Sen. Josh McKoon leaves door open for possible run for Georgia governor

As the 2017 General Assembly session nears the end, Columbus Republican Sen. Josh McKoon continues to weigh his political options, including a possible run for Georgia governor in 2018.

“Nothing is off the table,” McKoon said Friday morning in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer.

McKoon, who has been a controversial member of the controlling Republican caucus and at times challenging party leadership, opened the door to speculation in January when he announced from the Senate floor this would be his final two-year term representing District 29.

The current General Assembly session is scheduled to end Thursday. McKoon expects to have a decision on what he will do next by the June 3 Republican State Convention in Augusta.

McKoon said he is content with letting the process of who will be in what race play out in the coming weeks.

“If there is a good conservative candidate who can win, I want to write that person a check,” McKoon said. “Right now, there is not a clear candidate that fits that bill. I know some people are considering it.”

McKoon said he is looking for a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate who is willing to tackle education reform and change the way rural health care is provided in Georgia.

“What I will not allow to happen is for the Republican primary to go forward without there being a true conservative candidate that will allow for real change in Atlanta,” McKoon said.

McKoon’s name is now on an ajc.com list of potential candidates for governor.

“The Columbus Republican has long been a thorn in the side of the Republican establishment, and has already announced he will not seek another term in the state Senate,” the AJC speculative piece states. “He was once considered a shoo-in to run for Attorney General, but with Chris Carr as a solid incumbent, he might consider a higher office.”

McKoon has been in the General Assembly since 2011. He was one of the first lawmakers to push “religious liberty” legislation, which passed the General Assembly last year but was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal and strongly opposed by the state business community.

He was stripped by the Republican caucus leadership of his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the start of the current session. He has also battled the leadership over what he has termed transparency issues.

When the Senate refused to provide streaming online coverage of committee meetings like the House does, McKoon did his own live-streaming from his personal cellphone. The Senate leadership recently put in funding to live-stream committee meetings.

“I spent the last four years as the chairman of a standing committee and that was a different position than being a back bench member,” McKoon said. “It has definitely been a different vantage point.”

Qualifying for the statewide primaries will be held in March 2018. The primaries are in May and the General Election is in November. McKoon will serve his final year in the Senate in 2018 and office holders are prohibited from raising campaign contributions during the session, which runs from January through March.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are also likely to seek the Republican nomination. Others, including former 3rd Congressional District Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, are reported to be considering it.

The other options on the table for McKoon, 38, are a possible run for attorney general or not seeking elected office at all next year.

The attorney general’s race has changed in the last year. Attorney General Chris Carr, who was appointed by Deal after Sam Olens resigned to become president of Kennesaw State University, is going to run. McKoon’s name has surfaced as a candidate in that race for more than a year.

“If I were the attorney general, there are some things I would want to do,” he said. “The top issue I would like to see the attorney general take on is our border dispute with Tennessee. We could solve Georgia’s water issues — all of Georgia — by filing in the Supreme Court and getting access to the Tennessee River.”

Being the top lawyer in the state of Georgia would be a career milestone that anyone could be proud of, McKoon said. “But I am not taking anything off the table right now.

“I have seen that being a state senator representing four counties can be a big responsibility,” McKoon said. “I really appreciate what an awesome task it would be now to run in 159 counties. ... I have come to a place in my life that I am at peace and I can go through the process. If it is not the right time and I don’t need to be on the ballot, I won’t.”

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams