Georgia Democratic lawmaker resigns amid backlash after Trump endorsement

February 20, 2020 - Atlanta - Rep. Vernon Jones, D - Lithonia, confers with a colleague as the General Assembly returned for the 16th legislative day. Bob Andres /

February 20, 2020 - Atlanta - Rep. Vernon Jones, D - Lithonia, confers with a colleague as the General Assembly returned for the 16th legislative day. Bob Andres /

Update: Vernon Jones says he will finish current term but will withdraw from re-election

A little more than a week after endorsing Republican President Donald Trump for re-election, Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones announced Wednesday that he would not complete his term — triggering a special election.

“Turn the lights off, I have left the plantation,” the controversial ex-DeKalb County CEO said in a statement.

Jones said he was not switching political parties but would work for Trump’s re-election.

“I don’t plan to leave the Democratic Party because somebody’s got to be in there to hold them accountable — hold them accountable to how they are treating black people (and) root out the bigotry,” Jones said on “The Rashad Richey Morning Show” shortly after announcing his resignation.

After a fiery and, at times, combative discussion, Jones ended the radio interview early, prompting Richey to say: “Hang up on this clown, please.”

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>>MORE: DeKalb Democrats explore punishing Vernon Jones for endorsing Trump

What exactly happens next for his district, House District 91, is unclear. Jones was expected to formally submit his resignation Wednesday, as well as his withdrawal as a candidate from the June primary.

Jones was preparing for a Democratic primary rematch against Rhonda Taylor, a legal services staffer from Conyers, whom he defeated in 2016. There is no Republican on the ballot, making Taylor the presumptive representative in January.

“I think he made the right decision,” Taylor said of Jones’ resignation. “We appreciate his service and wish him luck in whatever endeavor he embarks upon next.”

The two elections are not connected.

Because the Legislature is still in session — suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic — state law requires Gov. Brian Kemp to announce a special election to complete Jones' term within 10 days of the resignation. The special election must take place within the following 30 to 60 days.

Once his re-election candidacy is officially withdrawn, the June primary election continues without Jones. Because it is so close to the election, Jones will remain on the ballot, but any votes cast for him will not be considered.

Whoever wins the special election will serve through January, when Taylor’s presumed first term will begin.

Taylor said her campaign received an outpouring of support last week, resulting in more than $20,000 in donations from across the country in the three days that followed Jones’ endorsement of Trump.

She only reported having about $450 in her campaign account as of Jan. 31, the last filing deadline. Jones reported nearly $16,000 in the bank in January.

“The support has been absolutely phenomenal,” Taylor said. “I’ve always run my campaign on what I can do, not against anyone. But once people realized I was running against (Jones), the financial support has blown out of the water.”

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The suspended legislative session could have caused financial issues for Jones' campaign. State law blocks legislators from raising money while the 2020 session is suspended, though a few of Jones' reported contributions came after the session began Jan. 13.

Jones had said he was ready to fend off any backlash from the Democratic Party — and there was plenty.

Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams, who also serves as a state senator representing Atlanta, said Jones' values did not align with those of his constituents.

House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville said he was sending money to Taylor's campaign. And Democrats in DeKalb and Rockdale counties — where Jones' district lies — announced Monday that they would censure Jones.

"There's nothing the left despises more than a free-thinking black man," Jones has repeatedly said on Twitter of the backlash.

Jones has been a polarizing figure in Georgia politics for years.

His county administration in the early 2000s shepherded rapid development and more than $350 million worth of funding for parks and infrastructure. But he drew intense scrutiny for angry outbursts and an accusation of rape that he said was a consensual act between three partners. No charges were filed.

A special grand jury in 2013 recommended an investigation into allegations against Jones of bid-rigging and theft when he was CEO, but the then-district attorney said he lacked evidence to show any crimes had occurred.

First elected to the Georgia House in 1992, Jones — after being term-limited as CEO — mounted unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and DeKalb sheriff before his victory four years ago returned him to the state Capitol

This year, he was accused of not living in his district, called a fellow Democratic lawmaker a "chicken (expletive)," and was accused of making transphobic comments to a Doraville City Council member who Jones said tried to draw a comparison between being black and being gay.

Jones said Wednesday that his decision to resign came after being “attacked and harassed by the Democrat Party for putting my country before my party.”

“I intend to help the Democrat Party get rid of its bigotry against black people that are independent and conservative,” Jones said in the statement announcing his resignation. “I endorsed the white guy (Donald J. Trump) that let blacks out of jail, and they endorsed the white guy (Joe Biden) that put blacks in jail.”