ATLANTA (AP) — Republican state Sen. Burt Jones is running for Georgia lieutenant governor on a platform of fighting inflation and crime and improving education. But Democrat Charlie Bailey is focusing on Jones’ efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“I know what Georgia is going through right now, with the economy, inflation and everything else — crime in the streets." Jones said in a debate Tuesday sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.
Bailey, though, frequently swings the focus to Jones' participation as one of 16 Republicans who signed on as a false Georgia elector for Donald Trump in 2020 and and his efforts to push for a special session in Georgia aimed at overturning President Joe Biden's narrow win in the state.
“The truth is, Mr. Jones, what you did was un-American and unpatriotic," Bailey said in a debate that also included Libertarian Ryan Graham. "You don’t get to decide for the people of Georgia who serves them and who is their elected leader. That’s their choice, not yours.”
The lieutenant governor presides over the Georgia Senate and helps control the flow of legislation. Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan chose not to seek a second term after emerging as a vocal critic of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
Jones, who has Trump's endorsement, claims his participation as an unsanctioned elector was an effort to help keep Republican options open if they won lawsuits following the election. That explanation papers over Jones' other activities, including flying to Washington the night before Jan. 6 to meet with Vice President Mike Pence. Jones has said that he originally intended to lobby Pence to discard the electoral votes of Georgia and other states, then decided it would be futile.
A judge ruled in July that Democratic Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis couldn’t seek to prosecute Jones for his activity because she had held a fundraiser for Bailey. The Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia will decide whether to appoint another prosecutor who could bring charges against Jones.
Jones, heir to a large petroleum distribution business and founder of an insurance agency, reiterated his stance Tuesday that voters don't really care about any of that: “What they are talking to me about is gas prices, four-year high inflation, crime that’s going on, and then what’s going on in our education system. And that’s what I’ve been focused on."
Bailey, a former Fulton County assistant district attorney who lost a 2018 race for attorney general, is betting otherwise. But he's pushing a more complete platform, promising to be a loyal promoter of the priorities of his gubernatorial running mate, Stacey Abrams, in the state Senate.
That includes trying to roll back restrictions on abortion, and backing Abrams' pledges to increase teacher salaries and expand Medicaid health insurance. Bailey also argues that Republicans are underfunding law enforcement, particularly the state crime lab, hampering prosecutions.
Bailey acknowledges that Republicans are likely to maintain a majority in the state Senate and could strip him of many powers if he is elected. But he pledges to use whatever influence he has to back a Democratic agenda.
Jones has attacked Bailey over a May 2011 arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence. Bailey pleaded to misdemeanor reckless driving and was sentenced to probation and community service.
Jones' biggest pledge is to try to eliminate Georgia's income tax, which brought in more than $20 billion last year, about 60% of all state tax receipts.
He also claims he wants to improve education by spending more public money on charter and private schools, prioritizing vocational and technical education, and cutting the cost of college by reining in university spending. Jones has also staked out positions in the school culture war, saying he’s trying to block schools from teaching things that “divide our children.”
He also proposes harsher penalties for some crimes and more spending on law enforcement.
Jones has raised $6.6 million and had $1.9 million on hand as of Sept. 30, including a $2 million loan to himself. Bailey has raised almost $1.9 million and had $650,000 in cash. Graham has raised $8,300.