State Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson) officially launched his campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is pictured in 2021 at the launch of his campaign for office. He spoke at the Georgia Republican Party State Convention on June 10, 2023.

Credit: Stephen Fowler / GPB News

The Georgia Republican Party's 2023 state convention made headlines last weekend for shining a spotlight on the party's divide.

Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 people at the gathering in Columbus on Saturday morning ahead of a mid-afternoon appearance by former President Donald Trump.

The Associated Press reported that delegates were largely supportive of Trump at the convention, saying his recent indictment for mishandling documents is illegitimate and that President Joe Biden would present an existential threat to the country if he is reelected in 2024.

Those same delegates chose former state Sen. Josh McKoon, a lawyer for the state technical college system, to lead the party for the next two years, succeeding David Shafer, who served as chair beginning in 2019 and, along with Jones, was among a group of electors who signed a certificate in 2020 falsely stating that Trump had won the state in that year's presidential election.

But Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other nationally known Republicans stayed away from the convention in Columbus, further emphasizing the rift in a party that needs unity in order to regain the White House in 2024.

On Sunday afternoon, the Georgia Democratic Party tweeted, "After this weekend’s Georgia GOP convention, one thing is crystal clear: the GOP is still unshakably the party of Donald Trump."

On the heels of the convention, Jones spoke with GPB's Donna Lowry about the future of the Republican Party here, Georgia's certificate of need and abolishing the state income tax.

Below are excerpts from the conversation.



Donna Lowry: Hello, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me about a number of issues. But let's start with the Georgia Republican Convention in Columbus last weekend. 

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: Good to be with you this morning, Donna. And always a pleasure to be on your program here. And Columbus was fun. You know, it was, I was on there on Saturday. I had the speaking part the Saturday morning and a very large, very energetic crowd. And they were happy to elect new officers. They're the state party. I want to congratulate the new party chair, Josh McKoon, who’s somebody I know Josh very well. He's from Columbus. And he served in the state Senate for several years. I served with them. And I think he'll do a good job as a new state party chair. They asked me to come and speak to the audience there on Saturday morning. And I got there, and it was a very large crowd, probably the largest I've seen. But they're also very energetic and excited about being there. So it's always good to be around people who are excited about, you know, being anywhere. And, you know, I just talked about how we need to unite the party and try to grow the party as well. And I think any time that you if you want to continue to win statewide elections, you've got to have a good grassroots organization. And that there are a lot of those people in that room really helped me in my election for lieutenant governor. And a lot of them were grassroots volunteers. And so I seized the opportunity of getting in front of 3,000 folks from every corner of the state. And I was glad I did it.

Donna Lowry: Let's talk a little bit about that, uniting the party. We know that there were some state leaders not there. The governor didn't attend. The secretary of state. Is that something that we should think about in terms of whether or not the party unity is — there’s a problem with party unity?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: You know, I don't think so. I mean, obviously, you know, everybody has their reasons why they want to go or do not want to game. I've got a great working relationship with our governor, and I've always had one and going to continue to have one. I think that [with] the party, this is no different. Every, you know, there's always you're always going to have different folks that think things ought to be run differently. It doesn’t matter what stage in life you are or stage of political process. I remember back in 2012 when the Tea Party movement was going on really strong, you know, and there was a real anti-incumbent movement that was going on within the Republican Party ranks. So there's always going to be people who think they can do things better and they have opportunities to run for local and regional and statewide chairs. And a lot of times with those people do it, you know, it you know, it changes when they get inside and see, you know, things have to actually operate. But, you know, like I said, it's growing pains, like anything else. And but I'm glad that a third of the people who were there were new to the process. And I think that that represents not a divide but, you know, an opportunity to unite folks.

Donna Lowry: Do you think that uniting will happen any time soon?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: I think so, because, I mean, what you're going to have you're going to have primaries and, you know, those are always contentious and heated. But at the end of the day, you come together and there is one goal in place, and that is to win the White House back. And with record-high inflation that's going on, and the border this unsecure and, you know, all the troubles that we seem to be having on the world stage, I think are probably going to be a real ally to the Republican Party and to take the White House back. And I think it's going to be, I think in ‘24, we will win it back because I think we'll win Georgia. And if you win Georgia, you'll win the White House.

