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Political Notes: September 2015

New House Members: Summer elections mean some new faces at the Capitol. Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) replaces the late Rep. Harry Geisinger, who died in May. Price, a physician who was a Roswell City Council member, is married to fellow-physician Congressman Tom Price, a Republican who represents Georgia’s District 6.

Democrat Marie Robinson Metze, a retired educator, is the new House District 55 (South Atlanta) representative; she replaces Democrat former Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who resigned and pleaded guilty to tax fraud.

Sheri Smallwood Gilligan (R-Cumming) won the right to succeed former Rep. Mark Hamilton as House District 24 representative; he resigned to take a job out of state. Gilligan is a former CIA analyst who teaches at Lanier Technical College.


August Runoff Winners: Democrat Taylor Bennett is the new representative for House District 80 in Brookhaven. He defeated Republican J. Max Davis, the former and first mayor of Brookhaven. His win gives Democrats control of the Fulton County delegation. The previous incumbent, Mike Jacobs, a Democrat until he switched over to the Republican Party, is now a DeKalb County judge.

Republican Shaw Blackmon won the right to represent House District 146 in Bonaire, the seat formerly held by Larry O’Neal, who was House majority leader until he left to accept a judgeship.

Republican Clay Pirkle is the new House District 155 (Ocilla) representative. He succeeds former Rep. Jay Roberts, now planning director of the Georgia Department of Transportation.


Another Exit: Veteran lawmaker Ben Harbin (R-Evans), a former House Appropriations Committee chair, resigned his seat to take a lobbying position with Southern Strategy Group. He was first elected in 1994. A special election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3, to fill his seat.


Barrow Teaching: Former Democratic Congressman John Barrow will be teaching at the University of Georgia this fall and next spring, a gig that leads many observers to believe that he will not be running for political office in 2016.

Barrow, who served in Congress from 2005 to 2015, representing the state’s 12th District, was defeated last fall by Rep. Rick Allen, a Republican.

Known nationally as the last white Democratic congressman from the Deep South, Barrow can also claim to have represented the most gerrymandered district in the state. The changing boundaries required him to move from Athens to Savannah to Augusta.


New GRU Head: Dr. Brooks Keel became president of Georgia Regents University in Augusta following a five-year tenure as president of Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

Keel received a bachelor of science degree from Augusta College and a doctorate in reproductive endocrinology from the Medical College of Georgia, both now part of GRU.

“Brooks Keel brings a proven track record as a strong leader within our University System,” Board of Regents Chair Neil Pruitt said in a press release. “We are excited about the future of Georgia Regents University and the positive momentum Brooks will bring for the benefit of our students and our partnership with the Augusta community.”

Keel succeeds Dr. Ricardo Azziz, who presided over the university during a difficult period of consolidation that included two name changes.

Dr. Jean Bartels is serving as interim Georgia Southern University president; she has been provost and vice-president for academic affairs since 2012.


A Sad Loss: Just days after he was selected to create a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for Georgia’s Capitol grounds, Henry County sculptor Andy Davis died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash.

Davis’s work includes statues of Ray Charles, Truett Cathy and Patrick Henry.


Olens Again: Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens is serving his second term as chair of the Southern Region of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). The region includes Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

He serves on the executive committee of NAAG and is responsible for coordinating the southern region’s agenda.

“I am honored that my peers have placed their confidence in me,” Olens said in a statement.

The national association will hold its December 2017 meeting on Jekyll Island.


Same-sex Benefits: The University System of Georgia now makes same-sex spouse benefits available to its employees. The change came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Prior to the ruling, Georgia had been one of a handful of states prohibiting same-sex marriage.

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