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Ga. Speaker Resigns After Lobbyist Affair Claim

Thursday, 03 Dec 2009 04:36 PM

 

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ATLANTA -- Georgia's powerful House speaker has resigned after a suicide attempt and allegations by his ex-wife of an affair with a lobbyist.

Speaker Glenn Richardson says in a statement issued Thursday by the House communications office that his resignation takes effect Jan. 1.

He had won sympathy from even his political enemies when he revealed last month that he had attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. But then his ex-wife went on TV and accused him of having "a full-out affair" with a lobbyist while they were still married.

The 49-year-old was once thought to be a serious contender for governor. He had been silent since his ex-wife claimed this week that he slept with a lobbyist pushing a $300 million pipeline bill he was co-sponsoring.

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THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ATLANTA (AP) _ Georgia's iron-fisted House speaker won sympathy from even his political enemies when he revealed last month that he had attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills. Then his ex-wife went on TV and accused him of having "a full-out affair" with a lobbyist while still married.

Now calls are growing for Glenn Richardson, Georgia's first GOP speaker since Reconstruction, to step down.

The 49-year-old once thought to be a serious contender for governor went right back to shaking hands at chicken-and-grits fundraisers after trying to kill himself, but he has been silent since his ex-wife claimed this week that he slept with a lobbyist pushing a $300 million pipeline bill he was co-sponsoring.

It has been a dizzying fall for one of Georgia's most powerful political figures. Sheriffs deputies found him Nov. 8, slumped semiconscious on the edge of the bathtub at his west Georgia home after he called his mother to say he had swallowed pills. A suicide note and a silver .357 Magnum were on the counter next to him. The contents of the note have not been released.

Secretary of State Karen Handel, a leading candidate for governor in 2010, called Richardson's personal turmoil "heartbreaking" but said meetings at the state Capitol were grinding to a halt because he was missing in action amid the worst state budget crunch in the state history.

"We have very serious issues that the Legislature needs to deal with that require leadership and focus and it's clear that we don't have either right now," Handel told The Associated Press.

She and the Georgia Christian Coalition were among those calling Thursday for Richardson to resign.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said Richardson is known for comebacks, but the latest round of news may have finally damaged him beyond repair.

"Heading into an election year, I think Republicans would rather not still be talking about the life and loves of Glenn Richardson," Bullock said.

Richardson was revered among some conservatives for helping engineer a GOP takeover of the Georgia House in 2004 after decades of Democratic control. But his short temper has often left him feuding with the state's other leading Republicans. In 2007, a red-faced Richardson accused Gov. Sonny Perdue of showing his "backside" after the two feuded over tax cuts.

He has also been dogged by messy personal and ethical problems, including a 2007 ethics complaint by House Democrats over the same affair ex-wife Susan Richardson accused him of on TV this week. In an interview Monday with Fox 5 Atlanta, Susan Richardson said she had e-mails between her ex-husband and the lobbyist for Atlanta Gas Light that prove the affair actually happened. The couple divorced in February 2008.

In one e-mail, according to Fox 5, the lobbyist worried that she would be fired if the affair became public. Glenn Richardson responded by saying he would "bring all hell down" on Atlanta Gas Light if that happened.

The 2007 Democratic complaint was dismissed by a legislative ethics panel for lack of evidence, and a defiant Richardson used a breakfast speech before a room full of Georgia business leaders to threaten retaliation against those he said he said were trying bring him down with "poison."

The bad news, according to Richardson, "is that I survived." And, he continued, "I'm looking for those that manufactured that poison."

The top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader DuBose Porter, said Susan Richardson's allegations should prompt a renewed ethics probe.

Glenn Richardson has not publicly responded to the allegations, and his spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday.

Perdue hosted a meeting at the governor's mansion Wednesday night with Richardson and his two top deputies, House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter and Majority Leader Jerry Keen.

There was no word Thursday on what was said at the meeting, and a spokesman for the governor declined to comment.

If Richardson refuses to step down he could be ousted. Under Georgia law, if 20 members of his GOP caucus sign a petition saying the speaker is unable to perform his duties because of a disability, members of the ruling party must hold a hearing and take a vote on the matter.

State Rep, Austin Scott, a past Richardson ally also seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said he will sign a petition seeking to remove Richardson if there is one.

"I know that caucus is going to do the right thing and there will be new leadership shortly," he said.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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