Burkhalter won't run for Ga. speaker

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SHANNON McCAFFREY
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA (AP) - Three days after saying unequivocally that he wanted to be speaker of the George House of Representatives, Mark Burkhalter on Monday changed his mind.

The Johns Creek Republican said he would hold an election for the top House leadership job when the state Legislature returns to the state Capitol in January. He said he would not be a candidate for the post, one of the most powerful political jobs in Georgia.

"Out of respect and fairness for our caucus and the House of Representatives, I want to be transparent about my career interests and let a process commence for the election of a new Speaker," Burkhalter said in a statement.

Burkhalter, 48, had been a candidate to head the George World Congress Center but said Friday he had taken his name out of consideration. Asked by The Associated Press if he was interested in the Georgia House speaker for the long haul Burkhalter replied, "I am."

It was unclear Monday what career interests he was talking about or what had led to his change of heart. Through a spokeswoman, he declined further comment.

Burkhalter, speaker pro tem of the House, was set to succeed Glenn Richardson. Under pressure from fellow Republicans, Richardson announced his resignation Thursday after a suicide attempt and revelations by his ex-wife of an affair with a lobbyist.

Burkhalter said there would be a meeting of the House GOP caucus on Friday in Atlanta.

"Now that the dust has settled, its time for a caucus meeting to discuss any issues that might be on your mind," he said.

Richardson's resignation takes effect Jan. 1. Burkhalter is expected to remain speaker until lawmakers reconvene Jan. 11.

State Rep. David Ralston, who launched a failed coup against Richardson in 2008, said Monday it was too early to say who would ultimately become speaker.

"But I will say this, we are in danger of endangering the trust that the people of Georgia gave us," the Blue Ridge Republican said. "They did not give us a permanent lease on the Georgia House."

The GOP took control of the Georgia House in 2005 after generations of Democratic control.

The turmoil in the House comes as Georgia faces the worst budget shortfall in state's history. There has been a bipartisan call for ethics reform in the wake of the Richardson saga.

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter said the true nature of GOP leadership is finally emerging.

"They have shown the worst of their leadership," said Porter, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. "What remains to be seen is whether they will clean out their house to move forward in a new direction."

Burkhalter said Friday that he did not believe the GOP or the House had an image problem in the wake of Richardson's fall.

"To collectively say that there is an image problem I think is very unfair," he said in an interview at his state Capitol office.

He had even gone so far as to contrast his style as speaker to that of Richardson, who was known for ruling with an iron fist.

"The tone that I want to try to set for the House is one that is going to try to calm some of the angst that's out there," he said.


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