Donna Lowry: I did want to ask about that. How big of a player do you think Georgia will be coming up in 2024?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: Well, Georgia has been the big player the last four or five cycles now. I don't think it's going to change any time soon. But Georgia's an important state. You know, it's an important state. And we obviously, you know, [are] the key to any national politics and concern. But if you don't win Georgia, the path to getting the necessary, you know, electoral votes are very difficult. So Georgia's very important.

Donna Lowry: OK. Let's talk about a couple of hearings this week that I think you probably are interested in. And one of them dealt with the CON (certificate of need) hearing yesterday. Any thoughts on what's going on with that and what you'd like to see happen?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: Well, you're talking about the certificate of need. Yeah, well, I think, you know, I've been a big advocate for this, particularly in rural communities. And that's what most of Georgia's made up of. You know, we've got 112 counties that have 50,000 or less and population. That's what I consider a rural community. And we have a burdensome policy in place here at the state calls to view the many where even with our small county would like to either build their own house built or build their own medical facilities, they've got to go through a bureaucratic process called the certificate of need process, which I don't think is necessary, and I don't think it's a right for communities have to do that. So that's what the study committee is looking at. How to improve access to health care all over the state with a focus on the rural health care. But, you know, it's not just rural communities that that are having trouble with access to health care. And we want to look at how we can do a better job at the state by alleviating some of the government burdens, which is what the certificate of need represents.

Donna Lowry: Now, I know you pushed for the certificate of need during the last legislative session. Do you think this study committee will move things a little further, in your opinion, in the direction you'd like to see it go?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: Yeah, I'm already seeing it, you know, from people who were legislators as well as, you know, people who were general bystanders that, you know, were either, one, weren't comfortable with it during session or didn't quite understand it. They're coming around to what we're talking about because like I said, you know, it's just so giving local communities ability to control their own destiny as far as health care is concerned. And, you know, I don't think — I don't fault any community that wants to put forth the effort and also the risk and try to provide their citizens with better health care and better access.

Donna Lowry: Okay. Let's talk about the other study committee this afternoon — the Joint Tax Credit Review panel. What are your thoughts on that panel in particular, what would you like to see happen?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: You know, there's some we've talked about for, you know, several years. You know, the last decade or better we have doled out, at the state, a lot of tax credits, a lot of incentives and things of that nature. Some of them have been very beneficial from a job standpoint, economic development. Some are, quite frankly, not. And as you continue into this recession that we're heading into and an eventual slowdown of the economy — you know, inflation, the economy's going to have to slow down, you know, with inflation being at a 40-year high right now — we need to be proactive about looking at ways that we can make sure we're getting the best bang for our buck when it comes to the tax credits and incentives. And so this is this opportunity to review it in the off season where you're not under the pressures of a legislative session trying to get something done. It gives people time to breathe and look at what we're doing and see how we can improve on it.

Donna Lowry: Yeah, I know that you're going to look at audits, community affairs, economic development, the whole gamut. So mainly people hear a lot about the film credits and the ones dealing with some of the businesses, especially EV (electric vehicles). So this really is looking at all of it, right?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: Yeah, it's looking at all of it. And, you know, I tell the people who are in the film industry, I was like, you know, ‘Relax.’ You know, ‘We're not we're not coming after you. You know, we're just we're doing a review of all the credits.’ I mean, you can look at the film credit is one that everybody wants to talk about because, you know, that's the sexy one. But that also is one to illustrate, you know, a lot of good economic growth and job opportunities and things of that nature. And that's not what we're looking to address initially, you know, and so I tell my folks who are in the movie industry, you know, whether it's in production, postproduction or even the people who own the large studios, I was like, ‘Look, we're just we're looking at this. We're going to be a part of the conversation and we're not going to do anything knee jerk or drastic. We're going to look and see what's in the best interest of citizens and the state of Georgia.’

Donna Lowry: I’ve got to ask, though: We’ve seen a revenue drop in the state. Is this — this an effort to make sure that the state shores up things for the future, in terms of that?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: Not necessarily, I mean not necessarily. This is something we were talking — I was talking about doing. You know, I would love to see us have you know, a zero state income tax. I've always been very clear about, you know, I would like for us to get to a point where we're more like Tennessee and Texas and Florida with no state income tax. But the only way you're going to do that is by gradually assessing how you're doing things and looking how you can shave that state income tax down. Because once again, you can't do in one year because it represents 50% of your overall budget. So you've got to be mindful, you've got to be fiscally responsible. And that's just what we're doing right now with this joint committee.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.