Far-right state senator defends his seat against primary challenger

State Sen. Colton Moore is running for reelection against Angela Pence in the May 21 Republican primary.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

State Sen. Colton Moore is running for reelection against Angela Pence in the May 21 Republican primary.

A far-right state senator indefinitely suspended from the Republican caucus is defending his seat in northwest Georgia from a primary challenge by a political newcomer.

Sen. Colton Moore of Trenton became an exile from his own party when he was removed from the Senate Republican Caucus for rules violations in September. In March, he was banned from the House of Representatives after he sharply criticized the late state House Speaker David Ralston and cast the lone vote opposing the naming of a building on the University of North Georgia campus in Blue Ridge in Ralston’s honor.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones cut Moore off as he was speaking that day, saying it was “not the time nor place” to discuss Ralston’s personal affairs, especially as his family and friends watched what was supposed to be a celebration of his legacy. House Speaker Jon Burns banned Moore from entering the chamber.

“This body is about to perpetually memorialize, in my opinion, one of the most corrupt Georgia leaders we’ll ever see in our lifetimes,” Moore said at the time. He referenced a 2019 Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation that found Ralston had used his position and power to delay court hearings, preventing cases of those he represented as a defense attorney from moving forward.

To Moore, his purpose to speak up was principled, if poorly timed. Some of his allies defend his actions, but Moore declined to speak with the AJC for this article.

Angela Pence, who is running against Moore for a seat in the heart of U.S. Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district, said she qualified to run for the seat right before the deadline because “Sen. Moore literally can’t do his job.”

“I was sure somebody would step up and primary him, and nobody did,” Pence said. “I didn’t know if I could live with myself if I knew I was capable and didn’t (get in the race), knowing how much he has hurt our district through his actions.”

Moore has a history of provocative accusations.

In February, he spread false information about “secret trafficking” at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It turned out that the group he was referencing was an organization of Georgia volunteers that openly helps immigrants navigate the airport. Moore did not respond to requests for comment then either.

His ousting from the GOP caucus came after he harassed Republican colleagues who refused to aid his effort to call a special legislative session to defund Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office after she brought an indictment against former President Donald Trump. Republican leaders said such a session would be impossible without Democratic support or assistance from Gov. Brian Kemp, who had already nixed the idea.

A few months later, though, Senate Republicans approved legislation to create a special panel that would investigate Willis as the prosecutor.

At the time, Moore said his prayers were answered and added, “I told you so.”

His viral social media posts and scathing attacks may be a larger part of his reputation because his legislative batting average is relatively low.

Few of the bills Moore sponsors — including measures seeking a reduction of the state income tax, additional state-level protections for the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and an effort to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic — receive a committee hearing or a full vote on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, he has voted against an effort to crack down on human trafficking and opposed a bill that would criminalize the use of deepfake computer-generated versions of politicians that could deceive voters.

Pence previously attempted to run against Greene for Congress in 2022 as a candidate for the Libertarian Party. However, Georgia law required her to attain signatures from at least 5% of active voters in the 14th Congressional District in order to qualify, and she was unable to get on the ballot.

During that race, Pence defended drag performers, who have been the frequent target of Republican critics, telling the libertarian magazine Reason: “I don’t see what the harm is in drag queens reading stories to kids. Politicians do it all the time. If parents want to take their kids to a drag queen story hour, that’s their choice to make.”

She still stands by that viewpoint but clarified that she does not support drag performers reading to children in public schools. She also opposes government funding of gender-affirming care, such as using Medicaid dollars for surgeries or treatment.

Pence supports Georgia’s 2019 restrictions on abortion access. During her last campaign, she found out she was pregnant with her ninth child. She home-schools her children.

Although she touted endorsements from mayors in her district, Pence is facing an uphill battle to unseat Moore.

According to a campaign disclosure filing from January, Moore raised more than $264,000 and had more than $48,000 in cash. The latest disclosure reports were due April 30 but have not been processed on state websites yet.

Pence said she has not yet filed her finance records, but she said she raised about $3,600 from donors inside the district.

“It’s all been local money,” she said. “My support comes from people who live here.”

According to Moore’s filing from January, his donations came from numerous states, including Florida, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Early voting for the general primary has begun and will run through May 17. Primary election day for in-person voting is May 21. For more information, visit Georgia Decides, a project of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Atlanta Civic Circle.