Gold Dome Capitol building Atlanta, Georgia - aerieal view
(Brett Barnhill/Shutterstock)

ATLANTA (AP) — The most powerful Republican in Georgia’s state Senate will seek the presiding role of lieutenant governor in 2022.

Butch Miller of Gainesville, who has been Senate president pro tem since 2018, said on Tuesday he will seek the GOP nomination for the statewide post.

“I want to protect the conservative policies and conservative values that are clearly working for Georgia,” Miller said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

As president pro tem, Miller is the elected leader of the Senate Republican majority and is in some ways more powerful than current Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. The 64-year-old Miller had said he would not challenge Duncan if the incumbent sought a second term. But Duncan announced this month that he’ll leave office after this term to lead GOP 2.0, a group intended to remake the Republican party in the post-Trump era.

Duncan’s vocal defense of Georgia’s election results brought him into deep disfavor with former President Donald Trump and many Republican activists. Miller, meanwhile, said he counts Georgia’s election law imposing new restrictions on voting among his top accomplishments in the Senate. At one point in the debate over election changes, Duncan refused to preside, with Miller instead taking over.

Two Democratic state House members are seeking their party’s nomination for lieutenant governor — Erick Allen of Smyrna and Derrick Jackson of Tyrone.

Republican activist Jeanne Seaver of Savannah is the only other Republican who has declared for the race so far. Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican, has said he’s considering it. Sen. Burt Jones, a Jackson Republican, also has been looking at the race. Jones unsuccessfully challenged Miller for president pro tem in December.

Jones posted a picture of Trump, himself and Jones’ father on social media on May 3 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida raising speculation that Jones was seeking Trump’s endorsement for office.

Miller said that “last time I checked, Mar-a-Lago was not in my jurisdiction,” but when it comes to Trump’s support, “I have no reason to expect him not to endorse me if he is going to endorse.”

Miller said that as lieutenant governor, he would focus on education, transportation, infrastructure and agriculture.

Georgia’s lieutenant governor has relatively little power in law, with senators deciding how strong they want the office to be. Zell Miller amassed unmatched sway in four terms. Republican Casey Cagle had 12 years in the Senate before he took office, but saw Republicans strip him of most power in 2010 amid complaints he was too heavy-handed. A new slate of Republican Senate leaders including Miller gave him some of his power back in 2012, midway through Cagle’s three terms. That power-sharing arrangement has continued through Duncan’s term.

Miller was chosen by the 34 Senate Republicans as their leader and might be able to use that support to rapidly build his power in the job.

“What you will get with Butch Miller is a man who has the ability to get Republicans to work together,” Miller said. “We will get the entire conservative caucus on board together.”

Miller co-owns a Honda dealership in Gainesville and first won a special election to the Senate in 2010. Tightly aligned with the business community, he served as a floor leader for fellow Hall County politician Nathan Deal during most of Deal’s two terms in office. Miller lost a bid for pro tem in 2014 to Republican David Shafer, but moved into the post when Shafer stepped down in a failed bid for lieutenant governor.

Miller said he doesn’t anticipate stepping down from the pro tem post while running.

“I have not had one single person in the caucus ask me about that,” Miller said. “I think I have the confidence of the caucus.”

For more from Fresh Take Georgia and the latest updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.