Georgia Senate Republicans elect new leadership

The state Senate Republican Caucus elected new leadership Friday, nominating a Macon senator to be the chamber’s second in command.

State Sen. John Kennedy, a Macon Republican who is the caucus’ chairman and led the Senate through the state’s redistricting process last year, was nominated by his GOP caucus colleagues to be the chamber’s next president pro tem. Kennedy, an attorney, is expected to be elected to the position when lawmakers return in January, since his party holds the majority.

With current Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller not returning next year, a handful of caucus members spent the past few months trying to secure the votes from their colleagues to fill the vacant position. Miller, a Gainesville Republican, left office to make an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.

That means the Senate’s top two officeholders will be new to their positions following the election earlier this week of Republican Burt Jones as lieutenant governor. Jones, a Jackson native who defeated Miller in the primary, has served in the Senate since 2013.

The lieutenant governor serves as the president of the Senate and presides over the chamber’s day-to-day activities. The Senate president pro tem often fills in as the presiding officer when the lieutenant governor relinquishes the gavel, such as when he is taking a break or has a meeting outside the chamber.

There are 33 members in the Senate Republican Caucus.

Other leadership changes include state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega as majority leader; state Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula as majority whip; state Sen. Jason Anavitarte of Dallas as caucus chairman; and state Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan as vice caucus chairman. State Sen. Dean Burke of Bainbridge was reelected as caucus treasurer.

While the Senate majority has been known to pare back powers of lieutenant governors they don’t agree with, the caucus voted unanimously to leave them intact for Jones.

That wasn’t the sentiment of some in the chamber two years ago. Jones was one of several Republican senators who backed attempts to overturn the presidential vote in Georgia in favor of the losing candidate, Donald Trump.

Shortly after the election, Jones challenged Miller for his position as pro tem but could not get enough support in the Republican caucus.

Eighteen months later, Jones defeated Miller in a four-way GOP primary race for lieutenant governor. Based on campaign donations, support from their Senate colleagues was split in the primary, though Republican senators have since backed Jones.

The House Republican Caucus will elect its new leadership Monday, after Speaker David Ralston announced last week that he will not seek another term in the role so he can focus on health issues.

Senate Democrats have set their caucus elections for Nov. 28.