Newly minted member of the Georgia House of Representatives Kasey Carpenter (right) presents House Speaker David Ralston with a Georgia Bulldogs rug during the first day of the 2018 General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday. The Legislature adjourned after about an hour of business because of Monday’s national college football championship game between the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

Football outweighs business as Georgia opens legislative session

It was more like a Georgia football pep rally than the start of this year’s legislative session Monday at the state Capitol.

The state Senate adjourned for the day by “Calling the Dawgs.” House members watched a University of Georgia highlight reel from the chamber floor. House Speaker David Ralston waved a red pompom from the dais.

Excitement about Monday night’s national college football championship game against Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium peppered the day’s business in both chambers of the Legislature as lawmakers kicked off the second year of the two-year legislative session.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston shows off his new “gavel” as he stands next to Betsy Lynch at the podium Monday during the first day of the 2018 General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Little work got done besides legislators deciding against taking a vacation day Tuesday to celebrate a potential Georgia victory, welcoming newly elected officials and announcing incoming political leaders.

Lawmakers donned red and black attire, with state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, decorating her desk with Georgia fabric and a stuffed animal Bulldog. State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, donned his Bulldog pants and even skirted the rules to wear his Georgia baseball cap on the floor.

“The state of Georgia is not only the No. 1 place to do business in, it’s also the No. 1 place to watch football in,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presided over the state Senate.

Fleming said the state’s elected officials are representing their constituents, many of whom are die-hard Georgia fans.

“It would be inappropriate not to be enthusiastic about the best team in the nation today,” Fleming said. “You could not pay for enough advertising for what the state of Georgia is going to get tonight.”

Not everyone joined the Georgia lovefest. State Rep. State Rep. Bert Reeves, who was Georgia Tech’s mascot Buzz from 1997 to 2000, suffered through the session, wearing a bright yellow tie.

Georgia Reps. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, and Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, meet on the floor of the Georgia House before the national college football championship game Monday night. Fleming is pulling for Georgia, but Reeves is a suffering Georgia Tech fan. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“As a die-hard-to-the-bone Georgia Tech fan, this has been a very tough week,” said Reeves, R-Marietta.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert called hosting the game and having the Bulldogs playing in it a great opportunity for the state. He also predicted an easy win.

“They have more heart and more fight,” the Republican from Athens said Monday morning. “And those savage Dawgs are not going to give up any points tonight.”

As required by the Georgia Constitution, the Legislature met on the second Monday in January to begin its annual 40 days of business. Lawmakers convened — for about an hour — even though Gov. Nathan Deal on Sunday announced that only essential state offices would be open due to a forecast of freezing rain.

Ralston had previously suggested skipping the session on Tuesday after the football game, but Cagle said he wanted the Senate to come to work. Cagle, who is running for governor, and many other legislators running this year want the session to finish before the end of March so they can return to campaigning and raise money.

Under state law, they can’t raise money during the session.

Though House and Senate leaders are still negotiating a schedule for this year’s session, they agreed to burn a day Tuesday, even though little or no real work is likely to get done. The Senate will begin at its normal 10 a.m. time; the House delayed its start until 1 p.m.

“We will be here doing the people’s work. We will be here celebrating a great victory,” said House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington. “It will be nice to see the Senate working on Tuesday.”

Both chambers held ceremonial votes on changes to leadership after a handful of lawmakers either resigned from the Legislature or stepped down from their positions to pursue other offices.

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, will be the new Senate president pro tem after state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, resigned from the position to make a run for lieutenant governor.

In the House, state Rep. Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, also officially became minority leader, replacing Stacey Abrams, who resigned from the Legislature last year to run for governor. State Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, was named minority caucus chairman, replacing Stacey Evans, who also resigned to run for governor.

A look ahead at the 2018 legislative session with AJC political reporters Mark Niesse and Maya Prabhu. Plus Phrase of the Week with James Salzer. (Video by Bob Andres, edit by Erica A. Hernandez/ AJC STAFF)

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