Ralston’s heir apparent as Georgia House speaker emerges architect of election overhaul
by Jill Nolin, Georgia recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
November 14, 2022
This story was updated at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15, 2022.
House Republicans tapped Majority Leader Jon Burns to lead the House on Monday, elevating Burns to one of the most powerful roles in state government.
Burns defeated a more polarizing candidate, State Rep. Barry Fleming, who is best known as the author of last year’s controversial election overhaul. The full house is expected to vote on Burns’ nomination on the first day of the January legislative session.
The Newington Republican, who is a lawyer and farmer in Effingham County, is rising to the top of the House after current House Speaker David Ralston announced days before the midterm elections that he would don’t run for the speaker again due to a “health problem”. Ralston was not present on Monday.
Burns, who has served as Majority Leader since 2015, has touted his presidency as a way to stay the course in the wake of a midterm election that has left Republicans in control of all aspects of state government. He was elected Monday by secret ballot.
“While the circumstances may not be of our choosing, we now need to find a way to move Georgia forward together,” Burns told his colleagues. “If I’m named speaker, it will be because you trust me to continue to build on our success, keep our caucus together and move our state forward.”
Fleming, who has long been seen as a rival to Ralston, offered himself as a leader who would pursue more aggressive crime-fighting initiatives and a “renewed focus” on failing K-12 schools. But the Harlem Republican also said he wants more caucus input in setting the House GOP agenda.
Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge who has served as president since 2010, was often seen as the steady hand of state government who was widely respected on both sides of the aisle.
His departure from the president’s rostrum means there will be new leadership at the top of both legislative chambers when lawmakers return next year. State Senator Burt Jones was elected lieutenant governor last week.
Burns’ term as president will begin as Republican lawmakers in the House see their majority continue to slowly dwindle. After last Tuesday’s election, the partisan divide in the chamber is 101 to 79 after House Democrats won two seats following redistricting. A bill needs 91 votes to clear the House, which has 180 members.
That waning majority was on the minds of GOP lawmakers as they deliberated who could best keep the House in Republican hands going forward. State lawmakers will be back at the polls in 2024, nearly two decades after Democrats lost the House.
“We need to start immediately making sure we’re raising the funds, recruiting the candidates, and doing what’s necessary to be competitive two years from now,” said State Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula who comes from Dacula. be elected as the new House Majority Leader.
Efstration, who is a lawyer and chairs the Judiciary Committee, called for maintaining “respectful decorum within this chamber”. Notably, Efstration co-sponsored bipartisan hate crime legislation in 2020. He beat out three other applicants for the role.
“In modern politics, the confrontational nature of our time often has nothing to do with debate, but people try to interfere with the process. This is unacceptable,” he said.
Pro-tempore Speaker Jan Jones, who stepped down to pave the way for Burns to become speaker, ran unopposed for another term as second-in-command in the chamber.
House Democrats will meet next week to elect their leaders.
In a softer-than-expected midterm for National Democrats, Georgia Democrats came to a halt wresting control of state government from the Republicans. But House Democrats won three seats while losing one held by Roswell Democratic Rep. Mary Robichaux.
“Coming January, Georgia House Democrats are in a stronger position than ever to fight on behalf of all Georgians under the Gold Dome,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon, in a press release.
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