Politics & Government

O’Neal set to retire from Georgia Legislature

ATLANTA -- Georgia House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, a Houston County state representative since 2001, will retire from the Legislature at the end of this month to take a judgeship.

“It’s a bucket list opportunity,” said O’Neal, R-Bonaire, ahead of the formal announcement that he will be the first permanent judge in Georgia’s Tax Tribunal, which hears disputes between the state Department of Revenue and taxpayers.

The tax attorney said he is “thrilled” to move to the bench “sort of at the end of my legal career and legislative career.”

His departure will trigger a special election this year for the remaining one year of his House term.

O’Neal, the third highest-ranking GOP leader in the House, said he was thinking of retiring from the Legislature next year anyway.

House leadership sets the GOP’s legislative agenda in the chamber and tries to make sure Republicans vote for it.

The Republican family feuded this year over two major bills endorsed by much of the GOP leadership -- one on a state takeover of failing schools and another on a tax increase to pay for road and bridge work, passed with Democratic approval in place of rebellious Republicans.

O’Neal himself voted against the transportation funding bill the first time it appeared in the House. He sought a smaller tax increase than what eventually passed.

For years, O’Neal has championed spending for Robins Air Force Base and midstate veterans to try to impress any future federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission review. In recent years, that has meant budget lines for the new Veterans Training Center and buying up property near the main Robins runway that federal authorities wanted cleared of houses.

O’Neal’s Republican colleagues first voted him House majority leader in 2010. Before that, he spent five years in charge of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Under former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a fellow Houston Countian, O’Neal was one of the governor’s official House allies in charge of helping pass the Perdue administration’s bills.

House Republicans will schedule a meeting to choose a replacement for O’Neal to take office by the time the Legislature reconvenes in January.