Thompson secures GOP nod, Dems head to runoff in labor commissioner race

Candidates for Georgia Commissioner of Labor: Republican State Sen. Bruce Thompson; Democrat Nicole Horn, a former small business owner; Democratic State Rep. William Boddie; and Republican Mike Coan, who had been his deputy commissioner.

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Candidates for Georgia Commissioner of Labor: Republican State Sen. Bruce Thompson; Democrat Nicole Horn, a former small business owner; Democratic State Rep. William Boddie; and Republican Mike Coan, who had been his deputy commissioner.

State lawmaker held substantial lead in GOP race late Tuesday, while Democratic race will go to June 21 runoff.

Editors’s note: This story has been updated with calls made by the Associated Press.

Bruce Thompson has secured the Republican nomination to lead the state Department of Labor, while a pair of Democrats will face off in a runoff to determine who will face Thompson this November.

Thompson, a member of the Georgia State Senate representing District 14, had more than 60% of the vote as of about 7 a.m. with nearly all votes counted.

In Georgia, candidates need to hit 50%-plus-one to secure their party’s nomination.

On the Democratic side, none of the candidates had secured even a third of votes counted. William Boddie, currently a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, was leading. Nicole Horn, a small business owner, is in second place and the Associated Press projects the two will move on to a runoff June 21.

Commissioner Mark Butler, who has held the post for three terms, announced in late winter that for personal reasons he would not run for re-election. Since then, the Republican has been the target of harsh criticism from the leading candidates of both parties who are vying to replace him.

Republican Thompson has argued that Butler’s handling of jobless claims during the pandemic had badly tarnished the reputation of the department.

Butler had endorsed Mike Coan, who has been his deputy commissioner for several months. Coan was in second place with slightly less than one-third of the vote.

The candidates have been competing for an office that had been historically uncontroversial — until the pandemic triggered a tidal wave of unemployment claims. The department’s handling of that crisis — and the vast new programs the federal government created — triggered complaints about long waits for payments, protests, an unflattering audit and a few lawsuits.

Even with jobless claims back to pre-pandemic levels, many worker cases are taking months for resolution.

In normal times, the Department of Labor handles jobless claims, judging whether the worker’s claim is valid under the law and — if it’s valid — how much the worker will receive in benefits. The department also lists tens of thousands of job openings and runs 41 “career centers” around the state where jobseekers can get help in their search.

The candidates’ views of what is needed now differ dramatically.

Thompson said the department needs modernization and an aggressive, business-style emphasis on measuring performance.

Boddie has said the department needs more decentralized outreach, with deputy commissioners assigned to various regions and career centers in all but the smallest counties.

Horn has said she wants to broaden the department’s role to provide more support for workers, a stronger safety net and more support of women’s rights.