With almost a decade serving District 25 in the Georgia Senate, Burt Jones is ready to take a step up in making a difference in the state government.
Geoff Duncan opted to not seek re-election as Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor in 2022, and Jones, the former University of Georgia football walk-on from Jackson, put his name in the field to seek the Republican Party nomination. Jones’ Senate district includes Putnam County, and he dropped by the Eatonton Messenger to discuss his platform and how he would approach the state’s second-highest office.
Much like the Vice-President’s role in the United States Congress, Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor is officially President of the Senate in the Legislature (but not the gubernatorial candidate’s running mate).
“You can make it as meaningful or not as meaningful … it’s kind of what you make of it,” said Jones. “There are a lot of policies and issues that can be addressed at the Senate from education to transportation to tax policies. You have a big say in helping guide the trajectory of your state in a lot of different avenues.
“I have seen effective Lieutenant Governors and not so effective Lieutenant Governors. I feel I have the business background and also the legislative understanding to be an effective Lieutenant Governor.”
Jones said District 25 features some of the “finest folks” in Georgia. It includes Jasper, Greene, Morgan, Baldwin and portions of Jones and Walton counties.
“I think eight to 10 years in the legislative body is enough time,” he said. “I think my abilities could be utilized in another posture as a public servant.
“I think what people will say about me, people I’ve represented for this amount of time, is that I have always been very responsive. I think the people of the 25 th will say that I’ve represented them well and what the values of this District are and been a hands-on legislator with local issues.”
Jones knows there’s a labor issue in Georgia, and it’s not because of a lack of jobs. He is a part of a family business in Jackson, Jones Petroleum, which encompasses trucking and retail, and he said there’s always a need there for skilled employees be they electricians or plumbers.
“The business environment has been good, but the labor issue is a real concern,” said Jones. “A lot of people are not wanting to apply for these job openings that are available. A lot of it had to do with federal dollars, the extra $300 (unemployment). We eliminated that back in June, and you saw a little bit of an uptick of people coming back to the workforce.
“You are going to have a seemingly potential hyperinflation coming on board. I know everybody is paying more at the pump because of some of the things pushed down from the new administration. So the cost of living is seemingly going up at a rapid pace, and that does concern me.”
The state legislature in 2021 passed a new elections bill, SB 202, and though Jones said he voted for it, he does have issues with it not going far enough in election reform.
“I don’t think there was an effort to identify what the problems were,” said Jones. “We had a lot of swirling allegations, particularly in the larger metro counties with the chain of custody, the drop boxes, voter significations, and you had a lot of complaints about the machinery itself. The agencies, the Secretary of State’s office in particular, never identified if those were really issues. When you can’t identify an issue, I don’t know how you come up with a solution.”
As an example, Jones brought up signature verification and the 2018 election with 200,000 absentee ballots with 4.5 to 6 percent signature rejection rate. In 2020, he said absentees went up to 1.3 million, and the rejection rate was less than one-tenth of a percent.
“That’s mathematically impossible,” said Jones.
On drop boxes, Jones said some would go four to six days without being accounted for. The boxes would be picked up by a designated person but not delivered where it was supposed to go until four or five days later.
Jones said these were “glaring” issues not investigated.
On the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and positive cases spiking again each day late in the summer, Jones said more information is available on the virus now than when it started a year and a half ago. He himself has had COVID, recovered and is now vaccinated.
“I don’t think the government should mandate people to get vaccinated,” said Jones. “I do encourage people if it would give them peace of mind to do it. If they don’t want to do it, that’s their prerogative.
“We have to do as much as we can to support our health care providers in that endeavor. The hospitals and medical facilities are going to be overrun here because you have school starting back. It is not uncommon when school starts back for kids to start getting sick.”
And that’s not just the coronavirus, but colds and other infections that can be passed on in theses gatherings. Jones said the best thing people in the state can do is be aware of their hygiene and keep a safe distance from others, and the state can make sure medical facilities have their equipment and other needs met.
Law and order is also high on Jones’ mind as a candidate, and whether it’s the capital city or a rural area, he said officers need to know the administration is backing them up.
“They need to feel confident when they try to detain someone who is committing a crime or potentially committing a crime that they are not going to be somehow ostracized,” said Jones. “We need to have (district attorneys) who are going to prosecute.”
Jones said a 20-year Atlanta police officer told him morale there has never been worse, 90 percent of people arrested are repeat offenders and then they get out the back door because they are not being prosecuted.
“You don’t want that type of culture spreading to other parts of your state,” said Jones. “A high priority is coming up with a way to retain and recruit new law enforcement officers. It’s always usually been a local thing, but I think the state’s going to have to take initiative on it.”
Jones will need to first win the Republican Primary in May 2022, and one of the other challengers is a fellow State Senator, Butch Miller, of Macon.
“I’m one who tends to listen more to constituents and not special interest groups,” said Jones. “I am one who will stand up when I think there’s a wrong being done. In the legislature I’ve had a pretty good record of having an independent streak about me. When I think the best interests of the people of Georgia are not being looked after, I usually call those things out.”