Some candidates drop out, endorse Burns as Georgia speaker

House majority leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, celebrates the conclusion of the final day of the...
House majority leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, celebrates the conclusion of the final day of the Georgia General Assembly at the capitol in Atlanta on Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason Getz)(Jason Getz | AP)
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 5:08 PM EST
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(AP) - Current Georgia House Majority Leader Jon Burns is lining up support to become state House speaker as other potential GOP contenders to lead the lower chamber of the General Assembly bow out and endorse the Newington Republican.

Although the official vote won’t come until the new House convenes on Jan. 9, majority House Republicans are scheduled to gather Monday to choose their nominee. That person is likely to win the gavel unless the majority caucus fractures.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Milton, House Majority Whip Matt Hatchett of Dublin and Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell have all said they won’t run for speaker this week, with all three Republicans endorsing Burns.

Republican Rep. Barry Fleming of Harlem is the only announced candidate still in the race besides Burns.

David Ralston of Blue Ridge has been speaker for 13 years, but stunned lawmakers and the Georgia political world when the Republican announced last week that he is stepping down for health reasons. As paramount leader of the House, Ralston has shaped taxes, spending and other laws, becoming the most powerful person in state government behind the governor. Ralston says he will continue as a representative.

His departure means both the House and Senate will have new leaders in the coming term. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan didn’t seek a second term and is being succeeded by another Republican, state Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson. Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, lost a primary bid for lieutenant governor to Jones and also won’t be returning.

Republicans won 100 seats in the House and are leading in one race The Associated Press hasn’t called, down from their current 103-seat majority.

In a Tuesday statement, Jones said she would run again for her pro tem post, the second-highest House position, saying “it’s my desire to ensure continuity and stability within our caucus while growing and diversifying our numbers.”

“I firmly believe the experience, leadership and track record of both Jon and myself will strengthen our caucus and lead to future legislative and political successes,” Jones said in her endorsement of Burns.

Hatchett, who had been exploring a race for speaker pro tem, endorsed both Jones and Burns. “During these uncertain times, the strength and stability of our caucus is of utmost importance,” Hatchet said in a statement.

Powell told The Associated Press by phone Thursday that he supports Burns because he believes Burns will best ensure “open dialogue and debate.”

Fleming is seen as someone who’d like to bring a harder conservative edge to House policies. He’s most noted in recent years for leading the committee that authored Georgia’s new election law in 2021. But Ralston stripped Fleming of his chairmanship after Fleming unsuccessfully ran for whip against Hatchett. That was seen as a move toward becoming speaker.

Burns could represent a continuance of Ralston’s rule, which sometimes blocked the most conservative proposals and maintained open lines of communication with Democrats.

His election would also mean rural lawmakers maintain control of the speakership. Power in the House has mostly rested in the hands of those from outside metro Atlanta for decades, although Glenn Richardson of Douglas County was speaker from 2005 to 2010 after Republicans won control of the chamber.

Burns is a farmer in northern Effingham County and holds a law degree. He just won his 10th two-year term in the House without opposition, representing a district that includes Screven County, most of Effingham County and part of Bulloch County. He’s been majority leader since 2015. Earlier, he was briefly a member of the state board overseeing the Department of Transportation, winning election by state lawmakers, and was president of his local chamber of commerce.