Jon Burns’ star has been rising steadily throughout the Georgia Legislature. It may soon rise to one of the top spots in the House of Representatives.
State House Republicans will vote May 11 to choose a new House majority leader, and Burns, the Effingham County resident and 10-year member of the state House, is expected to be one of the top contenders for the post. Larry O’Neal, a Warner Robins Republican, is retiring from the Legislature to sit as a judge on the state tax tribunal. O’Neal, noted for his knowledge on taxes, led the House Ways and Means Committee before being tapped as majority leader.
“I have a lot of good friends and have some great support,” Burns said Thursday morning. “It’s all part of public service, and you want to make sure you help develop good policy.”
Burns’ bid for House majority leader drew quick support from his fellow Effingham County member of the Legislature.
“I think it would be great for all of us,” said state Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), “and would be great for the coastal area and south Georgia.”
With O’Neal’s departure, there are 118 Republicans in the 180-member House. Former state Senate majority leader Eric Johnson said Burns would be a good fit in the House’s No. 3 post, behind the speaker and speaker pro-tem.
“The fact that Jon is even in the running says a lot about his personality and the respect he has from his colleagues,” said Johnson. “Jon has the personality and the wisdom and the experience to be a great majority leader. But more importantly, it would be just awesome for this end of the state.”
He said Burns has the demeanor for the position.
“I think the job of majority leader is herding cats,” Johnson alluded, “so having somebody who can work well with people who is not a bomb-thrower (is key).”
In an interview for Effingham Living magazine three years ago, state Speaker of the House David Ralston praised Burns as a role model for younger House members.
“He works so quietly and so out of the spotlight, you almost never see him until he’s got a result,” the speaker pointed out. “That’s just the way he is. He really is a go-to guy. When you need a hard job done, you know you can turn to Jon Burns because he’s interested in getting results
rather than getting publicity.”
The speaker also lauded Burns’ traits as an effective lawmaker.
“He has credibility,” Ralston said. “He has integrity. He’s dependable. He works hard. He has great ability to reach consensus with people of differing viewpoints. Jon has so many great qualities as a leader but none of them include being loud or being highly visible. He just goes behind the scenes and gets the job done.”
Burns could face a challenge from Rep. Allen Peake, the Macon Republican who shepherded the passage of HB 1, Haleigh’s Hope Act, the measure that allows for the medicinal use of cannabis oil. Burns also supported the bill.
“It looks like we’ve got the votes,” Hitchens said.
Yet Johnson urged caution for Burns.
“I wouldn’t count the chickens just yet,” he said.