ATLANTA — Former House Speaker Glenn Richardson said Monday that he will run for an open seat in the state Senate almost three years after he resigned in disgrace following a suicide attempt and amid accusations that he had an affair with a lobbyist.
Richardson, 52, a Republican, is attempting to re-launch his political career by running for the west Georgia seat held by state Sen. William Hamrick, a fellow Republican who is resigning to become a Superior Court judge. A special primary election in the district will be held during the statewide vote on Nov. 6. Local GOP officials expect multiple candidates to run in the Republican primary.
It remains to be seen whether Richardson can make a clean start with voters. Richardson said in an interview that he discussed whether to run for office again with his mother, children and siblings.
"The consensus was that if I felt I was strong enough to withstand the level of criticism then I had something to give," he said. "No one ever challenged me on my decisions on policy. I made some poor choices in my personal life."
Once considered a potential contender for governor, Richardson helped engineer the Republican Party's 2004 takeover of the House of Representatives after decades of Democratic control. He was the first GOP House speaker since Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War.
But he had a short temper and got into feuds with leading members of his own party.
Richardson's personal life turned into a political crisis. On Nov. 8, 2009, sheriff's deputies summoned to his home found Richardson semiconscious on the edge of his bathtub after he had called his mother to say he had swallowed pills. A suicide note and a .357 magnum handgun were on a nearby counter. Afterward, Richardson said that he had suffered from depression for 2 ½ years. He later said that he attempted suicide after realizing he could not repair his marriage.
A few weeks later, Susan Richardson, the politician's ex-wife, gave a TV interview in which she accused the lawmaker of sleeping with a lobbyist working for Atlanta Gas Light who backed a $300 million pipeline bill that Richardson had co-sponsored. The ex-wife provided the TV station with emails in which the lobbyist told Richardson that she feared being fired if the affair became public. Richardson responded by saying he would "bring all hell down" on Atlanta Gas Light if the lobbyist lost her job.
Those accusations cost Richardson his political post. He announced his resignation as House speaker in December 2009 and left his legislative seat the following month. Richardson acknowledged having the affair in an interview Monday, but he declined to discuss it in detail. He described himself as healthy and said he had worked through his depression.
"I failed, I resigned and paid a big price," Richardson said. "It hurt my family most of all. My family supports me — my children, my mother, my sisters — and they think it's time I tried something, and if I doesn't work I'll practice law."
While Richardson said he did not have a platform, he said he was concerned by cuts to the HOPE college scholarship program, the state's high-school dropout rate and a weak economy.
"People are struggling to keep their houses and feed their families," he said.
After the scandal, lawmakers elected Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, to succeed Richardson. Lawmakers also passed an ethics bill that required lobbyists to report more frequently on what they spend to influence legislators. Georgia has not placed any limits on what lobbyists can spend.
Terry Agne, chairman of the Carroll County GOP, said he believed it will be hard for Richardson to relaunch his political career.
"It's going to be very, very hard for him to recoup from that," Agne said. "I'm not saying it's impossible — I'm just saying it's going to be very hard. Because what he did sort of stood against Republican principals."