Vernon Jones: Rising star?
Former Georgia state representative Vernon Jones made waves last spring when, as a Democrat, he announced his support for President Donald Trump. Jones, who also served for eight years as chief executive of one of Georgia's largest counties (Dekalb), followed up in January of this year by formally switching to the Republican Party and declaring his candidacy for governor, running against incumbent Republican Brian Kemp.
That move was noted with interest by many conservatives in the state who, like me, have been less than pleased with Kemp's apparent reluctance to investigate potential fraud in the November 3 general election. While we appreciate Kemp's stand on COVID restrictions, as he reopened the state much earlier than most, and we shudder to think how bad it could have been had his opponent in 2018, the execrable Stacey Abrams, been in office, we still can't help but feel that Kemp has betrayed us in some fundamental way.
As a result, many Georgia conservatives are open, at least, to a Jones candidacy, if not entirely ready yet to trust him fully. (Is it ever a good idea to trust any politician fully?) And so, earlier this week, led by my natural curiosity as well as a desire to find a better option than Brian Kemp, I ventured north from my home in Gwinnett County to hear Jones speak at the monthly meeting of the Republican Women of Forsyth County.
I can report that I was, overall, impressed. Vernon Jones is certainly a charismatic guy, tall and commanding and, at 60, still trim, looking every bit the former athlete. He is an engaging speaker, articulate and funny, half Donald Trump and half Baptist preacher, moving easily back and forth between country-boy slang (he actually is a "country boy," having grown up on a farm in North Carolina) and educated bureaucratese. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand from the start, as any successful campaigner must be able to do.
His pitch to the audience was fairly straightforward: Brian Kemp has let us down (eliciting many figurative and a few literal "amens" from those in the room), and he, Vernon Jones, is going to demand a forensic audit. (Indeed, he left that very evening for Arizona, to observe the audit taking place there.) He called Kemp a "RINO" (to no disagreement that I could detect) and insisted that, having once acceded to her "voting rights" demands — which helped create the mess in November — the governor would not be able to defeat Abrams a second time. As a Black man, however, Jones believes he can beat Abrams, because "they ain't gonna get away with using that 'racist,' 'white supremacist' crap against me."
Jones did take a few moments to address the elephant in the room — the fact that he is a lifelong Democrat who only recently converted — by pointing out that he has always been a conservative Democrat and asserting that he didn't leave the party; the party left him. (A well used phrase, perhaps, but potentially no less true for that.) He had "come home," he said, to "the Party of Lincoln, the party of abolition, the party of desegregation." He also reminded us that anyone who refused to vote for former Democrats would never have voted for Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump, which I thought was a fair point. The crowd, in any case, ate it up.
Beyond that, Jones shared with us his "Contract with Georgia," which calls for a forensic audit of the last election and increased election security moving forward. It also, among other things, promotes open carry and declares that "Georgia will never be a sanctuary state." It doesn't specifically mention Critical Race Theory (another hot-button issue for conservative Georgia parents) but does say schools should not teach ideas that divide students by race.
All in all, it was an effective stump speech. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to vote for Vernon Jones — there's a lot of time between now and Georgia's next gubernatorial election, and anything can happen — but I will say this: with Jones as his opponent, Brian Kemp has good reason to be concerned.
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