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Thomas loses bid for Democratic leadership job

ATLANTA - An attempt by a Gwinnett County Democrat to land a legislative leadership post fell short Wednesday when he lost a bid for vice chairman of his party's caucus.

Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn, was defeated by Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, in the only contested race among six positions filled by House Democrats at a post-election reorganizational meeting.

As is customary, the vote was by secret ballot and Randall's margin of victory was not announced.

"I thought it would be helpful to have some new voices ... for Gwinnett County to have a voice in leadership,'' Thomas said after the election.

Randall already was part of the House Democratic leadership team. She will be moving up into the vice chairmanship from caucus secretary when the General Assembly convenes in January.

The other five leaders were elected without opposition, including three who were returned to the same posts they held during the 2005-06 term.

The returnees include Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin; Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus; and caucus Chairman Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.

Rep. Kathy Ashe, D-Atlanta, was chosen to move up from treasurer to secretary, and Rep. Don Wix, D-Mableton, was selected to succeed Ashe as treasurer.

In a chamber where freshmen lawmakers are seen but seldom heard, Thomas made a name for himself during his first term as an ardent speaker from the well, particularly on environmental legislation.

He helped lead Democratic opposition to Republican-backed bills relaxing restrictions on building along stream buffers and limiting the Public Service Commission's oversight of a planned liquefied natural-gas pipeline.

Thomas also spoke out against the immigration reform bill passed by the General Assembly.

"I have picked issues I know something about, tried to clearly explain them to people and, if needed, come to the well to tell them why I think the way I think,'' he told his Democratic colleagues before Wednesday's vote.

As the last speaker during House Democrats' first meeting since last week's elections, Porter sought to put the best face on the results, which saw Republicans increase their majority to 106 seats and reduce Democrats to 74.

He noted that no Democratic incumbents lost, despite intense efforts by the GOP to unseat those who were considered vulnerable.

"To have hurled back the tide that was launched at them was a tremendous accomplishment,'' Porter said.

House Democrats will meet again in two weeks to elect a chief deputy whip for the caucus, a new position.

Thomas said he's considering running for the job.