This article is an opinion.
Strong opinions begat strong reactions. I recently begatted a strong opinion about Republican gubernatorial candidate Vernon Jones and he begatted a strong reaction right back at me. Good for him. Many intrepid public servants poked by my stiletto do one of two things: They sulk or ignore me, hoping I will be abducted by space aliens and transported to some distant hostile planet or to Detroit City, whichever will be most unpleasant. (I’m guessing Detroit City.)
It seems I remarked that at the recent state Republican convention on Jekyll Island, a number of delegates booed the incumbent governor who got a voting rights bill passed that Democrats hate, guided us through an unprecedented pandemic and presides over a state budget surplus of nearly $3 billion. Not enough for the boo-birds. They think he didn’t do all he could have or should have done to ensure Donald Trump’s reelection.
Instead, they cheered for Vernon Jones, who is running against Gov. Brian Kemp in the upcoming Republican primary. I found that interesting, given that – to quote an anonymous modest but much-beloved columnist – Jones carries more baggage than an airport carousel. That is what begatted me a phone call from the man. It seems he had read that somewhere.
In case you happen not to be familiar with Vernon Jones, he is a former state representative (1993 to 2001 and 2017 to 2021) and was chief executive officer of DeKalb County from 2001 to 2009. Now, he has decided to take a shot at becoming our 84th governor.
He is also a newly-minted Republican, having changed parties in January of this year. “I’m a Black MAGA man,” he told the conservative Breitbart News recently, referring to Trump’s Make America Great Again movement. To date, he has not been formally endorsed by The Man himself, but he has received the endorsements of Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani; Bernard B. Kerik, former New York police commissioner, pardoned by Donald Trump after having served time for felony tax and false statement charges; the Atlanta Tea Party and Russ Abernathy, former Henry County Chief of Police.
As to switching parties Jones reminded me quickly that such folks as Ronald Reagan, Sonny Perdue, Nathan Deal and – yes – Donald Trump did just that.
His platform is pure-red Republican: “Refund police, not defund police;” ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Georgia public schools; pro-life and an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association while in the Legislature. He thinks what differentiates himself from Kemp or any other Republican is that he can broaden the party’s appeal with Blacks.
Jones says that Democrats take the Black vote for granted. He believes many Blacks are more conservative than given credit and thinks the Democratic Party is “pandering” to Black voters “The Democratic Party does not want Black people to leave their mental plantation,” he says, “They don’t want to accept that we are free people with free minds.”
Vernon Jones believes he is the only Republican that can beat Stacey Abrams. “I want to see Stacey Abrams try and play the race card with me,” he says. He’s got a point there.
Jones saves his harshest criticism for the governor. “We lost two United States Senate seats and we lost the presidential election because of Brian Kemp. He is directly responsible for that happening. He was so afraid of Stacey Abrams running against him that he caved into her,” referring to an agreement between Abrams and Kemp prior to the last election which changed signature verifications and added drop boxes. “He has no backbone. He doesn’t stand up to Stacey Abrams.”
Jones is busy crisscrossing the state and making his case as the Republican gubernatorial candidate and recently won a straw poll of Republicans in Forsyth County.
As for the baggage to which I refer, Jones has had what the Atlanta Newspapers call a history of “misconduct” regarding his treatment of women. He denies all charges and says he was never found guilty of any improper conduct “with anyone, at any time.”
Can Vernon Jones indeed defeat Brian Kemp in the Republican primary and the Democratic candidate who is predicted to be Stacy Abrams in the 2022 general election? Logic would say it is a steep uphill battle but Jones thinks he can win.
Remember that I’m the guy who stated unequivocally some years back that an obscure state senator from Bonaire named Sonny Perdue could never defeat a powerful sitting governor named Roy Barnes. And how did that turn out?
Dick Yarbrough is an award-winning columnist from Georgia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.