In December 2020, state Senator Burt Jones played a crucial role in the plot to keep then President Donald Trump in power, misrepresenting himself—alongside 15 other Trump allies—as a certified elector by filing paperwork that incorrectly claimed the leader of the MAGA movement had won Georgia. But Jones didn’t want to talk about election interference allegations, which have made him a target in the state’s sprawling election probe, during the Atlanta Press Club’s lieutenant governor candidate debate Tuesday.
Jones, one of Georgia’s first Trump-or-die politicians, sidestepped questions from Democratic opponent Charlie Bailey and debate panelist Rahul Bali, a WABE journalist, about why he participated in the false elector scheme and whether he still thought his actions were appropriate.
Responding to Bali, Jones claimed that filing the bogus paperwork wrongly indicating a Trump win was a “procedural move” made in tandem with the many lawsuits around the country challenging the election results. Facing then Senator John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential contest, then Vice President Richard Nixon pulled a similar move as election results in Hawaii were in dispute, Jones said. Then, he changed the subject.
“As I travel around the state, nobody’s talking to me about 2020,” Jones said. “What they are talking to me about are gas prices, 40-year high inflation, crime that’s going on, and what’s going on in our education system. And that’s what I’ve been focused on.”
Bailey, an attorney by trade, pressed the issue: “You served as a fake elector for Donald Trump,” he said. “You in secret forged a fake electoral ballot. And not only that; you got on your daddy’s plane the day before the insurrection and flew to Washington, D.C., with a letter in your pocket to urge the vice president not to count the electoral votes—all things that were aimed at overturning the election.”
And the Democrat posed a follow-up question to Bali’s: “Are you finally ready to take responsibility for your actions?”
Jones took the interrogation personally, countering, “I’ve got an opponent here who wants to attack my family [and] wants to attack me personally, and I think I just answered the question that Rahul gave me.”
Having ducked the question yet again, Jones pivoted back to complaints about record inflation—“Which is a direct reflection of the Biden administration,” he said—and crime. Declaring himself tough on crime and staunch supporter of law enforcement, Jones said Bailey’s proposal to do away with cash bail would benefit criminals.
Bailey jabbed back that “I’m not going to be lectured” by someone under criminal investigation. He added that he supports slashing the cash bail system, as well as legalizing recreational marijuana, because it would help protect Black and brown people who, historically, have been disproportionately targeted by such laws.
Tuesday afternoon’s showdown also spotlighted the ideological divide on women’s reproductive rights: Bailey said Georgia’s ban on abortion after six weeks “is an infringement on the women of Georgia and their right to make their own healthcare decisions.”
Jones, who’s said in the past that he would support an absolute abortion ban—without exemptions for cases of rape or incest—walked that back, suggesting instead that he was satisfied with the controversial 2019 law that went into effect this past summer. He added that he wants to make the adoption process “a lot easier than it is currently.”
The Republican hopeful is beating Bailey and Libertarian contender Ryan Graham handily in most polls, though he’s no shoo-in. Graham is polling well for a third-party candidate, increasing the chances of a December runoff election.