Political Notes – For Senate Republicans, the magic number is 20

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When Senate Republicans hold their caucus to elect new leaders next week – as of now, the meeting is set for Monday – the number that everyone will be reaching for is 20.

There are 38 Republicans in the Georgia Senate and to win any of the leadership posts, you’ll have to persuade at least 20 colleagues (including yourself) to vote for you.

Thus it is that the contestants in each of the leadership races are working hard behind the scenes to try to line up those 20 required votes.

Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer (R-Duluth) and Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) are vying for the job of pro tem, the second highest-ranking position in the Senate next to the lieutenant governor.

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) said several months ago she was also running for pro tem, but rumors persist that she might withdraw from the race in return for a committee chairmanship such as the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) is running against Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) for majority leader, a job that became open when Ronnie Chance decided to retire from the Legislature.

Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) and Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) are running to replace former senator Cecil Staton as majority whip.

A senator who at one time was thought to be a candidate for one of the leadership jobs – Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) – confirmed that he is not a candidate. “At this time, I have no intention to put my name in nomination for any caucus leadership position,” McKoon said.

No one is talking very much for public consumption about the politicking.

Miller confirmed to the Gainesville Times that he’s running for president pro tem and was quoted: “It’s a hill to climb . . . it’s a challenge.”

When a reporter tried to question Shafer about his politicking for the pro tem’s job, Shafer was terse in his responses.

“It’s always interesting,” Shafer said. “The Good Lord has a plan.”

Azziz is on the grill

Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz, one of three candidates in the running for the presidency of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, had to deal with some awkward questions earlier this week during a public hearing in Nevada.

As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Azziz has been criticized for planning questionable expenditures as president of the Augusta, Ga., campus and is named as a defendant in an age discrimination lawsuit recently filed by a fired university fundraiser.

When asked about the issue after a standing-room-only public forum at UNLV’s Greenspun Auditorium, the medical doctor and health care administrator explained what happened in the expenditure controversy, which began with plans to add a $75,000 carport to the president’s home.

Approval was not obtained from the board of regents, which owns the home, according to news reports.

The carport issue was a misunderstanding based on “an obscure law,” Azziz said Monday.

“My staff didn’t know they had to get approval from the Board of Regents before they could do work on the president’s home.”

The carport was needed because it would double as a staging area for when events were held at the president’s home, he said.

“We decided not to do it. There was so much hoopla about it, it just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

That same year, Azziz drew criticism for using a university bus and driver to transport guests for his niece’s wedding, which took place at the president’s home. The cost was about $400, which Azziz reimbursed, according to newspaper reports.

Through a University of Nevada, Las Vegas spokesman, Azziz declined to comment on the age discrimination lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 30 by Anthony Duva.

The federal lawsuit alleges Duva’s supervisors repeatedly asked when he would retire before he was fired in September 2013.

Duva was handed a letter stating his position as senior director of development for gift planning was eliminated as part of a workforce reduction policy. The lawsuit said Duva’s position was the only one eliminated.

Azziz made it back to Georgia in one piece. He was seen hanging around the Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday.

Personnel changes at the Board of Regents

The Board of Regents has elected nursing home operator Neil L. Pruitt Jr. as board chairman for 2015, succeeding current Chairman Philip Wilheit of Gainesville. Pruitt is the head of PruittHealth Inc., which provides nursing home, hospice, and assisted living services.

Synovus Chairman Kessel Stelling Jr. was picked to replace Pruitt as vice chairman.

The regents appointed Daryl Griswold as interim board secretary to replace Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs J. Burns Newsome, who is moving to a new job at Georgia Tech. Griswold currently is the assistant vice chancellor for legal affairs and assistant secretary to the board.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Bill Cowsert , Board of Regents , Butch Miller , David Shafer , John Albers , Josh McKoon , Judson Hill , Ricardo Azziz , Senate Republicans