An office closer to the gold dome comes with the job of majority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, so Rep. Jon Burns was in Atlanta Tuesday, moving his office contents from the second floor of the Capitol to the third.
He has also moved into what is generally considered the third-ranked post in the House, behind those held by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton.
In a party caucus meeting Monday, House Republicans elected Burns over one other candidate for caucus leader, Rep. Allen Peake of Macon. They had both campaigned for about a month.
“One of the reasons that I made this effort is to make sure that we have some folks in leadership in the state who are spread around the state,” Burns said by phone from Atlanta, “and certainly I’m proud to be from South Georgia, and certainly this helps Southeast Georgia to make sure that our people’s interests are well represented in the Legislature.”
Burns’ District 159 encompasses Screven County, northern Effingham County and a wedge of Bulloch County to downtown Statesboro. He has served 11 years and is in the middle of his sixth term.
After calling Ralston a friend and saying that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Gov. Nathan Deal “have represented the interests of all Georgians very well,” Burns added, “but it’s always good to have folks from different parts of the state at the table.”
As majority leader, he will work with the Republican caucus to formulate policy and make sure that the interests of members are considered by the House leadership, meaning Ralston and Jones, he said.
Although they are all Republicans, the majority leader, unlike the speaker and speaker pro tem, is a party official. Another of Burns’ roles will be to assist caucus members in efforts toward re-election, he said.
A House of Representatives news release quoted the speaker congratulating Burns.
“Jon is a great asset to our leadership team, and I know he will serve our members well in this important role,” Ralston said. “The Republican caucus is fortunate to have a deep bench of talented leaders, and I know Rep. Allen Peake will continue to help us move our caucus and this state forward.”
The leadership post became available when Deal appointed the previous majority leader, Rep, Larry O’Neal of Bonaire, to be administrative judge for the Georgia Tax Tribunal.
Republican lawmakers voted using paper ballots. The House did not release the vote count, but the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported an unofficial count of 69 for Burns to 44 for Peake. A third legislator, Rep. Chuck Martin of Alpharetta, had campaigned but withdrew his name.
Peake was the author of the new law allowing the use of cannabis oil, derived from marijuana, for medical purposes.
Burn’s major legislative achievement this year was his work on House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act. Burns, who had been a state Transportation Board member before being elected to the Legislature, served on the study committee that developed the bill and became its second sponsor.
The final version allocates $900 million a year to road maintenance and construction, mainly by replacing Georgia’s previous mix of per-dollar sales taxes and per-gallon excise taxes with a higher excise tax. The excise tax is projected to capture about $60 million a year from interstate trucks that were exempt from the sales taxes. The new law also levies fees on alternative fuel vehicles previously immune to highway taxes.
“HB 170 is a great example of one of the reasons I was willing to take on this additional responsibility,” Burns said. “I think our caucus has proven that the leadership in the House and the faith the citizens place in us has been well earned because we have taken on these tough, complex problems over the last few years, and we’ve provided solutions.”
Burns gives up the chairmanship of the Game, Fish and Parks Committee for the new leadership role.
He expects to spend more time in Atlanta now. Although his address is on a mail route from Newington in Screven County, Burns lives in northern Effingham County. He and his wife, Dayle, have two grown sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren. Burns and his sons operate a farm and a farm supply business.
Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, who represents District 160, praised Peake as well as Burns and said the caucus had to choose between two highly respected candidates.
“The caucus would not have lost no matter who had been elected,” she said.
She called Burns “an outstanding public servant, not only for the citizens in the district, but for all Georgians.”
They first communicated about local concerns when Tankersley was a Bulloch County commissioner and Burns was a state Transportation Board member.
“He is a consensus builder and he really does want to see others in our caucus succeed, and he’s willing to work with them and help them to pass good legislation that really best represents our Republican values,” she said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.