Heading into the worst budget crunch in the state's history and what could prove to be a tough election year, legislators quickly scheduled a Dec. 17 caucus vote to select a new speaker. The full House must then elect the speaker when legislators return to the Capitol on Jan. 11. But Republicans hold a 105-74 advantage in the chamber so - barring a deal with Democrats - the GOP nominee would almost certainly prevail.
Friday's get together was described as a "family meeting" designed to let members vent after several weeks of tabloid-style revelations that have rocked the state Capitol. Gov. Sonny Perdue came to offer words of support.
Lawmakers voted by secret ballot to close the meeting to the press, defeating an effort by state Reps. Bobby Franklin, of Marietta, and Jill Chambers, of Atlanta, to open it up. Afterward, they pledged efforts to win the public trust back.
They also scrambled to distance themselves from Richardson who - after facing pressure from his own party - said he would step down Jan. 1.
"The actions of one man do not reflect the actions of the many," House Whip Jan Jones, of Alpharetta, said following the meeting. She insisted the caucus would not let "the actions of one person serve as a distraction."
Still, questions swirled about Richardson and his No. 2, state Rep. Mark Burkhalter, who on Dec. 4 said he planned to serve as the next House speaker of Georgia and then - with only a vague explanation - changed his mind just three days later.
Burkhalter attended Friday's meeting but hustled in and out through a side entrance out of view of the media.
Richardson's alleged affair with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist while he was pushing a $300 million pipeline bill being sought by her employer was the focus of a 2007 ethics complaint filed by Georgia Democrats.
House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, a top Richardson ally, revealed Friday that soon after that complaint was filed, he asked the speaker about the allegations and he denied them.
Asked if he had any firsthand knowledge of the relationship Keen replied, "of course not."
In an interview with Fox 5 Atlanta, Richardson's ex-wife Susan, accused her husband of a "full-out affair" with the lobbyist and said she had e-mails between the two to prove it.
A joint legislative ethics panel in 2007 dismissed the complaint saying it lacked evidence.
In a recent interview with the Telegraph of Macon, state Rep. Larry O'Neal - a leading candidate to replace Richardson as speaker - said the affair was "widely known" at the Capitol.
O'Neal is one of four Republicans who've said they will run for speaker. The others are state Reps. David Ralston, of Blue Ridge; Bill Hembree, of Villa Rica; and Tommy Smith, of Nicholls. O'Neal, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, is Perdue's former lawyer. He was slapped with an ethics complaint of his own in 2007 alleging he got Perdue a $100,000 tax break. Ralston made an unsuccessful bid to oust Richardson in 2008, questioning the speaker's temperament after several feuds with fellow Republicans.
Following a cameo appearance at Friday's meeting, Perdue acknowledged the House GOP "is a little unsteady" but said he has confidence they'll find their bearings.
"Representative government is not all that neat sometimes," Perdue said.
Democrats blasted the closed-door process Republicans employed on Friday.
"Regardless of which Republican hand holds the gavel next January, we'll know that they got there by the same rotten process that put Glenn Richardson in power and kept him there while his entire caucus turned a blind eye to his ethical transgressions," Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kidd said.
But Perdue said Georgians are worried about issues such as education and health care and he didn't think the scandals will hurt the party.