By Dave Oedel
Georgia House Representative Allen Peake from Macon lost the majority leader position by a reported 69-44 vote of the majority Republican caucus on Monday, May 11, 2015 under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. Jon Burns from Newington in rural far-east Georgia prevailed. Peake was seeking to move up from the secretary/treasurer position, a position Peake relinquished to run for majority leader. The leader’s spot is being vacated by Larry O’Neal from Bonaire, also in Middle Georgia. O’Neal has resigned to assume an appointment by the governor to a position as a leading administrative law judge on tax matters. Bruce Williamson of the city of Monroe won Peake’s old slot as secretary-treasurer.
In effect, Middle Georgia’s clout in the legislature, with O’Neal retiring and Peake losing, took a double hit.
However, Peake’s loss wasn’t surprising. Peake’s reputation as a predictable party lieutenant had already been diminished before the caucus vote, so the result was probably a foregone conclusion. As evidence of Peake’s declining currency within the party leadership, Speaker David Ralston endorsed Burns, not Peake. With more openings than usual for committee chairmanships ready to be doled out, the speaker’s recommendation had extra meaning.
The primary reasons for Peake’s decline in the party hierarchy were his own doing. In the last two sessions, Peake has marked himself as a maverick and quasi-libertarian while pushing, highly publicly, for medical cannabis. After considerable wrangling, Peake was successful in extracting a nearly unanimous vote on the medical marijuana bill – but at some cost to his own reputation within the party.
Despite the unanimity of the vote, many thought that Peake was too narrowly focused on a marijuana bill that was not a primary agenda item for the Republicans. Passage of the bill also created implementation complexities that are not easily solved, and invite additional legalization proposals later that may be less politically palatable than helping pitiful kids with seizure disorders.
While Peake’s personal profile statewide grew during the process, his reputation with respect to party allegiance diminished. His agenda-straying ways may have been noted in other arenas too, for instance during the debates on the transportation bill when Ralston was trying to collect difficult votes for raising taxes. Peake was being more traditionally skeptical about increases.
If there is a silver lining for Peake, it is that it frees him further to explore positions that do not line up precisely with party leadership. By identifying himself so publicly with medical marijuana legalization, Peake made himself known to many people far outside his district. In particular, Democrats and independents leaning libertarian are more likely to approve of loosening the regulation of marijuana. Now they know Peake, and are more likely to think favorably of him.
As mentioned in the earlier issue of the Macon Monitor, Peake is open to considering a run for governor.
That remains an option. Although being a reliable lieutenant in the party may be critical for securing higher leadership posts in the General Assembly, it isn’t necessarily a good resume line when you’re running for governor against a Democrat like Jason Carter with strong statewide name recognition and the ability to bash Republican doctrines on things like education and Medicaid expansion.
Peake has shown a canny ability to think and act for himself politically while attaining difficult political goals. While Ralston might understandably want other qualities in his leadership cohort, that doesn’t mean that Peake can’t still secure his colleagues’ support, including Ralston’s, for a gubernatorial run.
Governor Nathan Deal will be done in 2018. Until then, Peake will likely be taking the temperature of the gubernatorial waters. Despite his loss as majority leader last week, Peake remains a viable potential candidate for governor in 2018.