WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats used their nominating convention last week to highlight several prominent Republicans who plan to cross party lines and vote for Joe Biden. On Monday, Republicans offered a counter: Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones.
Jones, a Black lawyer from suburban Atlanta, used a high-profile speaking spot on the first night of the Republican National Convention to praise President Donald Trump, saying he had delivered on promises, and to tear into Democrats, saying they had taken advantage of Black voters.
“Why is a lifelong Democrat speaking at the Republican National Convention? That’s a fair question. And here’s your answer: The Democratic Party does not want Black people to leave the mental plantation they’ve had us on for decades,” Jones said.
Trump has put an emphasis on winning over more support from Black voters after getting just 6%, in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of people who participated in its polls and were confirmed to have voted. Polls show a close race in Georgia, where Democrats lean heavily on support from Black voters, adding to the pressure on Trump to peel voters away.
Earlier in the night, former NFL star Herschel Walker said “it hurts my soul” to hear anyone refer to Trump as a racist. Walker starred during his college years at the University of Georgia.
Jones said he is backing Trump because the president has backed initiatives including increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities, signed criminal justice reform and created “the most inclusive economy ever.”
The deaths of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police officers have provoked racial unrest and protest in several cities, and several speakers at the convention Monday cast those protesters as rioters.
Jones accused Democratic lawmakers of turning their backs on police officers and said “our police need more funding, not less,” for such things as use of force and de-escalation training. Jones said he is part of a growing segment of the Black community who are independent thinkers.
Jones previously served as DeKalb County’s CEO and is no stranger to controversy. He weathered allegations of theft as the county’s chief executive, has often clashed with his fellow Democrats on policy issues and was accused last month of hurling transphobic comments at a local official.
Jones first announced his support for Trump this spring and “all hell broke loose,” he said Monday. Other Georgia Democrats quickly blasted Jones’ endorsement of Trump. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia and a candidate for the U.S. House, issued a statement calling Jones an “embarrassment” and said he “does not stand for our values.”