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Political Notes: February 2014

Back To Work: Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) had his old job back as the 2014 session of the General Assembly began in January. He was found not guilty in Fulton Superior Court of 18 charges related to his legislative expense vouchers.

Balfour said he would seek reimbursement from the state for his legal fees, as permitted by Georgia law.

Two former governors, Republican Sonny Perdue and Democrat Roy Barnes, were among those who vouched for Balfour’s honesty. After the verdict, Balfour called the trial a waste of time and money.

Attorney General Sam Olens, in a statement released by his office, said he stood by his decision to bring the case to a grand jury, which issued the indictments.

“The GBI investigation,” Olens said, “revealed that Senator Balfour requested and received reimbursements for expenses he did not actually incur: miles he did not drive, days he did not work, hotels other people paid for. Those requests were too numerous and systematic to be simply isolated mistakes. If those requests had been submitted by an unelected state employee, they would have been prosecuted, and a state senator should not be held to a lower standard. … I do not apologize for standing for the principle that no person is above the law.”

Moving On: Blake Ashbee, who has held several positions in Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration, has joined McKenna Long & Aldridge (MLA) LLP as a member of the State Government Affairs team in Georgia.

Among his colleagues at MLA are former Georgia Gov. and Sen. Zell Miller, former Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, former Congressman Buddy Darden and former Chief of Staff to Gov. Sonny Perdue Eric Tanenblatt.

Armstrong At The Helm: Kerry Armstrong, a senior vice president with Pope & Land Enterprise, is the new chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission, the official planning agency for the 10-county metro region and the second citizen member to hold that position. His predecessor, Tad Leithead, who served for two terms, was the first.

Armstrong is chair of the North Fulton Community Improvement District and past chair of both the Council for Quality Growth and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

Oops, He Did It Again: Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who last fall acknowledged trying to obstruct the Affordable Care Act, has taken his rhetoric a step further. At a meeting of a Republican Women’s Club in Evans, he likened pre-existing conditions to a car wreck that’s “your fault,” essentially lumping Georgians with cancer or heart conditions in with scammers and deadbeats.

That earned him the distinction of being denounced not just by the Democratic Party of Georgia, but by The Economist, Esquire, Mother Jones and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (quoted in a release from the Georgia Democrats), who called it “a particularly egregious example of Republicans who, to this day, say they want to repeal the law and are trying to sabotage or undermine it and the protections provided by the Affordable Care Act.”

Hudgens subsequently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had used a “really poor analogy” in making his criticism of the healthcare law.

Not too surprisingly, Hudgens has drawn a Democratic opponent for this year’s election. Statesboro’s Elizabeth “Liz” Johnson, who describes herself as a 40-year insurance veteran, has announced her intention to run for the office of state insurance commissioner.

“I will work to protect Georgia citizens from fraud, and I will spend every day making sure Georgians are being treated fairly by insurance companies,” Johnson said in a press release. “What I won’t do is make Georgians cringe by deliberately making outlandish comments that are laughed at throughout the nation.”

Democrats Critical of Obama Picks: Three of Georgia’s Democratic Congressmen, Reps. John Lewis, Hank Johnson and David Scott, spoke out strongly against President Barack Obama’s nominees for two Georgia federal courts, saying that the candidates do not reflect the region’s diversity and were selected without sufficient public input.

The President nominated U.S. District Court Judge Julie Carnes for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia were Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, attorneys Mark Howard Cohen and Leigh Martin May and DeKalb County State Court Judge Eleanor Louise Ross.

Opposition centered around Boggs, who pushed to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag when he was a legislator, and Cohen, who has supported stricter voter ID laws.

The nominations, according to several news outlets, were the result of a deal made with Georgia’s two Repub-lican senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, to help move judicial appointments along.

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