ATLANTA - It was just after midnight when Gov. Sonny Perdue began assembling the Republican legislators still milling around the party's celebration in Atlanta.
It was the same hotel ballroom stage where hours earlier he announced to a rowdy crowd that Georgia had delivered for President Bush and Johnny Isakson had captured the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Zell Miller. Isakson's win meant that for the first time in state history, both of Georgia's senators were going to be Republicans. By midnight, the audience had dropped off significantly, but Perdue's jubilation had not.
"It is my delight to tell you ... Georgians have entrusted Republicans to govern a majority in the House," Perdue said after it appeared certain that the party had gained control of the state Legislature. "This is the new Georgia we all want."
Flanking the governor onstage were a dozen or so faces of that new legislative majority, including members of Columbia County's delegation, who will likely see a higher profile in Atlanta under the Republican control of the Statehouse.
Tuesday's wins marked the first time in more than 130 years that the Republicans had managed that feat.
In the 180-member state House of Representatives, the party had won more than enough to secure the majority - 96 seats in all, according to unofficial returns of Tuesday's races.
In the state Senate, which the GOP took more than two years ago for the first time in generations, Republicans gained a few more seats, leaving the count at 32-22.
"It's going to be very beneficial to Augusta and the CSRA in a lot of local projects," Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, said about the new majority. He said that Columbia County, with its strong Republican base, should fare better than it did under the Democrat-controlled House.
"Columbia County's probably going to get a lot more attention," he said, pointing to road projects and other funding possibilities. "We somewhat had to take care of ourselves because there wasn't support."
Another measure of the coming power shift will be seen when appointments for leadership positions and committee chairmanships are made.
"Ben Harbin (R-Martinez) will probably be chairman of a very powerful committee," Fleming said.
Rep. Sue Burmeister, who becomes the sole Republican voice on Richmond County's legislative delegation, is expected to continue to play a role in the party's leadership.
Fleming has been mentioned as chairman of the House judiciary committee as one possibility.
"I've heard Barry's name being heard in a couple of different places, all in leadership positions," Harbin said.
And with all the political newcomers who won Republican seats in the election, even the county's "youngest" member could see his political stock ascend quickly.
Jim Whitehead Sr. essentially won a seat in the state Senate in July when he beat Republican incumbent Joey Brush, who had filled an important chairmanship over the Senate education committee.
The eight years Whitehead spent as a county commissioner, including two as chairman, should bode well for him, Harbin said.
"It's tough for a first-year freshman with anybody, but he brings in experience that a lot of them won't have," he said, "and we've got so many new people in the Senate, I think it gives him a leg up.
"I think the good news is the area's going to be well-represented in leadership, and that's good for us."
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