State Rep. Jon Burns said at candidates’ forum Thursday night he is proud of his record but challenger Daniel Almond said the current majority leader could have done more to counteract recent vetoes.
Almond said he could not point specifically to an instance where he would have voted differently from Burns in the recent General Assembly session. He said he would bring “more energy and more passion on certain issues,” especially on Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of the campus carry bill.
“I believe if I would have been more vocal in getting more support, trying to get the Legislature to convene to override that veto,” he said.
Almond also said he would have been more vocal in making sure Rep. Allen Peake’s medical marijuana bill “wouldn’t have been gutted.”
Burns has backed the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes but he is adamant against allowing its use for recreational purposes. On his Web site, Almond has endorsed legalizing cannabis in Georgia. Almond, also opposed to no-knock warrants, has called for an end to mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug criminals.
“Medical cannabis, yes; recreational marijuana, no,” Burns said. “I will make very clear that I am passionately against is the use of marijuana recreationally. It’s caused lots of problems in other states.”
AAA released a study Tuesday that fatal crashes in Washington involving marijuana have doubled there since the state legalized pot. AAA takes no position on the legalization of marijuana.
There were problems with the first medical marijuana bill passed by the House, Burns acknowledged. State lawmakers were addressing issues that the federal law was inadequate on. Burns said Rep. Peake “worked diligently” on a bill to expand treatments.
But the public safety community balked at in-state cultivation, Burns said. The bill was amended and House members added using medical cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. The bill, HB 722, failed in the Senate.
“We worked very hard to the 12th hour on the 40th day,” Burns said. “Medical marijuana has been a godsend in this state.”
The problem with Rep. Peake’s bill wasn’t the language, Almond said.
“The problem was with the culture downtown in the Gold Dome,” he said. “You’ve got vast majorities who want in-state cultivation, wanting a medical cannabis program, but the legislature thwarted the will of the people. I would have done everything I could to make sure it wasn’t killed or gutted in committee like it was.”
Burns said he worked the scenes, his preferred method, for the Campus Carry Bill, HB 859. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill May 3.
“We had a very strong effort led by (Rep.) Rick Jasperse and our Rules chairman (John Meadows),” Burns said. “We passed good policy.”
The bill passed the House 113-59, and Burns said it was not possible to override that veto in the 180-member House. Burns also pointed out he has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
Burns also defended his ethics, which came under fire after a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that stated he failed to disclose payments to his business from the board of education and the Department of Natural Resources. The story also pointed out that Burns has backed legislation to increase transparency in state legislation.
But Burns said the article didn’t tell the whole story. He has had his filings reviewed by two sets of attorneys.
“They missed a lot,” he said. “My ethics filings have always been thorough and complete. In many case, they went beyond what was required by the law. We’re not required to file anything we do with local government. I knew when I assumed the position of majority leader there’d be a huge target on my back from the liberal media. But my filings are complete. They have been reviewed by experts. They are accurate and according to the law.”
Almond, a former Marine who grew up in Atlanta and served multiple tours in Iraq, said he’s been activist since getting out of the Corps.
“I think I can do a better job,” he said, “because I believe in reducing the size of government, not in expanding it. I don’t think Rep. Burns has been doing enough to reduce the size and scope of government and to make it transparent. I believe because it’s such a solemn duty, conflicts of interest ought to be prohibited.”
During his time in office, Burns said, the Legislature has limited the size of government and secured funding for the Savannah harbor deepening.
“We have protected our seniors, honored our veterans and passed pro-business legislation that respects our natural environment,” he said. “We made balancing our budget and funding the HOPE scholarship a priority. I have been unapologetic to protect the right to life and preserve our 2nd Amendment rights and defend our right to practice our faith and provide improved health care access for all Georgians. I am proud of my record in honoring the values of our community while planting the seeds for a brighter future for our state.”