Josh McKoon announces run for Georgia Secretary of State

Josh McKoon, the state lawmaker who has championed anti-LGBT "religious freedom" legislation and questioned if anti-LGBT discrimination exists, launched his bid for Georgia Secretary of State on Thursday.

McKoon, a 38-year-old Republican from Columbus, was first elected to the state Senate in 2010. He announced in January that he wouldn't seek re-election to the Senate but hinted he might run for statewide office.

In a brief video on Thursday, McKoon made his campaign plans clear.

"It's official," McKoon said in the 40-second video. "I have filed my paperwork to get in the race for Georgia's next Secretary of State. I am excited to run. I am looking forward to sharing a lot more in the days to come."

"We're getting started. We're excited to be in the race," McKoon added.

McKoon is likely to face Rep. Buzz Brockway and former Rep. Melvin Everson – both Republicans from Gwinnett – as well as Rep. Brad Raffensperger, a Republican from Johns Creek – in the GOP primary. Brockway, Raffensperger and Everson provide an interesting split on "religious freedom" legislation.

In 2016, Brockway and Raffensperger voted for an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" bill that created national controversy and was later vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Everson, the former executive director of the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity, called the bill "way out of whack." Brockway has also joined a bus tour of gay marriage bigots.

No Democrat has announced plans to run for the office.

McKoon said Thursday his statewide campaign will be chaired by Sue Everhart. The former chair of the Georgia GOP has infamously derided same-sex marriage, questioned if gay couples "have the equipment to have a sexual relationship" and said she just doesn't "get the gay marriage."

McKoon has tackled controversial issues during his years in the state Senate, including "religious freedom" and ethics and immigration reform. That work has alienated him from Republican lawmakers, GOP leadership and cost him the chair of a Senate judicial committee. It's led to lonely walks under the Gold Dome for McKoon.

Despite being sidelined in the "religious freedom" fight earlier this year, McKoon renewed his fight for the legislation – the fourth consecutive year he has lobbied for it – even though GOP leaders in the state have said they didn't want to revisit the legislation.

McKoon has scoffed at being labeled "anti-gay." But he's complained about aggressive LGBTs trying to blackmail him, used legislative tricks to push his legislation forward, misconstrued poll numbers to support his case and flatly denied that it's an anti-LGBT bill even though it threatens non-discrimination policies in cities across the state.

McKoon has also attacked LGBT groups, called the medical needs of transgender military members "absurd," questioned whether anti-LGBT discrimination exists and refused to add LGBT protections to his "religious freedom" legislation. He also supported the lobbyist who compared lawmakers to Hitler for their failure to pass anti-LGBT legislation and tried to retaliate against LGBT-friendly businesses.

In March, McKoon pushed to add a "religious freedom" clause to an unrelated bill in the closing days of the state legislature. He also supported an anti-LGBT amendment to a bill with bipartisan support to reform the state's adoption and foster care laws. The amendment killed the bill. He also dismissed LGBT critics as making "empty threats."

UPDATE | Other candidates in the race, according to the AJC, include Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, a Republican, and Democrats R.J. Hadley, the former Rockdale County Tax Commissioner, and state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler.