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Raybon Anderson keeps seat on DOT board

Speaker's effort to replace Boro man fails

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Raybon Anderson keeps seat on DOT board

Raybon Anderson

            ATLANTA  — Georgia lawmakers voted Friday to re-elect Statesboro's Raybon Anderson to the state transportation board, along with the chairman of that board despite the very vocal objections of powerful House leaders.

            North Georgia lawmakers decided to keep Mike Evans around for another five-year term, electing him 13-10 in a secret ballot over former state Rep. Stacey Reece. Later, legislators from southeast Georgia voted to let Anderson keep his seat. The vote tally for Anderson was not immediately available.

            Evans and Anderson were targeted by House Speaker Glenn Richardson last year when they voted to make Gena Abraham the new commissioner of the state Department of Transportation over state Rep. Vance Smith, who chairs the House Transportation Committee.

            The fight over the positions was seen by many as a proxy battle between Richardson and Gov. Sonny Perdue, who had nominated Abraham. It was also a struggle that widened the gulf between the House and Senate, both Republican-controlled chambers whose leaders have been squabbling.

            Richardson had become an increasingly vocal opponent of Evans, saying that board members needed to be held responsible for a $7 billion funding gap in the transportation budget.

            ‘‘It’s time for accountability,’’ he said in an Atlanta Press Club speech last month. ‘‘Someone on the state board of transportation needs to be held accountable.’’

            Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, meanwhile, openly supported the incumbents. He said the two board members ‘‘acted out of principle and they were falsely accused’’ and urged his colleagues in the Senate to vote for them.

            ‘‘In this business, you win some and you lose some,’’ Cagle said of the speaker on Friday. ‘‘I don’t know of anything that he’s won yet.’’

            House leaders responded by listing some initiatives Richardson helped usher through the Legislature, including tort reform, new restrictions on where sex offenders can live and a strict immigration law.

            ‘‘That’s leadership. That’s what’s important,’’ said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen. ‘‘The House is more concerned with policy than internal politics, and Georgia wins on those issues.’’

            The vote was one of the few legislative procedures that still retain an element of surprise. Although 16 of the 23 lawmakers in Evans’ district were House members, there was no telling if they would line up behind their chamber’s leader or defy him by voting for Evans.

            After delivering short speeches, Evans and Reece both walked to the back of the Senate chamber and stood side by side, awaiting the decision. The lawmakers scrawled their choices on ballots that were quickly destroyed after the vote.

            When the results were announced, a relieved Evans thanked members of both chambers for the support, a nod to the fact that at least six House members voted in his favor.

            ‘‘It was a very close vote,’’ Evans said. ‘‘We’ve got a champion in the commissioner that’s there day to day, that’s intent on making things run. I’m glad because I want to be a part of these great changes.’’

            After the vote, lawmakers and transportation officials tried to strike a conciliatory tone.

            Reece said he thinks Evans ‘‘will be a better board member’’ because of the competition, while Abraham said she was excited to work with whomever was elected.

            ‘‘People did the right things for the right reasons,’’ said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, who chairs the Senate’s transportation committee. ‘‘We’re going to work together, and we need to bring the two chambers together.

            ‘‘Now it’s time to move on.’’

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