SMYRNA — After a chaotic week which ended without a new chairman being elected head of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, Cobb Democrats showed a united front during Saturday’s Donuts with Democrats meeting at the Smyrna Community Center.
State Sen. Michael Rhett, D-Marietta, withdrew his name from consideration as chairman and threw his support behind state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs.
“In the sense of unity and teamwork, I’ve withdrawn my position running for chair, and I’m going to swing my support 100 percent behind David Wilkerson,” Rhett said. “I think he’s an outstanding person, he’s well qualified for the job, and I’m going to acquiesce to him. Do a good job for us. I know you will.”
Rhett and Wilkerson shook hands, flanked by Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, and state Reps. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, and Erick Allen, D-Vinings.
“What we’re going to do over the next few days is we’re going to get together as a delegation and work through this,” Wilkerson said. “What the Republicans learned is that we understand the rules as well as they do. That’s what Republicans learned. … Because if you see the video you will see their faces were shocked.”
Last Wednesday the 21-member Cobb delegation met to elect new officers. Following the November elections, Democrats hold the majority in the delegation by a single vote. Three of Cobb’s six senators are Democrats, but eight of Cobb’s 15 state representatives are now Democrats.
Yet when delegation chairman and state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, nominated Rhett for the chairmanship Wednesday, the House Democrats left the room, saying they weren’t going to let a Republican determine their leadership.
Wilkerson told the audience Saturday that such episodes would bring Democrats closer when they take control of the House, Senate and governor’s mansion in the future. He said Cobb Democrats would be coming as a united slate Tuesday when the General Assembly reconvenes.
Rhett said the episode reminded him of when he was in the Air Force.
“Periodically me and the commander would go behind closed doors and have a quite frank conversation. Periodically we might refer to each other as ‘mother’ — and it wasn’t Mother’s Day,” he said with a laugh. “But when we came out we were united as a team and that’s what counts.”
Rep. Thomas said Democrats would stick together moving forward.
“I’m so proud of us. We got up, yes, and we walked out because we were not going for a Republican to nominate anybody. The Republicans, you need to sit down, because it’s the time for Democrats, am I not correct?”
Thomas said it was the people of Cobb County who determined the Cobb delegation was majority Democrat.
“If you don’t want to give us what the people of Cobb County said that they deserve, we will walk out, and we will stay out, and we will not come back in until the people of Cobb County get what they want,” Thomas said.
Wilkerson said he was in conversations with state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, about moving forward.
“I want him to know we are united and we would love for them to be united as well because in Cobb County we’ve always been united, but we haven’t been equal as a delegation. It is about time we are finally equal as a delegation united and equal and do what’s best for Cobb,” Wilkerson said.
After the meeting, Wilkerson said he would ask Tippins to call for a new meeting Tuesday. If Tippins declined, Wilkerson said Cobb legislators in the Georgia House would hold their own meeting and election. The keynote speaker at Saturday’s meeting was the new chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta. In her opening remarks, Williams gave a nod to Wilkerson.
“I’m looking forward to him being the next chair of the Cobb County delegation,” Williams said, adding that Wilkerson showed courage and leadership last week.
“When you guys showed up to vote in November … you told everybody in Cobb County and across the state that you were supporting Democratic ideals and Democratic values and you wanted Democrats to pick the leaders and be in charge of the Cobb County delegation when you elected a majority (of) Democrats to your delegation,” Williams said. “And so I’m grateful for your leadership Rep. Wilkerson and making sure that Republicans did not choose the leader of the Cobb County delegation who Democrats said they wanted a Democratic leader, so thank you for that.”
Tippins said Sunday Wilkerson has his telephone number and personal email, yet he has not heard from him asking for another meeting. However, “I’m not opposed to calling a meeting if they’ll show up and stay,” Tippins said.
As for the Democrats accusing Tippins of trying to determine who the next delegation chairman was, Tippins said, “No. 1, I didn’t know until that morning when I was asked to nominate (Rhett). It was my understanding he was going to be nominated by a member of his own party, and when they asked me if I’d do it I told them I would be glad to because I think he’s a quality individual in all the dealings I’ve ever had with him. Clearly I’m not trying to disparage Rep. Wilkerson, but I have worked more closely with Sen. Rhett, and I have seen how he works, and I’ve got a great deal of respect for his experience and his abilities to accomplish things in the Senate.”
Good legislation has to be bipartisan if it is to survive, Tippins said.
“People aren’t always going to agree on principle or on policy, but that doesn’t mean they have to be disagreeable in their personal relationships. This is not a battle line that’s drawn. I have treated the Democrats with respect in the past. I intend to do that in the future even if we may disagree,” he said.