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State NAACP head resigns to run for office

POSTED: July 31, 2017 11:30 a.m.
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Besides having a law practice based in Statesboro and being pastor of churches there and in Pembroke, Francys Johnson has been state NAACP president since 2013.

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After stepping down July 22 as president of the Georgia State Conference NAACP, a post he held for almost four years, Statesboro attorney and minister Francys Johnson acknowledged he is considering a run for "high public office."

Johnson submitted his resignation to NAACP national leaders while in Baltimore for the civil rights organization’s annual convention. NAACP rules prohibit officers from keeping their posts while campaigning for public office.

"So the news is out that I am seriously considering a run for high public office," Johnson posted Monday morning on Facebook. "I’ve been doing a lot of listening. I need to do more. The election is in 16 short months. ..."

In a reply email to the Statesboro Herald, Johnson said he had been "making the rounds" in Washington, D.C. He was back in Baltimore for the convention that ended Wednesday, when he called for a phone interview later Monday. He still wasn’t saying what office he will seek. The November 2018 elections will include the congressional midterms, but Georgia’s top state offices will also be up.

"When you look at the landscape in Georgia, there’s a lot of work that has to be done, and 16 months is not a lot of time to get it done," Johnson said. "We’ve got to expand the electorate, make sure that people are registered, make sure that people who are registered are educated about the issues and turn out to vote, and that’s going to be a herculean task across the landscape, both at statewide positions and at federal positions that are on the ballot as well."

As for which among those offices he will seek, he said an announcement will be coming soon.

"The message today is a message first to say thank you to an organization that I’ve served and a state that I’ve tried to help move forward, especially on issues of voting rights and education and moving us forward toward our common values," he said. "Those are not black and white; those are red, white and blue."

To challenge Allen?

In a story Sunday about Johnson’s resignation, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he is rumored as a possible challenger for U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, the Republican from Augusta who represents Georgia’s 12th Congressional District.

When his hometown newspaper asked whether he will challenge Allen, Johnson did not confirm it but also said nothing that would diminish that impression.

"I will say that the 12th District needs a change," Johnson told the Herald. "It needs a representative who will actually show up and represent the people.

"The 12th District has amazing potential, between Augusta, Savannah and Dublin, from Douglas to all points in between," he said. "This is an amazing piece of American pie in my opinion, and I think it’s woefully undeveloped and the potential is untapped, and if we could do that by having a representative in our federal government to champion our values, then that would be a positive thing."

But Johnson wouldn’t confirm if he will be a candidate for Congress. He had made a point of referring to "statewide offices" as well, but none specifically. Among others, governor and state attorney general will be up for election next year, as will be the office of secretary of state, with responsibility for elections.

Voting rights suits

While Johnson was state conference president, he said, the Georgia NAACP took part in "at least 10" federal and state lawsuits over voting rights, challenging redistricting, efforts to purge voting lists and other changes by local governments and the state. The organization was a party to some of the suits and litigated others.

The association’s efforts helped to ensure that 300,000 voters were not purged from the roles, Johnson said.

Johnson, 38, grew up in Sylvania and now lives in Statesboro with his wife, Meca, and their two young sons, Thurgood and Langston. He is a graduate of Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia School of Law. His law practice, The Johnson Firm, is headquartered in downtown Statesboro.

Prior to becoming State Conference president, Johnson had served on the NAACP national staff as the Southeast Regional Director. He was elected to the NAACP state presidency by member delegates in October 2013 and re-elected to a second two-year term in 2015. He leaves with the work of his second term in effect done, he said, having reported at the national convention. A new state president will be chosen in October at the NAACP’s 75th state convention in Augusta.

‘Preacher from Sylvania’

Johnson continues as senior pastor of both Magnolia Baptist Church near Statesboro and Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Pembroke. Sounding very much like a candidate for a specific office, he mentioned three area towns Monday.

"What we do in Atlanta and what we do in Washington, D.C., from a government standpoint, has got to make sense to people in Statesboro and Pembroke," he said. "It’s got to make sense to their wallets, to their family, to their circumstances, and I don’t think people really are feeling that out here in real America, in real Georgia, and so I’m not a millionaire like Rick Allen, nor am I a partisan wonk, a partisan hack.

"I’m just the preacher from Sylvania who believes that there must be a better way than the fighting that we have now, the inaction that we have now and the lack of responsive government," Johnson said.

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