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Political Notes: March 2015

Tough Gig: The new commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Russell McMurry, who was approved unanimously for the position by the GDOT board, is a 25-year veteran of the department he now heads. His is a tough job and one that, in recent years, seems to wear out those who achieve it.

McMurry succeeds Keith Golden (2012–2015), who retired. Golden had served as interim commissioner and succeeded former State Rep. Vance Smith (2009–2011), who resigned, who in turn succeeded Gena Evans (2007–2009), who was fired. She succeeded Harold Linnenkohl (2003-2007), who retired, having succeeded Tom Coleman (2000-2003), who also retired.

Earlier leaders of the always-political transportation department tended to stick around longer: Wayne Shackelford ran the department from 1991 until 2000, and Tom Moreland had a 13-year tenure from 1974 until 1987.

Back in the day, South Georgia’s Jim Gillis Sr. served as highway chief under Govs. Herman Talmadge and Ernest Vandiver.


Awards To Lawmakers: State Reps. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) and Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro) are the 2015 Legislators of the Year, named by Georgia BIO in recognition of their support of the life sciences industry and of university research during the 2014 General Assembly session.

Hawkins is a dentist who has been honored by the Academy of Independent Pharmacy and Friends of Agriculture. Parrish, a pharmacist, is a past recipient of the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Georgia BIO is a private, nonprofit association whose members include business, educational and governmental representatives involved in developing products and services related to life sciences.


Georgia Chamber Leaders, Priorities: Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers is the 2015 board chair at the Georgia Chamber, succeeding attorney Ernest L. Greer of Greenberg Traurig LLP. AGL Resources’ Hank Linginfelter, chair-elect, will head the chamber  in 2016.

“I am honored to serve as board chair during this historic year as the Georgia Chamber celebrates its 100th anniversary,” Bowers said in a press release. “This milestone year will be an opportunity to honor the Georgia Chamber’s track record of achievement.” Bowers was 2013 chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

The chamber released its list of 2015 federal legislative priorities. At the very top is immigration reform, followed by the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

“The Georgia Chamber supports immigration reforms that ensure a talented and qualified workforce in order to maintain and grow our economy and global competitiveness,” the organization says. “This includes measures such as a lawful, manageable and monitored guest and essential worker program; a reliable E-verify system; and a safe and secure border that does not unnecessarily restrict commerce or access for documented entrants.”

The chamber also urges appropriation of the remaining $440 million of federal funds needed for the Savannah harbor deepening, which is already underway.

President Barack Obama’s FY 2016 budget, announced in February, includes $42 million for the Savannah project.


Azziz Leaving GRU: Georgia Regents University’s Ricardo Azziz will step down as president in June, after five years at the Augusta institution. He came in 2010 to head the Medical College of Georgia, which changed its name to Georgia Health Sciences University, then changed it again to Georgia Regents University when the Board of Regents (BOR) consolidated the school with Augusta State University. The second name change was disappointing to some who hoped to have “Augusta” included in the name.

The Augusta Chronicle reports that Azziz will receive a paid year of leave, at a rate of $673,379, to be paid by the university and its health system, which Azziz also heads, plus a one-time payment of $470,000 for exemplary service – that one from the health system.

Under Azziz, GRU increased graduation rates, received the largest gift in the school’s and the university system’s history and closed the 2014 fiscal year with $106 million in research funding, according to the BOR.

In accepting Azziz’s resignation, University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby said, “Dr. Azziz has led the transformation of Georgia Regents University into a nationally recognized research institution. He outlined a vision for the new institution and positioned GRU for a bright future.”


New House Members: Winners in February’s runoff elections are Republicans Bradford Jay Raffensperger, John’s Creek, who will represent House District 50, and Trey Rhodes, Greensboro, the new representative from District 120.


MAC Board: The Metro Atlanta Chamber has launched a new Public Policy Advisory Board, which the organization says will provide “guidance and important feedback to MAC’s public policy staff as the chamber advocates for pro-business policies and initiatives.”

The new board is headed by PulteGroup President and CEO Richard Dugas Jr. and Beth Shiroishi, president of AT&T – Georgia.

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