November 11, 2016 1:11 PM
The Georgia Senate held its caucus elections Thursday, trading out Senator William Ligon of Glynn County for Senator John Kennedy of Macon. The rest of the Senate leadership positions remained status quo, including the GOP caucus position to nominate Senator David Shafer for another term as Senate President Pro Tem.
House Republicans will hold their caucus elections at 10am Monday morning. The only announced race is for Vice-Chair of the caucus. The current Vice-Chairman is Sam Teasley of Cobb County. His challenger is Mandi Ballinger of neighboring Cherokee County.
Teasley has occasionally crossed paths with House leadership. He was seen arguing with the Speaker before the original House vote on last year’s transportation funding bill, a vote that led to the immediate departure of Majority Leader Larry O’Neal.
Teasley has remained in the fold, but others seem to keep drawing attention to him as a potential challenger to the House agenda or leadership. The Speaker’s two time challenger, Sam Snider, listed Teasley by name as a person he would like to see become Speaker when he defeated Ralston (begins at 6 minute mark of linked video). Teasley was also listed as an attendee of an event held by the Tea Party of Gilmer County, a group opposed to Speaker Ralston, to speak on RFRA, in the Speaker’s House District. Teasley said the invitation with his name on it was “a mistake”, but the seeds of distrust seem to have taken root.
Ballinger, meanwhile, hails from uber-conservative Cherokee County. As such, there isn’t the ideological choice the Senate faced between Ligon and Kennedy. Ballinger has shown independence at times but doesn’t have a track record of surprising leadership. She was instrumental in the passage of the campus carry bill last session. In addition, she would be the first female member of the caucus leadership team since Donna Sheldon left her seat to run for Congress.
Some Gold Dome insiders have been hinting that they would prefer not to see a religious liberty bill introduced during the 2017 session that is any stronger than Rep. Kevin Tanner’s original Pastor Protection Act. The fact that Senator Ligon, who cosponsored last year’s First Amendment Defense Act as well as 2015’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, did not win re-election could be an early indicator of the Senate’s position. Rep. Teasley sponsored the House version of RFRA in 2014. Monday’s election could be a signal of where things stand in the House.
There’s a holiday weekend left between now and the election Monday morning. Just a little time left for each to make the case to stay the course, or make a change.