Jon Burns defeats Allen Peake for House majority leadership

State. Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, a low-key member of House Speaker David Ralston’s leadership team, was elected majority leader on Monday afternoon.

Burns, chairman of the House Game, Fish & Parks committee, replaces Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, who left the Legislature to accept a judicial appointment offered by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Burns defeated state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, author of Georgia’s new medical marijuana law.

Fifty-eight votes from 114 House Republicans present were required for election. We’re told that Burns received 69 to Allen's 44 – but those numbers are unofficial. (Somebody didn't vote, obviously.) A House spokesman said by tradition, the vote total is not released.

The election had sharp echoes of the internal House Republican fight over HB 170, the $900 million-a-year transportation funding bill recently signed by the governor.

O’Neal led an unsuccessful attempt to sharply curtail the amount of money the transportation bill would raise – and the tax increases it now requires.

Peake allied himself with several conservative House members who objected to the Republican alliance with Democrats that was required for passage of HB 170 – both in the House and Senate.

State Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, a third candidate for the majority leadership, withdrew before nomination.

The transportation issue could be heard between the lines of the speeches the two remaining candidates gave before caucus members. Jon Burns, who was first, described himself as a concerned listener and a consensus builder. Said Burns:

“Bringing people together, and looking at all sides of an issue, to work toward a consensus, no matter the cause, has been my compass out of very difficult circumstances. I know there can be strength in our differences.

“I believe our constituents elected us to lead. They expect us to lead….

“While I know that good leaders do not please everyone, or take passes on tough issues, you can count on me to treat each of you with respect.”

Peake reflected worries that his supporters would be punished for their support of him. And that Burns’ election would allow others to move up the leadership ladder in the chamber. Said Peake:

“ I fully realize the implications of today’s election. If I win, there will be one less chairmanship of several opening up. If Jon wins, there will be one more member who gets to be a chairman. I get that….

“I fully understand – fully understand – the tough choice many of you are facing with this vote. In fact I had one member bare his soul to me, over the phone, as they struggled with the fine line between choosing perceived political self-preservation, or choosing political courage to vote how he wanted to vote.

“I get it. I understand the tough choice….”

After the election, Speaker Ralston issued the following statement:

"I am proud to congratulate Rep. Jon Burns on his election as Majority Leader," said Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). "Jon is a great asset to our leadership team and I know he will serve our members well in this important role. The Republican caucus is fortunate to have a deep bench of talented leaders and I know Rep. Allen Peake will continue to help us move our caucus and this state forward."

You could view this election as a sign that Ralston has consolidated his position among House Republicans. After the vote, we asked if that were so. “We had two good guys running, and people can interpret it how they want to," the speaker said. "Now we turn the page and move on."

We also asked the speaker about Peake's assertion that voting for him constituted a risk of retaliation. "It’s sort of hard to twist arms on a secret ballot. There were not any arms being twisted. So I reject that,”  Ralston said.

In any case, Peake, who has a state Capitol office, will be headed for an office across the street. His Capitol office was tied to his position as secretary/treasurer of the House GOP caucus, which he resigned to run for majority leader.

On that point: Bruce Williamson of Monroe was elected secretary/treasurer of the House GOP caucus, defeating Mike Dudgeon of Johns Creek.

After the election, state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, announced his departure from the Legislature for a new job in Nashville. He defended his vote in the leadership election. "I'm a caucus member until my resignation," he said. The resignation will go out at 5 p.m.

State Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, also participated in the balloting. He has been named the state Department of Transportation planning director by the governor. He will resign his seat on Friday.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.