ATLANTA (AP) — State Rep. Jon Burns is likely to be the next speaker of the Georgia House, signaling continuity with the 13-year reign of outgoing speaker David Ralston after Republicans nominated Burns in a secret vote Monday.
Burns, a farmer and lawyer from Newington, defeated Harlem lawyer Barry Fleming for the nomination. Although the official vote won’t come until the new House convenes on Jan. 9, Burns is likely to win the gavel unless the majority caucus fractures.
The House majority leader under Ralston, the way for Burns’ ascension was cleared when House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, of Milton, House Majority Whip Matt Hatchett, of Dublin, and Rep. Alan Powell, of Hartwell, all declined to run and endorsed Burns.
“I don’t pretend to be any more entitled to this office than anyone else in this room,” Burns told House Republicans before the vote. “If I am nominated as your speaker, it will be because you trust me to keep building off of our success, keep our caucus united and keep our state moving forward.”
Republicans won 101 seats in the 180-member House, down from their current 103-seat majority.
Fleming was 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.
Fleming told members his top priorities would be Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed tax rebate, blocking prosecutors from declining to prosecute certain classes of crimes, and promoting K-12 education. He told members that his relationship with Ralston grew strained over concerns about Ralston using his position as a lawmaker to delay court cases. But he noted that Ralston put him in charge of rewriting Georgia’s election law in 2021.
“If you allow me to serve as your speaker, I want you to come tell me the things that I don’t want to hear,” Fleming said. “And even if I’m not happy with you, I’m not going to hold it against you.”
Burns 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 a member of the state board overseeing the Department of Transportation, and was president of his local chamber of commerce.
Republicans chose Jones to return as speaker pro tem without opposition. They chose Chuck Efstration of Dacula as majority leader, James Burchett of Waycross as whip, Bruce Williamson of Monroe as caucus chair, Houston Gaines of Athens as caucus vice chair and Ginny Ehrhart as secretary-treasurer.
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.
Burns’ choice means rural lawmakers will 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.