A spurned senator slams GOP colleagues – and apologizes to Kemp

State Sen. Renee Unterman didn’t hold back when she took to the floor of the Senate Tuesday to deliver a scathing message to her GOP colleagues.

“Today is a very sad day,” she said, scanning the faces of her colleagues. “I can’t believe what’s happening in this body.”

Just minutes before, the Gwinnett Republican had received official word that she was ousted as head of the Senate Health Committee after six years in that role, preceded by 10 years as vice-chair.

And she was still seething from Monday's vote to limit the amount of time an alleged victim can report claims of sexual harassment involving a senator or staffer.

In an emotional address, she said she has “worked like a dog” to run the committee for the last six years, after 10 years serving as its vice-chair. Then, in stunning fashion, she revealed that she, too, was the recent victim of sexual harassment.

“I know personally what it feels like,” she said. “It’s not a good feeling. We need rules and regulations, desperately, to protect people.”

The details of that harassment were not yet known; Unterman said she would talk publicly about it later this week.

The reasons for her demotion were also murky, though the appointment of her successor offers a clue. State Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah physician, is a vocal proponent of an effort to roll back "certificate of need" requirements that regulate hospitals ahead of a major debate on the issue.

What Unterman did not need to remind her audience is that she’s part of a vanishing group of lawmakers - one of only two women Republicans in the chamber and among a handful of GOP senators from the close-in suburbs who survived the last two elections.

That brings us to another element of her speech, delivered from the heart of the Senate: A very public apology to Gov. Brian Kemp.

She and Kemp's campaign traded intensely personal barbs during last year's heated GOP runoff; Unterman was a top ally of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and one of his more prominent surrogates.

That’s all in the past, she wanted her colleagues to know. Kemp called her early one recent morning to put the back-and-forth behind them. And she apologized to him.

“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with our relationship,” she said, looking squarely at a camera filming the proceedings. “I support you. I respect you. I know your history. I served with you. I’m here to help you. There is no bad relationship.”

Maybe she just wanted to clear the air. Or maybe she wanted to make sure she didn’t have to contend with hostility from the governor’s office if she clashes with Senate GOP leadership this session.

She closed her speech by returning her gaze to the senators surrounding her:

“I’m not going to be quiet. I’m not going away.”

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