Originally created 11/04/04

Republicans retake Georgia government



ATLANTA - Republicans glowing from their conquest of state government began mapping out a new agenda Wednesday as a stunned Democratic Party tried to figure out what went wrong and how to put the pieces back together.

The GOP thumped the once-dominant Democrats in elections Tuesday, seizing the majority in the House after more than a century in exile and tightening their grip on power in the Senate by adding four seats. The defeats prompted House Speaker Terry Coleman to announce that he would not run for a minority leadership position in caucuses later this month.

"I think everyone expected Republicans to make some gains," said Michael Binford, a political science professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, "but to make that many that quickly is really amazing."

Likely to be near the top of the agenda for the newly powerful Republicans were a pack of issues bottled up by House Democrats in the last legislative session: Gov. Sonny Perdue's ethics reform, an amendment allowing state funding of faith-based social services, and limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.

Advancing those issues could be key to Mr. Perdue's own run for re-election in 2006, and control of the lower chamber will give him an edge in preparing for those contests, University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said.

"You have to expect that now those House committees are going to be responsive to the governor and report those (bills) out," Mr. Bullock said.

Mr. Perdue specifically cited his ethics reform package as one piece of legislation he hoped to be able to sign during the General Assembly's 2005 session. Other Republicans were also talking about limits on jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits and other changes usually referred to as "tort reform."

Meanwhile, Democrats scrambled to come up with reasons they found themselves as the minority party of Georgia four years after having a stranglehold on the Legislature and the governor's office.

The party quickly pointed to strong showings by President Bush and U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, who won an empty seat in the U.S. Senate. Both won with almost 60 percent of the vote, and a constitutional ban on gay marriage passed with the backing of three-quarters of those who cast ballots.

Mr. Coleman particularly noted that Mr. Bush won Georgia, a state he was favored in, by a margin larger than many had expected.

"A lot of people who were in marginal districts felt the tide of that," he said.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.