Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones rebuked his fellow Democrats on the opening night of the Republican National Convention Monday and made an appeal for voters of color to reelect President Donald Trump.
There’s little chance of Trump winning even a sizable minority of Black votes, with polls showing him trailing by far the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Still, Jones, who is Black and a “lifelong Democrat,” urged Black voters to reject his party. Jones blasted his statehouse colleagues for ostracizing him after his endorsement of Trump in April, and said the party was too supportive of violent anti-police protesters.
“The Democratic Party has become infected with the pandemic of intolerance, bigotry, socialism, anti-law enforcement bias and a dangerous tolerance for people who attack others, attack their property and terrorize our own communities,” he said.
Jones touted laws Trump signed that created a permanent funding stream for historically Black colleges and universities, reformed federal sentencing guidelines and put in place a tax law with new incentives to invest in distressed communities. Jones said those policy achievements should carry more weight for Black voters than actions by Democratic leaders.
Jones contrasted the criminal justice bill Trump signed with one Biden wrote. As a senator, Biden authored the 1994 crime bill that has been blamed for overly harsh enforcement and sentencing of people of color.
The Trump campaign also deployed one of Georgia’s most beloved native sons, Wrightsville’s own former University of Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, to defend the president’s record on race.
“It hurt my soul to hear the terrible names that people called Donald. The worst one is ‘racist’,” Walker said in a video message from Westlake, Texas.
“Just because someone loves and respects the flag, our national anthem and our country doesn’t mean they don’t care about social justice. I care about all those things and so does Donald Trump,” he said.
The president was criticized early on in his presidency for saying there were “very fine people, on both sides” after the violent protests at Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Biden cited Trump’s response as the reason he decided to run against the president.
Biden remains widely popular among Black voters, with 90 percent of Black likely voters saying they will vote for Biden compared to 6 percent for Trump in a recent CBS News-YouGov poll. Trump won only 8 percent of Black voters in 2016.
Trump is trying to improve on that performance – or at least chip away support from Biden. He chose Atlanta as the setting for the national launch of the “Black Voices for Trump” coalition last year.
A leaked audio tape recently captured the president saying at a meeting with civil rights leaders in 2017 that he benefited from low Black voter turnout four years ago. At the time, Trump said “many blacks didn’t go out to vote for Hillary [because] they liked me — that was almost as good as getting the vote.”
Jones is not running for reelection, ending his second stint as a state representative. The former DeKalb County CEO was in the House from 1993 to 2001 and rejoined the chamber in 2017.
In a statement, Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams said a lack of support in his district forced Jones not to seek another term.
“Vernon Jones has a long history of betraying his constituents and our Democratic values — he does not represent Black Georgians, and he does not represent our party,” she said. “DeKalb voters have rejected Trump and his buddies, and they’re rejecting Vernon Jones — which is why he had to withdraw from the ballot this November rather than face defeat.”
Jones’ appearance was meant as something of a counterweight to several high-profile Republicans who endorsed Biden in the past week. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., appeared at the Democratic National Convention last week.
Earlier Monday, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., headlined a list of more than two dozen former Republican members of Congress who endorsed Biden.
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.