he's disappointed Mr. Walker is bucking the Democratic party.

"I wrote him a letter when this thing first started. I told him that he should abide by the caucus decision. It was a matter of honor," Mr. Murphy said.

Legislative independence has been an issue in the contest, with Mr. Coleman's supporters arguing a win by Mr. Walker would put the House under a Republican governor's thumb.

Mr. Walker countered that argument in a letter he mailed to lawmakers Dec. 30, arguing that the House hasn't been independent of Democratic governors.

Mr. Murphy has read that letter.

"We had some terrible disagreements (with outgoing Gov. Roy Barnes), and Larry heard those discussions ... I wish he'd just tell it like it was, and go on about his business," Mr. Murphy said.

"I stand by my letter," Mr. Walker said. "Beyond that, I have no comment."