State Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican campaigning to become Georgia’s lieutenant governor with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, talks about “election integrity” as the number-one issue, but it’s not Jones’ only concern.
Jones, from Jackson in Butts County between Macon and Atlanta, has represented District 25 in the Georgia Senate for four two-year terms, since first elected in 2012. He works with his family business, Jones Petroleum, which his campaign website states employs nearly 2,000 people, and founded JP Capital & Insurance Inc., a brokerage firm employing more than 900.
“I'm a business-minded, conservative-minded individual and have been a little disappointed with some of our leadership, particularly at the lieutenant governor's position, and our current lieutenant governor had decided he was not going to seek re-election, and I felt like with my background and experience that I could bring a little better conservative, more forceful leadership to that post,” Jones said in an Oct. 15 phone interview.
He had spoken the previous evening at the 12th District GOP Barbecue, which drew a crowd to Cadillac Ranch near Sylvania. Jones is not the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in the May 24 primary, but he is the one Trump has endorsed.
On the phone, Jones told the Statesboro Herald he has a "simple plan" to offer voters.
“Number one, get election integrity back into our voting systems,” Jones said. “I think it's a shame that so many people don't have confidence in our voting process right now around the state.”
He went on to list other concerns, including some he said many parents have with kindergarten through 12th-grade education, such as “mask mandates and vaccines and also the curriculum that is being taught.”
“We’ve got to quit indoctrinating our kids and go back to educating them, your know, and in order to do that you're going to have to get the teachers unions and the bureaucrats out of that system,” he said.
Jones also said there’s a need “to bring law and order back to certain portions of our state.” He proposes new efforts to improve pay and retirement for law enforcement officers and to assist local and state agencies with recruiting and retaining officers.
He also wants Georgia to move toward eliminating its state income tax, to “help families and small businesses long-term,” and notes that Florida, Tennessee and Texas have done so.
But Jones acknowledges that controversy surrounding previous elections plays a key role in why he is running now.
Before current Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan in May announced his decision not to seek re-election, he had publicly criticized efforts by fellow Republicans to question and potentially invalidate Georgia’s November 2020 presidential election results. Although Duncan eventually defended and even praised the package of state election law changes enacted as Senate Bill 202, he previously said that misinformation spread by Trump had fueled attacks on Georgia’s election processes.
In January, one week after the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, Duncan demoted Jones and two other Republican senators from their committee leadership roles. Jones, who was removed as chairman of the Insurance and Labor Committee, says that Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and others also played a part in attempting to silence him. Miller is also running for lieutenant governor in the Republican primary.
"Because I stood up and challenged the elections and wanted to seek the truth and wanted to respond to constituents that have the problem, my own Republican colleagues decided to censor me and silence me," Jones said, "and you know, our leadership was totally, totally useless this past legislative session, and it shouldn't be that way, and that's a big reason why I'm running."
Jones voted for Senate Bill 202 because it contained some changes that were probably needed, he said, but he was not satisfied with the way several different election reform proposals were meshed together.
“I believe with anything, in order to fix an issue you've got to identify your problem, and I don't think we properly identified what our problem was because we didn't investigate anything, we didn't audit anything,” Jones said. “There were some recounts that were done, but when you don't properly identify the issue – Was it in drop boxes? Was it in signature verification? Was it in the machines? – those questions went unanswered.”
Senate Bill 202 greatly restricts the use of drop boxes for return of completed absentee ballots, after outdoor drop boxes were allowed last year during the pandemic. Now, each county must have a drop box, but is has to be kept inside a building where in-person early voting is conducted and can only be available during in-person early voting hours.
Jones voted for a bill, which narrowly passed in the Senate but did not become part of the final legislation, that would have ended no-excuse absentee voting. Georgia has allowed voters to request mailed absentee ballots without giving an excuse or reason since 2005.
"Yeah, I think someone ought to have a legitimate reason for wanting an absentee ballot,” Jones said in the interview.
Machines and boxes
But he went on to say that the biggest concern with Georgia’s election procedures he hears from voters is that they don’t trust the voting machines. The Dominion Voting Systems equipment, with printers to create a paper trail and scanners to register votes, was introduced less than two years ago.
"When I go around the state and I ask questions if people believe in the equipment that we're voting on and the majority of the room raises their hands that they don’t, that's a problem,” Jones said.
In late November 2020, he was one of several senators who requested that Gov. Brian Kemp call a special legislative session on election issues, but Kemp refused.
This proposed session would not have been to overturn Georgia’s election results in favor of Trump, Jones said, but for two other purposes.
One purpose was to overturn a consent decree Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger signed in March 2020 in a lawsuit brought by the Georgia Democratic Party, Jones said. When the state senators sought a special session, Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff was still ahead, with control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, he noted.
"So my whole objective to want to get into a special session was two-fold," Jones said. "It was to get rid of that consent order, because the legislative body had the authority to do it, and have all those drop boxes taken up, mainly, and then number two, have a committee put together to investigate all of the allegations that went on in Fulton County from the November election."
The other Bulldog
While a student at the University of Georgia two decades ago, Jones started as a walk-on with the football team and went on to serve as team captain for the 2002 season, when the Bulldogs won their first SEC Championship in 20 years. But Jones noted that he is not the most famous Georgia Bulldog expected to appear on the May 2022 Republican primary ballot.
Burt Jones and his wife, Jan, have two children, Stella and Banks, and are active members of Rock Springs Church in Milner.