Georgia labor commissioner won’t run for a fourth term

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler isn’t running for a fourth term, a decision that will leave another open office on the statewide ballot in November.

The Republican told his office’s staffers in a memo Monday that his wife’s ongoing battle with cancer led him to reassess his political future.

“While I still enjoy developing good public policy, I no longer desire to be an elected official,” Butler wrote in the memo. “The extra stress that being an elected official puts on one’s family is not something that has a place in our current situation.”

Though he easily won his past three elections, Butler faced a much more challenging political climate had he competed for a fourth stint in office.

Delays in receiving unemployment benefits during much of the coronavirus pandemic frustrated hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Georgians and many state legislators. Overtaxed department staffers struggled to shift to virtual services with offices closed to the public through most of the past two years.

State lawmakers narrowly approved legislation that would have weakened the labor commissioner by creating a new office to speed benefits to jobless Georgians, but Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed the bill on grounds that it creates “serious infringements” with the separation of powers.

The backlash led state Sen. Bruce Thompson, a Republican from White, to announce a primary challenge last year. Three Democrats are also in the contest: state Rep. William Boddie, state Sen. Lester Jackson and Nicole Horn, an Atlanta entrepreneur.

Butler has tried to tamp down the frustration by acknowledging his office was unprepared for the glut of claims while noting the department’s staff was half the size it was a decade earlier. Millions of new claims have been processed since March 2020.

Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Carrollton native, Butler served four terms in the state Legislature before his 2010 election made him the first Republican labor commissioner in state history.

He created a new unit to help businesses more quickly hire staffers and a high school-based certification program to train students for the workforce.

Butler’s decision comes a week before the start of qualifying, when candidates for legislative and state offices must formally sign up to run.

While the matchups for governor and the U.S. Senate are the marquee races on the ballot, even down-ticket contests such as the race for labor commissioner will be hypercompetitive.

In a statement, Gov. Brian Kemp said Butler’s “efforts helped us maintain a record-low unemployment rate for 20 consecutive months despite a global pandemic.”

Butler is the third statewide incumbent to decide against seeking another term. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is running for U.S. Senate and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan isn’t standing for reelection.

In his memo to staffers, Butler reflected on the changes in Georgia politics over the past two decades.

“This last term as Commissioner of the Department of Labor has been one of the most challenging and rewarding times of my career,” he wrote.

“I’m extremely proud of how the men and women of the Department of Labor stepped up and put in long hours taking on unbelievable odds during this pandemic.”