ATLANTA (AP) — Frustrated black lawmakers staged a walkout Friday after the Georgia House decided to delay another vote on a resolution that would have honored President Barack Obama as a politician with an "unimpeachable reputation for integrity, vision and passion."
House Speaker Glenn Richardson vowed the decision to send the resolution to a committee did not "bury" the bill, but the move outraged black lawmakers, who stalked out of the chamber seconds later. They saw it as an effort to snub the nation's first black president by a group of white Republican legislators.
"It drips with racism," said state Rep. Al Williams, a Midway Democrat who joined about two dozen black legislators outside the chamber. "I call it just like it is."
The furor began Thursday when the Republican-controlled House voted 70-68 to reject the resolution, which would have made Obama an honorary member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. The members said it would have been the first such proposal in the country.
The measure was blocked by a group of House Republicans who said they were forced to vote it down because House Democrats refused to hash out a compromise over the resolution's wording.
State Rep. Austin Scott, the Tifton Republican who led the charge, said he took issue with language that said "no one could be more worthy of special honor and recognition by the members of this body and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus than this extraordinary leader."
Scott, who is running for governor, said if Democrats had taken out the wording "by the members of this body" he would have accepted the proposal. But he said its sponsors refused to budge.
But state Rep. Keith Heard, the resolution's sponsor, said the wording was stock language that has appeared in countless other resolutions and was approved by the Legislature's attorneys.
He said he and his colleagues have often voted for such "privileged" resolutions they don't support, such as a 2005 resolution commending then-President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina and another one honoring Ronald Reagan — out of respect for the lawmaker supporting the measure.
"We've passed thousands of these resolutions with the same language," said Heard, D-Athens. "The language is very minor, but if it is so minor, why are we changing it?"
Others saw the decision in a more troubling light.
"This seems to add credibility that there's an undertone of racism here, an undertone of mean-spiritedness, an undertone of the efforts to repress the minority legislators," said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, the chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.
But GOP leaders denied the allegations. House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said sending the resolution back to committee would help "get this language recrafted" so lawmakers can find something they can all agree upon.
Richardson, meanwhile, suggested it would be an easy fix.
"Two or three words can be changed and this matter can be voted on," said Richardson, R-Hiram. "It's a matter of less than five words that are objectionable."
On the Net:
Senate Resolution 177 and House Resolution 673: http://www.legis.ga.gov
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.