Medical marijuana signing provides a stage for start of House leadership contest

Allen Peake, R-Macon, is sponsoring HB1, the medical marijuana bill. Credit Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com Allen Peake, R-Macon, arguing last year for H.B. 1, the medical marijuana bill. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com
Caption
Allen Peake, R-Macon, is sponsoring HB1, the medical marijuana bill. Credit Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com Allen Peake, R-Macon, arguing last year for H.B. 1, the medical marijuana bill. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

An 11 a.m. ceremony in the state Capitol is officially intended to mark Gov. Nathan Deal's signature on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Georgia – which could be a big deal to hundreds of thousands of people afflicted with one disease or another.

Informally, it will mark the beginning of a sudden Republican race for House majority leader.

At 8:11 a.m. today, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who as the author of House Bill 1 will be the center of attention, sent an email to his House colleagues, telling them what they already knew – that he will be a candidate to replace Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire.

O'Neal announced his probable retirement on Wednesday, pending a judicial appointment from the governor.

State Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, announced his candidacy a few hours later. We're told that Burns, the chairman of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee and a low-key lawmaker who isn't often in the headlines, has the backing of Speaker David Ralston. Other names we've heard include Chuck Martin of Alpharetta and Sam Teasley of Marietta.

A 1 p.m. Monday, May 11, meeting of the House Republican caucus has been called – which would put two contests to rest before the weekend state GOP convention in Athens.

In his email to his House colleagues, Peake said he would be resigning as caucus treasurer – which creates another opening that must be filled.

Peake makes passage of the medical marijuana bill a key part of his argument for promotion. From his morning note:

-- I know how to carry, and pass, tough legislation;

-- I know how to communicate with our caucus about issues and our responsibilities;

-- I have proven that I can raise funds individually, and for our caucus;

-- I have shown that I am committed to sharing funds with our members as needed to help you in your re-election efforts;

-- I have proven that when faced with tough decisions, I will work to find a solution, and will not run from a difficult task;

-- I have proven that I can communicate and defend our caucus positions in a public forum with clarity.

Peake’s supporters tell us that he's built a cross-section of support across the caucus, including several of the more conservative leaders. One House member told us that Peake, who owns several franchised restaurants, has pitched his abundance of spare time as an additional asset.

Updated at 11:30: Gov. Nathan Deal said Thursday that he has appointed O'Neal to the state Tax Tribunal, and said that members of his Judicial Nominating Committee quietly vetted him in March, weeks after the panel announced its top finalists.

“He’s been a long-time champion of tax reform in the state and he's been one of the real leaders on the issue of taxation in the House of Representatives," Deal said of O'Neal. "He’s well qualified. He’s knowledgeable of the tax laws and the processes surrounding cases that will actually come to the court.”

Updated at 11:56: Todd Rehm at Georgia Pundit is reporting that Larry Walker III, the son of former Democratic House heavyweight Larry Walker, is considering a run for O'Neal's open seat.

***

The fine folks of St. Louis

are not fans of the latest installment of the

ExploreAJC's Atlanta Forward project

.

Those pieces, featured in Sunday's newspaper, examined the "inflection points" that made Chicago the bustling commercial hub it is today and left St. Louis in its dust.

Here's the lede on the story about the piece from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

St. Louis' rivalry with Chicago played out more than a century ago, but an Atlanta newspaper has decided to rub salt in an old wound.

The comments are worth a read. Here's a particularly biting one playing off the national news:

"Maybe they can give us some pointers on improving our students' standardized test scores."

Next up in the series is a look at how Denver's political leaders united to tackle  the city's problems.

***

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves has picked up a Republican primary challenge from a Floyd County electrician.

In a news release sent to Peach Pundit and others, Mickey Tuck, of Silver Creek, announced his campaign. Tuck also has a Facebook page for his bid.

A portion of Tuck's pitch:

My two key words for this campaign are "Dismantle" and "Rebuild." Washington, D.C., must be "Dismantled" down to the foundation the Founding Fathers built and the U.S. Constitution. Then, "Rebuild" D.C. on these principles to be a stronger and more prosperous people and nation.

Graves, of Ranger, was elected to replace Nathan Deal in 2010 -- shortly before the tea party wave. He has been identified with the conservative wing of the caucus, particularly during the 2013 government shutdown, but he has also drawn some ire from the right of late for spending votes and support of Speaker John Boehner, as Graves has risen in influence in the House GOP.

Graves reported $371,000 in his campaign bank account as of the end of March.

***

As Hillary Clinton begins her presidential campaign this week, Washington Democrats are rallying to her cause -- with no high-level competitors for the nomination. A list by The Hill newspaper showed Georgia Reps. John Lewis, David Scott and Hank Johnson all in Clinton's corner.

All three confirmed to us their support for Clinton, but what about Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany? Spokesman Max Gigle reports: "Congressman Bishop is 'favorably impressed' but has not made a commitment as of yet."

Also jumping on the Clinton bandwagon is Georgia’s WIN List, a political action committee dedicated to pumping up pro-choice Democratic women in public office. A fundraising note from Andrienne White, who chairs the group, indicates that WIN List has already found its presidential candidate -- no others need apply.

***

Yet another GOP presidential candidate may be trying to chart a middle path through the gay marriage briar patch. On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul told CNN he would be okay with civil unions.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said he would attend the wedding of a same-sex couple, even as he holds to his belief in marriage as restricted to one man and one woman. From Politico:

"If there's somebody that I love that's in my life, I don't necessarily have to agree with their decisions or the decisions they've made to continue to love them and participate in important events," he told Ramos.

***

Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, has said he has not decided whether he will re-enter politics, but he is keeping his campaign warm just in case.

Barrow's FEC filing for the first three months of the year shows he did not raise any money but continued to pay former chief of staff Ashley Jones, communications aide Richard Carbo and fundraiser Sofia Fox. He still had $58,000 in the account at month's end.

***

The nomination of former Atlanta U.S. Attorney Sally Q. Yates for the No. 2 job at the Department of Justice was up for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, but chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has put her on hold. Here's what Grassley had to say:

"In fact, the Department seems to be going so far as to claim privilege over the dates emails were supposedly sent. Of course, the dates that pertinent emails were sent can't possibly be covered by executive privilege. I can't imagine what is so embarrassing about that email correspondence that the Administration won't even disclose to the American people the dates when these emails were sent.

"So, I anticipate sending some follow-up questions by the end of today. I expect that she'll return those questions to the Committee before next week, so that we are in a position to move forward."

Yates has been serving in an acting capacity for the past few months. The nomination of her expected boss, Loretta Lynch, continues to be held up by top Republicans on the Senate floor.

***

Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue is no fan of President Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Perdue, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, sent a statement that read in part:

"The Castro regime, time and again, has violated international norms. In 2013, Cuba secretly shipped 240 metric tons of weapons to North Korea, violating a U.N. embargo, it provides safe harbor for American fugitives, including one on the FBI 'Most Wanted Terrorist' list, and it continues to support radical groups in the region, such as the FARC in Colombia."

***

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain was in Athens on Wednesday and he had some advice for UGA students. From the Athens Banner-Herald:

Part of what that means, Cain said, is for students to make their own decisions.

"If you're majoring in something that Mom and Dad want you to major in, you might want to rethink that," said Cain, who holds a master's degree in computer science from Purdue. "Success starts in your heart."

Cain went on to tell the students, "Don't allow somebody to tell you what you can't do." Putting a political spin on the point, Cain said that one the problems with the federal government is a lack of courage to make bold decisions. "What's wrong with Washington, D.C., is that they just do 'doable,'" rather than tackling issues head-on, Cain said.

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