OPINION: Vernon Jones and his opportunistic GOP ride

President Donald Trump supporters cheer as Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones speaks as Marjorie Taylor Greene looks on, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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President Donald Trump supporters cheer as Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones speaks as Marjorie Taylor Greene looks on, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

I love to see that Vernon Angus Jones, the carpet-bagging candidate for the 10th Congressional District, is calling for term limits.

I smile at his contention because Vern is the embodiment of a career politician. And the smiling face of opportunism. Jones loves to occupy public office. I don’t know if it’s an ego thing or wanting to be in the mix but the 61-year-old Jones has run for office every two years since 1990 (except 2002 and 2006 because he was already elected as DeKalb County’s CEO.) I count him being in 15 races, including four he lost and a couple he bailed out of.

For the past two years, Jones has been on quite the ride since shedding his Democratic threads and going all-in on the Trump train.

In early 2020, Jones was languishing as a state rep likely to lose his seat. So rather than wander in the wilderness as a political loser (again), he endorsed President Trump and became a unicorn for the GOP cause — a Black Democratic elected official who was courageously going against the party grain and supporting the hated Orange one. Rush Limbaugh and others gave him the tummy rubbing he so eagerly sought.

After attending the dutiful Stop the Steal rallies (including the Jan. 6 insurrection) and a bit of MAGA crowd surfing, Vern got down to business, which was figuring out what was best for him. So, he announced last year he was running against Gov. Brian Kemp in the Republican primary. The figuring was this: Trump despises Kemp, so I’ll get in and Trump will endorse me and then I’ll get driven around in the Gubernatorial SUV. And Vernon Jones loves getting chauffeured by a security detail!

His candidacy, and being a strident Black pol who had forsaken the Dems, gave him national cache on the right-wing circuit and would be sure to bring him out-of-state money from donors who really didn’t know him. During his run for governor Jones raised ― and spent — almost $1.3 million.

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11/05/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones speaks during a Republican rally in the parking lot at the Georgia Republican Party Headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo

11/05/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones speaks during a Republican rally in the parking lot at the Georgia Republican Party Headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Thursday, November 5, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo

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11/05/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones speaks during a Republican rally in the parking lot at the Georgia Republican Party Headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo

Trump, however was no doubt hearing from those in his party who did know Jones and were letting him know he was just a noisy sideshow in the race. So the former president withheld his support until someone more legit came along. Enter former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who had some extra time after getting Ossoffed out of his seat last year. Trump quickly endorsed Perdue and Jones was out of luck.

But no one should misunderestimate Vernon Jones, who had good leverage with the Trumpies and who had to give him something to get out of the governor’s race and not screw things up for Perdue. Trump endorsed Jones, calling him “a very special person.”

I asked Vernon for a comment and he declined unless I agreed to print his entire statement, whatever it was. I had to tell him “Well done,” that he’s always had skills for the political game — although they haven’t necessarily translated into actually getting elected to higher office. (He has lost races for U.S. Senate, Congress and DeKalb sheriff and only ran for a state House seat in 2016, the seat he started with decades ago, when he was out of electable offices to shoot for.)

“He’s resilient,” said Fran Millar, a former Republican state senator from Dunwoody who often clashed with Jones. “He really is good at this and no one can dispute that. He’s charming. He’s smart. He’s flamboyant. But the problem with Vernon is he has to be center stage all the time.”

Jones made history as the first Black CEO of DeKalb and had some successes keeping the bond-rating good and getting referendums passed to build parks and infrastructure. However, he had an imperious way about him and there were several occasions where women accused him of bullying or threatening them. One even accused him of rape, later dropping the matter because she had been worn down by the ordeal.

Also, the county had to pay out in a reverse-discrimination lawsuit after the then-CEO said he wanted a “darker administration.” That certainly won’t play well in the 10th.

Jones has always had a conservative streak, having publicly stated he voted for George W. Bush even though he was the CEO of a very Democratic county. “He was always sucking up to (Republican U.S. senators) Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Trump was looking for sycophants and there you go.”

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10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The run for the 10th District will be tough for a former Dem from Dekalb. But Marjorie Taylor Green carpet-bagged her way into the 14th District in northwest Georgia and won, even though just about every sheriff and other elected official in the area supported her Republican opponent in the primary. They did not want to deal with her Q-loving craziness. Apparently, the voters there did.

Jones will face perhaps a dozen GOP challengers all vying for the post being vacated by Jody Hice. One of those candidates, state Rep. Timothy Barr, who is supported by Hice, clearly did not want to poke a sleeping bear by riling either Jones or Trump. He said Trump’s endorsement carries a lot of weight but he said that he (Barr) carries “the 10th District values.”

Barr noted he’s gotten support of the House Freedom Caucus, which is pretty much the most right-wing of Congress’ right-wing. “The voters are going to vet this race,” he said.

It’s still to be seen if voters there “Feel the Vern.” He has a shot, though. They don’t know him.

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