Butch Miller, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Georgia Senate, launched his campaign for lieutenant governor Tuesday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that emphasized both his conservative credentials and his work on key bipartisan issues.
The Gainesville Republican is in the running to succeed Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who said earlier this month that he won’t seek a second term amid a rift with former President Donald Trump.
Miller said his campaign will center on an agenda promoting “family-friendly and business-friendly legislation and economic development for Georgia’s future” to train residents for higher-paying jobs.
“Georgia has had conservative values and conservative policies that have made us so successful,” Miller said. “No one is moving out of Georgia to New York and California and Michigan. They’re moving out of those places to Georgia because our conservative values and policies work for families and businesses.”
First elected in 2010, Miller rose to become the chamber’s president pro tem with the same affable backslapping approach that helped him build a successful Honda dealership. He also forged close ties with then-Gov. Nathan Deal, also of Gainesville, and helped shepherd a criminal justice overhaul through the Statehouse.
“That’s exactly why I can win in November. I can promote and secure and expand our conservative values and even put those in context where Democrats are comfortable voting for them,” he said. “Every senator has a vote, and every senator has a voice, and every voice deserves to be heard.”
The state senator drew headlines this year when Duncan refused to preside during a legislative debate over voting restrictions — and Miller “pinch hit” for him and took the ceremonial gavel during the proceedings. He’s an adamant supporter of the measure that was adopted weeks later, Senate Bill 202.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
“A lot of people are still upset about that. My Republican friends don’t think it went far enough, my Democratic friends think it went too far,” he said.
“I think it will go down in history as a very significant piece of legislation,” Miller said. “In the final analysis, both Democrats and Republicans will appreciate the structure, the confidence and the integrity that SB 202 added to the process.”
Democrats staunchly oppose the new law, which sets new ID requirements for using absentee ballots, places limits on ballot drop boxes and grants the GOP-controlled Legislature greater control over local elections. State and federal election officials found no evidence of widespread fraud in Georgia’s vote, and multiple tallies upheld Trump’s defeat.
A crowded roster of politicians is already maneuvering to succeed Duncan.
Two Democratic legislators are already in the race: state Rep. Erick Allen announced his campaign in March, and state Rep. Derrick Jackson entered the contest in April.
On the Republican side of the ledger, activist Jeanne Seaver announced her campaign earlier this year. But Miller’s most formidable rival could be state Sen. Burt Jones, a wealthy oil executive who has angled for Trump’s support and recently posted a picture with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida.
Jones is also considered a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate, though lately he’s told activists he’s more likely to run for Georgia’s No. 2 job.
Miller said he believes Trump would be “favorable” to his candidacy, too, but he made clear he’s running for the job regardless.
“Whoever wins the primary needs to remember they have to win in November or it’s all for nothing. And that’s the key: I can win in November,” Miller said. “I don’t care who gets in this race other than Jesus. If he gets in, I’m out.”
Excerpts from the Q&A:
On his relationship with Gov. Brian Kemp:
“I am extremely proud of Brian Kemp’s successes. He reminds me of the ‘Man in the Arena.’ He’s been hit, he’s sweating, he’s toiled, he’s bleeding. And he just keeps fighting. He keeps coming back. And that’s what I love. I love a fighter.”
On why he’s running now after flirting with a bid in 2018:
“Running for public office is a deeply personal decision. You’ve got to have the right timing in your life, in your family and in your career. I’m 64 years old, I figure I have 10 more good serving years out of me. My health, my energy and my commitment are good. And my support for my family and my community and my wife is all there.”
On his relationship with Geoff Duncan:
“I think that Geoff Duncan has done a good job in many aspects. He’s become a friend of mine over the years. He and I got started on a very rough, rocky start. I think he believed I was out to strip him of his authority. That was not the case and it was never the case. ...
“The lieutenant governor runs statewide, and the voters vote for that lieutenant governor believing he has a certain power and authority. And until that power and authority is abused, or not used in the correct manner, he deserves that opportunity to exercise that power. ...
“I want to build on my relationship with my Senate colleagues in making sure the lieutenant governor’s office works in tandem with the majority caucus. And we have not experienced that in the recent past. No member would have to be worried about being surprised that I tweeted something or saw something in the paper inconsistent with what the caucus and the majority party want to see happen.”
On whether Joe Biden won the presidency:
“Joe Biden’s the president. We need to be focused on 2022 and 2024. And we had Senate Bill 202 to correct those problems.”
On Donald Trump’s influence on the race:
“I got out my atlas and I looked and Mar-a-Lago is not in Georgia. I am very fond of many of the policies of President Trump, whether you talk about border control, the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, reducing regulations and taxes, and his criminal justice reform. I am very fond of those policies.
“I’ve attended events in the Rose Garden, I’ve had breakfast in the White House and I’ve had lunch with President Trump in Atlanta. I have no reason to believe that President Trump would not be anything but favorable to my candidacy. I have not spoken to him about it, nor would I anticipate that.”