ATLANTA — Current Georgia House Majority Leader Jon Burns is looking to back the role of state House Speaker as other potential GOP contenders for the leadership of the lower house of the General Assembly back out and support the Newington Republican.
While the official vote won’t come until the new House meets on Jan. 9, majority House Republicans are expected to meet on Monday to pick their candidate. That person is likely to win the gavel unless the majority of the caucus fractures.
Burns just won his 10th two-year term in the House unopposed, representing a district that includes Screven County, part of Bulloch County and most of Effingham County. He has been majority leader since 2015
House Pro Tem Speaker Jan Jones of Milton, House Majority Leader Matt Hatchett of Dublin and Representative Alan Powell of Hartwell have all said they will not run for speaker this week, with all three Republicans backing burns.
Republican Representative Barry Fleming of Harlem is the only announced candidate still in the running besides Burns.
Blue Ridge’s David Ralston has been a speaker for 13 years, but stunned Georgia lawmakers and the political world when the Republican announced last week that he was stepping down on health grounds. As Supreme Leader of the House, Ralston shaped taxes, spending, and other laws, becoming the most powerful person in state government behind the governor. Ralston says he will continue as a rep.
His departure means that both the House and the Senate will have new leaders in the next term. Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan did not seek a second term and was replaced by another Republican, State Senator Burt Jones of Jackson. Senate Speaker Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, lost a primary bid for lieutenant governor to Jones and he, too, will not return.
Republicans won 100 House seats and are leading in a race the Associated Press did not call, down from their current majority of 103 seats.
In a statement on Tuesday, Jones said she would run again for her interim seat, the second-highest position in the House, saying “it is my desire to ensure continuity and stability within our caucus by increasing and diversifying our numbers”.
“I strongly believe that the experience, leadership and track record of both Jon and myself will strengthen our caucus and lead to future legislative and policy successes,” Jones said in his endorsement of Burns.
Hatchett, who had been scouting a race for pro tempore speaker, endorsed both Jones and Burns. “During these uncertain times, the strength and stability of our caucus is of the utmost importance,” Hatchet said in a statement.
Powell told the Associated Press by phone on Thursday that he supports Burns because he believes Burns will best ensure “open dialogue and debate.”
Fleming is seen as someone who would like to bring a more conservative edge to House politics. He is best known in recent years for leading the committee that wrote Georgia’s new 2021 election law. But Ralston stripped Fleming of his presidency after Fleming unsuccessfully ran for the whip against Hatchett. This was seen as a step towards becoming a speaker.
Burns may represent a continuation of Ralston’s government, which sometimes blocked more conservative proposals and kept open lines of communication with Democrats.
His election would also mean rural lawmakers would retain control of the speaker. Power in the House remained mostly in the hands of those outside Metro Atlanta for decades, although Douglas County’s Glenn Richardson was the speaker from 2005 to 2010 after Republicans gained control of the chamber.
Burns is a farmer in north Effingham County and has a law degree. Previously, he served briefly on the state board that oversaw the Department of Transportation, won state legislature elections, and served as president of his local chamber of commerce.