It’s been happening slowly and quietly, so quietly that no one has talked about it much in public, but it’s happening nevertheless: the most conservative members among the House Republicans are gradually leaving the lower chamber.
Some of this is planned, some of it is not.
Rep. Bobby Franklin, widely considered to be the most extreme member of the House, died of a heart attack several weeks ago. Rep. Martin Scott, who eulogized Franklin on the opening day of the special legislative session, is said by his colleagues to have decided he won’t run again. Rep. Mark Hatfield and Rep. Jason Spencer were drawn into the same legislative district during that special session, which means at least one of them won’t be back in 2013. Rep. Rick Austin is leaving to run in a special election to replace Jim Butterworth in the State Senate.
The latest change among the House’s ultraconservatives happened this week with the announcement that Rep. James Mills of Gainesville is being appointed to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles and will give up his House seat.
Mills, who’s in his tenth term as a House member, has been a leader among the Christian conservative faction and, like Franklin, has tried for years to pass legislation that would outlaw abortions (he has succeeded in putting more restrictions on the medical procedure).
He has been a thorn in the side of House Speaker David Ralston, who stripped Mills of his banking committee chairmanship several months ago. For as long as Mills was in the House, he was always going to be seen as a champion of the ultraconservatives and a potential challenger to Ralston for the speakership.
Mills was always a very outspoken House member who reserved some of his harshest language for undocumented immigrants. Here’s a passage from a news account of Mills’ remarks during the House debate in 2008 on a bill that would have allowed police to seize cars driven by immigrants:
Bill sponsor Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville) repeatedly told House members Thursday the measure would protect Georgia citizens from the “epidemic” of illegal immigration.
“The state of Georgia’s door is being kicked down,” Mills said. Immigrants are coming from “Iraq, Iran, Irania, Jordan. We don’t know where they’re from,” Mills said.
Over the years, several of Mills’ colleagues have mentioned to me an incident from early in his legislative career that involved an accusation, which was later dropped, of stalking a teenaged girl. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on these incidents and the articles are still posted in the newspaper’s online archives.
From the Nov. 29, 1995 edition of the AJC:
Rep. James Mills (R-Chestnut Mountain), a prominent Christian conservative legislator, and ally Rep. Mitch Kaye (R-Marietta) charged Tuesday that the judge who issued Mills’ arrest warrant on a misdemeanor stalking charge was politically motivated.
But Alan Pilcher, the Hall County magistrate who issued the warrant Monday, called the allegations unfounded, noting that he already has announced his retirement from office.
Mills, a former youth minister and vocal advocate of family values in the Legislature, has been charged with stalking an 18-year-old Gainesville woman who told police that Mills followed her from parking lot to parking lot in September and trailed her in his car.
Mills, 33, turned himself in Monday and was released on bond. He raised the issue of politics Monday, but declined to comment further Tuesday. “I’m innocent of this accusation,” said Mills, a distributor of Little Debbie snacks. “I’m going to work vigorously to clear my name.”
But Kaye said Pilcher was engaging in a “political witch hunt.” The judge, a former Democrat but now a Republican, tried to have his office made a nonpartisan post earlier this year, but Mills was among the lawmakers who opposed the change. “He should have recused himself,” Kaye said of Pilcher.
Pilcher acknowledged that Mills helped thwart his efforts, but he said politics “has never had any effect on any decision I’ve made.”
A couple of months after the initial stories ran in the AJC, the newspaper reported on Feb. 1, 1996 that the charges had been dropped:
Stalking charges against a Hall County state legislator were bogus, conjured up by a woman who wanted TV talk show fame at his expense, a prosecutor has declared.
“She told all her friends that she’s going to make it big now,” said Jerry Rylee, the Hall County State Court solicitor who dropped the charges against Rep. James Mills (R-Chestnut Mountain). “She said she’s going to Hollywood, she’s going to `Oprah’ with all this.”
In an unrelated case, the 18-year-old woman who made the accusation, Lianne Miller, faces two felony counts of aggravated assault. She allegedly rammed the car of her ex-boyfriend, Scott Shelby, from behind last week, beat on it with a knife and threatened to kill him and two women in the car, Rylee said.
Miller could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Mills said his considerable faith was answered when his name was cleared.
“I just want to thank God for his steadfast presence,” Mills said. “He’s given me a wonderful wife and family who supported me through this whole ordeal.”
Rylee said Miller’s story about the alleged Sept. 28 stalking never stopped changing.
At one point, she told authorities that Mills waited for her to come out of a Waffle House while he was at a nearby carwash. In another version, she told authorities that Mills waited while parked on a busy road in Gainesville.
Miller also told investigators that Mills chased her car bumper to bumper while going 60 to 70 mph on a twisting, pothole-pocked thoroughfare. A sheriff’s deputy attempted to simulate such a chase, Rylee said, and almost crashed in the process.
In regard to the assault case against Miller, Shelby apparently dropped her as a girlfriend after she made “some confessions” about the Mills case, Rylee said. It was after the split that Miller allegedly went after Shelby while he was in his car.