Republicans pick Rep. Jon Burns as speaker of the Georgia House

Burns takes over for Speaker David Ralston after 13 years

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

The Republican majority in the Georgia House of Representatives nominated state Rep. Jon Burns as the chamber’s new leader Monday, choosing an ally of outgoing Speaker David Ralston to replace him.

Burns instantly becomes one of the most powerful politicians in Georgia, along with Gov. Brian Kemp and incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. The three Republicans will control the executive branch and both chambers of the General Assembly.

Burns, who has served as the Republican majority leader since 2015, said he will guide his party in a politically changing state.

“While demographics may be shifting, we held a majority because we have focused on uniting our people and passing policies to create jobs, grow opportunities and protect families,” said Burns, who represents Newington in South Georgia. “We fought hard to keep Georgia the best place in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”

Republicans also maintained a majority because they controlled the redrawing of political lines last year.

Following last week’s elections, Republicans hold a 101-79 advantage over Democrats in the state House, a loss of two seats after redistricting. During the redistricting process, the GOP shored up its majority at the expense of making a handful of seats more politically competitive.

Burns will take over for Ralston, the longest-serving state House leader in the nation, managing the chamber for 13 years before he decided against seeking another term because of health problems. Ralston was widely viewed as a steady hand for the House’s Republican majority who was able to sway which bills passed or failed.

Kemp congratulated Burns and said he will build on Ralston’s leadership.

“He has the temperament and knowledge to do the job well and will continue to serve the people of our state with distinction as speaker of the House,” Kemp said. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to ensure Georgia remains the best state to live, work and raise a family.”

But Burns, a small businessman and farmer, lacks the same mandate as Ralston among the Republican caucus.

He overcame a challenge from state Rep. Barry Fleming, a Republican from Harlem who sought to become speaker with the support of some of the House’s more conservative members, including the Freedom Caucus and Rural Caucus.

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Fleming was the sponsor of Georgia’s voting law passed last year after the presidential election, legislation that more tightly regulated absentee voting, allowed state takeovers of county elections and required faster ballot counting on election night.

The election for speaker was conducted by a secret ballot among the House’s Republican members, cast on slips of paper and inserted into white buckets. The vote count wasn’t made public.

The House speaker has the power to appoint leaders of committees, influence which bills receive a vote and preside over the chamber’s day-to-day activities.

Burns said he supports Georgia’s election laws, limitations on abortion and efforts to improve the economy in rural parts of the state.

The election for House speaker will be held on the first day of the legislative session in January, but Republicans hold a majority that allows them to choose the leader of the chamber and overcome opposition from Democrats.

House Minority Leader James Beverly said he was able to work with Burns to help pass several bills with bipartisan support during this year’s legislative session.

“As Georgia House minority leader, Burns and I were locked in tough negotiations. Through the gridlock and the back-and-forth, Burns kept his word,” said Beverly, a Democrat from Macon. “I’m looking forward to creating more history and continuing our great work for Georgians.”

House Democrats will decide their leaders on Nov. 22. Beverly faces a likely challenge from state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a longtime Columbus legislator and ally of two-time Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.

Among other leadership positions, House Republicans nominated state Rep. Jan Jones of Milton as speaker pro tem, a position she has held since 2010. State Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula, won a race to become majority leader.

In the state Senate, the Republican majority last week nominated state Sen. John Kennedy of Macon as the chamber’s next president pro tem, the second-highest-ranking member of the chamber behind the lieutenant governor. Kennedy will take over for state Sen. Butch Miller, who lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.