David Ralston’s allies clear way to back Jon Burns as House speaker

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

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

Three of House Speaker David Ralston’s key allies appeared to reach a consensus on Tuesday over who should take his gavel when he steps down from his leadership post.

Jan Jones, the No. 2 Republican in the House, and Matt Hatchett, another high-ranking legislator, each agreed to clear the way for Majority Leader Jon Burns to seek Ralston’s post.

The maneuvering came days after Ralston said he would give up his leadership position next year because of an unspecified “health challenge.” The Blue Ridge Republican will still stand for another term in the Legislature.

The decisions don’t guarantee that Burns will be elected to the leadership post. State Rep. Barry Fleming, a Ralston rival, has already started running for the position and is considered a serious contender. And state Rep. Alan Powell is also weighing a bid for the powerful post.

But the chain of decisions bolsters Burns’ chances of winning the job, one of the most powerful and challenging in the state. And it shows that Ralston’s allies are circling the wagons ahead of Monday’s caucus vote to block Fleming, who has pressed to take the chamber in a more combative direction.

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

Jones said in a statement she’s seeking another term as the chamber’s second-ranking Republican – and is endorsing Burns for the speaker’s gavel.

“Working together, we will continue building upon the strong foundation Speaker Ralston has laid while navigating the changing political landscape,” she said. “I firmly believe the experience, leadership and track record of both Jon and myself will strengthen our caucus and lead to future legislative and political successes.”

It was a swift change of heart. On Monday, Jones sent her caucus a letter announcing she’s seeking to succeed Ralston with a promise to embrace “conservative principles that unite us, not divide us.”

Hatchett said he won’t seek any leadership post.

“This was not a decision I made lightly, but during these uncertain times, the strength and stability of our caucus is of utmost importance,” he said. “While I will not run for another leadership position, I believe I can be of service to you and the House body in other ways.”

Fleming, meanwhile, said he’s unfazed by the maneuvering as he pointed to his experience as the architect of Georgia’s voting overhaul.

“Members know that this is a unique moment where proven, unwavering leadership matters most,” he said.