Senate’s Lone GOP Woman Looks for a Bigger Job
Morris News Service
December 20, 2012 —
ATLANTA -- If last month’s national election results spooked Republicans about a gender gap, the Georgia Senate’s lone female GOP member is willing to accept a more visible role as head of the powerful Rules Committee.
Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, is lobbying for her chance. In a two-page letter to the leadership obtained by Morris News Service she lists her loyalty, competency and social skills. She also notes that Republicans could benefit by putting more women in leadership roles.
“Elected officials can speak all they want about equality and being ‘for’ women’s issues, but when one has the power to elevate a woman thru the glass ceiling, it is much more resonate and remarkable on their own personal record to have that courage to make history,” she wrote.
The rules chairman has been Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, who is widely expected to be replaced.
He has been the subject of a criminal investigation about his official travel expenses and chastised by the Senate Ethics Committee for failing to create an oversight as required. He repaid in travel expenses he admitted he had requested in error.
Committee chairmen are normally announced in the first days of the legislative session, which begins next on Jan. 14. A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said it would be premature to comment now on the selection, but Unterman said the decision would come this week.
Observers say the choice is between her and Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, the current chairman of the Transportation Committee. He has been in the Senate one term longer than Unterman, who has more legislative seniority when her tenure in the House is counted.
Mullis didn’t return calls seeking a comment.
Political consultant Mark Rountree of Landmark Communications has worked with Balfour, Unterman and many other legislators over the last 20 years. He said making a woman the head of the Rules Committee wouldn’t register with the average voter but that her presence would affect leadership decision making by adding a female perspective on issues lessoning confrontation. On the other hand, freezing women out could have definite political costs.
"It's one of those that you don't get a lot of credit for doing it, but you can get a lot of condemnation for it if you don't,” he said.
Since there are no other Republican women in the Senate -- not even in any of the special elections, it would be another 10 years before another woman gained the seniority Unterman has.
In the Senate, she’s focused on issues that may be important to women, such as elder abuse and child prostitution. Today (THURSDAY), she is holding a press conference to announce legislation dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but it’s likely the political reporters there will ask her as many questions about the Rules Committee.