Politics & Government

Walker to leave state DOT board

Larry Walker, the longtime state representative who has been vice chairman of the state Transportation Board during one of its more tumultuous times, unexpectedly announced his retirement Thursday.

Walker, an attorney in Perry, said in his letter of resignation that the “only reason is the probability of other opportunities that are incompatible with my being on (the board).”

He did not elaborate in the letter, which was e-mailed Thursday morning to numerous state officials. In a brief telephone interview Walker wouldn’t fill in many details, though he did say he won’t be seeking elected office. Whatever he has planned, he said, is not a full-time job.

Walker will leave the department June 30, after about 2 years on a board that sets transportation policy for the state and has a big say in spending a $2 billion annual budget.

The full board is undergoing changes as well, after a General Assembly session that ended with legislation stripping the board of much of its power. Walker referenced that in his letter but only to say that he’s confident “the board will work in good faith” to make the transition.

He told The Telegraph his decision had “nothing to do” with the change.

“I’m not one to run from problems,” Walker said. “I think I’m going to have an opportunity to do something I enjoy a lot more.”

Board members and legislators said Walker was a calming influence as the DOT found itself in the middle of financial and political crises. There was a battle about the commissionership, with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s choice, Gena Abraham, winning out in October 2007. Walker actually nominated her for the position.Abraham quickly reported that DOT staffers couldn’t tell her how many projects were on the department’s books, and it became clear there were billions more in planned projects that had no funding.

Then Abraham disclosed a romantic relationship with board member Mike Evans. He resigned, and they married.

The commissioner, who changed her name to Evans, was fired this year by the board just as legislators were working on a bill stripping the board of much of its power. Through it all, there was plenty of back and forth about how to raise new money for transportation projects, an issue that is still unresolved and one Walker said must be addressed.

“He was a stabilizing force,” Johnny Floyd, DOT board member and fellow former state representative, said Thursday.

Floyd said he spoke to Walker on Wednesday, but Walker didn’t mention his pending resignation. Board member David Doss also said he was surprised to learn Thursday of Walker’s decision. So did area legislators who elected him to the DOT board.

Legislators from the 8th Congressional District, which runs from Colquitt County in south Georgia to Newton County, will elect Walker’s replacement. A date hasn’t been set for that vote, according to the speaker’s office at the state Capitol. Area legislators said they have no idea whom they might pick.

Walker, who was nearly speaker of the House, was able to join the board without opposition. That may not be the case for his replacement.

“I would assume there would be a lot of politics,” said state Rep. David Lucas, a Macon Democrat who serves on the House Transportation Committee.

News of Walker’s resignation elicited glowing praise for his service, much in the way his retirement from the state Legislature did in 2004.

State Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, said Walker will be “missed in ways that we won’t even be able to define for years to come.”Local transportation watchdogs, who typically find themselves at odds with DOT officials, said Walker was good to work with.

“I think he is one of the more progressive members of the GDOT transportation board, and I am truly sorry to see him go,” said Lee Martin of Macon.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.