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Wednesday May 6th, 2015 8:45PM

Ga. state Senate leaders present united front

By The Associated Press
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Georgia state Senate leaders said Monday they are united and ready to work together on the issues that are important to the state, marking an important contrast from the past two years when an internal Republican struggle made daily operations difficult.

"We have a new leadership team that is united better than we've ever been," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. "The Senate is focused on returning to the upper chamber and being in a very strong position to deliver on the issues that are important to the people of Georgia, issues like creating jobs and making Georgia the most economically viable state in the nation."

Cagle was joined for an interview Monday evening by Sen. David Shafer of Duluth and Sen. Ronnie Chance of Tyrone, who have been nominated by Senate Republicans to serve as president pro tempore and majority leader, respectively.

The three men spoke following a Republican caucus meeting as state lawmakers met in Athens for a biennial training conference sponsored by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government of the University of Georgia.

Cagle spoke in generalities about priorities for the Senate in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 14. The budget, various ethics reforms, work force development, the hospital provider fee and how national issues will impact the state are all things that will be important, he said.

But mostly the three men talked about how united they are.

"We've forged a new partnership with the lieutenant governor," Shafer said. "We are united and fully focused on creating jobs and putting Georgians back to work."

The sentiment was echoed by Chance.

"The big takeaway here is that we are a united front," Chance said. "The Senate is together. We're moving forward and we're ready to go back to work in January."

Senate Republicans have been hobbled by internal conflicts for the past two years. A group of GOP senators moved to strip powers from Cagle - for example, the power to appoint committee chairmen - after he was re-elected in 2010. State leaders complained the power struggle derailed negotiations on major legislation and made it difficult to conduct daily business. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal tried unsuccessfully to mediate the dispute. House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, publicly scolded the Senate after closed-door negotiations over a major tax bill collapsed in 2011.

The leadership struggle showed signs of ending when two of the most powerful senators relinquished their leadership roles.

Sen. Tommie Williams of Lyons, who had been the highest-ranking lawmaker in the Senate as president pro tempore, announced earlier this year that he would not run again for the leadership post, though he remains a lawmaker.

Former Senate majority leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock - who led the majority that stripped Cagle of control of the chamber - stepped down last week, ending a decade-long tenure that saw him become one of the state's most powerful politicians before recently losing his grip on power. He's set to join Georgia Public Broadcasting in January. His duties will include leading a radio show on Georgia economics and business.

It remains to be seen how power will be split within the Senate. Cagle said the leadership will tackle that next month.

"With a good leadership team, like we have now, the truth is that it really doesn't matter what the rules are," he said. "You know, when you're united and focused on the importance of moving our state forward, great things can happen, and I think that's what the people of Georgia can look forward to."
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