House Majority Leader Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, who split with Speaker David Ralston over a $900 million-a-year transportation funding bill, this morning informed Republican colleagues that he intends to leave the Legislature at the end of this month.
If Gov. Nathan Deal comes through with a job offer, that is.
O'Neal's resignation would set off the first major leadership scramble since Ralston became speaker, and could pose a challenge to the Blue Ridge lawmaker's leadership.
A meeting to pick replace the GOP's third-highest ranking Republican will be held before lawmakers return in January, and you can expect a challenge from the caucus' right flank for the coveted position. Here's the O'Neal letter:
April 15, 2015
Dear Fellow Republican House Members:
It is my intention to accept, if offered by the Governor, the Judgeship of the Georgia Tax Tribunal. I am excited about this incredible opportunity yet it is with a very heavy heart that, if this offer occurs, I will be resigning as Majority Leader and as the House member from District 146, effective midnight April 30th, 2015.
It has been an honor beyond words to serve with you in the Georgia House of Representatives. I wish you nothing but the best in the future and I believe now more than ever that our great state has yet to see its most prosperous days. I am proud of each of you and I will miss not seeing and speaking with you on a daily basis as we have in the past, but I will leave with more wonderful friendships than any one individual could ever deserve. The memories I take with me of these past 14 years are among my most treasured possessions. Thank you for allowing me to serve with you, laugh with you and grow with you.
God speed and God bless each and every one of you.
Updated at 12:50 p.m.: So why say anything at all if the deal's not done? One possible reason: To give the green light to a friend. We're told that state Rep. Allen Peake of Macon is interested, and that O'Neal is a close friend.
Peake just happens to have a Thursday date with Gov. Nathan Deal, who will sign Peake's medical marijuana legislation at a robust state Capitol ceremony. Many TV cameras will be present, and O'Neal's letter frees Peake to discuss his candidacy. Should anybody decide to ask.
Updated at 12:55 p.m.: Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the "the governor hasn't made a decision on the vacancy." But over at the Macon Telegraph, Maggie Lee quotes O'Neal as saying his judgeship is a done-deal:
“It’s a bucket list opportunity,” O’Neal said ahead of the formal announcement that he will be the first judge of Georgia’s new Tax Court, which will hear disputes between the state Department of Revenue and taxpayers.
The tax attorney said he is “thrilled” to move to the bench “sort of at the end of my legal career and legislative career.”
His departure will trigger a special election later this year for the remaining one year of his House term.
This despite the notation from Kathleen Baydala Joyner of the Daily Report that O'Neal wasn't on the short list for the new judicial position. From her piece in February:
Three lawyers are vying to be the next Georgia Tax Tribunal judge.
Gov. Nathan Deal's Judicial Nominating Commission announced Friday it had recommended Deal pick from these three candidates: Raymond Carpenter, a solo practitioner in Roswell who specializes in tax litigation and planning; Frank O'Connell, director of the state Department of Revenue Office of Tax Policy; and retired Alston & Bird partner Timothy Peaden, who had a state and local tax practice.
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