Georgia is entering a new political era in 2023

New lieutenant governor, new House Speaker join Gov. Brian Kemp as the state’s top political leaders
Georgia State Capitol
Georgia State Capitol(Sam Bauman WTOC)
Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 9:14 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 2, 2023 at 10:46 AM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - For the first time this century, Georgia will have a new lieutenant governor and a new Speaker of the House when lawmakers convene the 157th General Assembly in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

This is also the first time in more than 60 years both the state House and Senate will have new leaders.

Former state Sen. Burt Jones was elected lieutenant governor last November, and state Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newnington) will take over as Speaker from state Rep. Jan Jones, who was Speaker Pro Tempore when David Ralston died on Nov. 16, 2022.

Jones, a Republican from Alpharetta, became Georgia’s first female House Speaker in history and the first from metro Atlanta since Mark Burkhalter’s interim stint in 2010. However, House Republicans caucused in December and elected Burns as Georgia’s 75th Speaker.

Jones and Burns join newly reelected Gov. Brian Kemp as the state’s top political leaders. Kemp will lead from his strongest political position in years, handily beating back a reelection challenge from Democrat Stacey Abrams last year in the nation’s most watched governor’s race.

Counting Jones, Georgia has only had 13 lieutenant governors, with the first coming in 1947. Prior to that, state senators elected their own president.

Melvin Thompson was Georgia’s first lieutenant governor and took the reins of the state Senate, while state Rep. Fred Hand began his first term as House speaker. In 1955, Ernest Vandiver was lieutenant governor, while in the House, state Rep. Marvin Moate was elected speaker.

Four years later, in 1959, state Rep. George T. Smith was the new House speaker, with newly elected Garland T. Byrd was lieutenant governor. This was the last time a new House speaker and a new lieutenant governor took charge under the Gold Dome.

Revising election laws ... again

A host of new and old political issues will face Kemp, Jones, Burns and lawmakers when they convene. Besides the annual budget fights, newly reelected Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is calling on lawmakers to eliminate general election runoffs in the state.

“Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a general election runoff,” said Raffensperger only hours after U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection in a runoff with Republican Herschel Walker. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the general election Runoff and consider reforms.”

RELATED: Election results for Georgia Runoff | Dec. 6, 2022

The General Assembly could select from a wide range of options, he said.

“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” said Raffensperger. “It’s even tougher on the counties who had a difficult time completing all of their deadlines, an election audit and executing a runoff in a four-week time period.”

Georgia’s 2022 midterms shattered previous turnout records despite repeated claims from Democrats the state’s election laws disenfranchise minority voters.

At least one Democratic lawmaker wants future general election runoffs to be extended. State Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) plans to introduce legislation to extend runoffs from four to six weeks.

Legalized online sports betting

Quietly defeated in the last legislative session, the issue of legal, online sports betting is certain to come before lawmakers again.

Sports Betting in Georgia

This time, supporters are hoping the massive amounts of revenue sure to be generated from legalized sports betting will make the measure impossible to reject.

More than $50 billion was wagered on sports last year, all legally, according to data compiled by the American Gaming Association. Sportsbooks are projected to spend $2 billion on advertising this year, partnering with the NFL and other major sports leagues to expand business. Right now the American Gaming Association says sports betting is legal in 31 states and Washington DC.

Access to medical marijuana

The commission that oversees medical marijuana in Georgia is proposing a series of rules for production, inspections and distribution.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission published 106 pages of regulations late in 2022 that it will consider before dispensaries can open next year to serve over 24,400 patients and 17,700 caregivers. The commission plans to vote on the rules Jan. 25.

If approved, two companies awarded licenses to produce low-THC oil could begin selling it to patients suffering from illnesses including severe seizures, Parkinson’s disease and terminal cancers.

State law has allowed registered patients to use low THC oil since 2015, but until now, they’ve had no legal way to buy it.

The commission picked Trulieve Georgia Inc. and Botanical Sciences LLC in September as the state’s first two licensed medical marijuana companies.

The rules are available for public review and comment on the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission’s website at gmcc.ga.gov. A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18 in Gainesville before a scheduled vote on the rules through Zoom on Jan. 25.

Moving up Georgia’s presidential primary

Georgia is also poised to assume an even more prominent role in national politics than it already has. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and city Democratic leaders have already made a bid to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

Atlanta is competing with Chicago, New York and Houston for the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

Lawmakers will also have to vote on President Joe Biden’s proposal to make Georgia one of the nation’s first five primaries in 2024. Biden wants to make South Carolina its first primary state on Feb. 6, 2024, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on Feb. 13, and Georgia on Feb. 20. Michigan would be held on Feb. 27.

Iowa, which has historically been the first Democratic caucus held during the Democrats’ presidential primary season, would be squeezed out and have no early role in Biden’s plan.

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee will start a series of meetings.

On Dec. 1, Biden penned a letter to the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee, in which he wrote, “We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window. As I said in February 2020, you cannot be the Democratic nominee and win a general election unless you have overwhelming support from voters of color — and that includes Black, Brown and Asian American & Pacific Islander voters.”

Atlanta News First and Atlanta News First+ continue to provide you with the latest news, headlines and insights as Georgia continues to be at the forefront of the nation’s political scene.