Political RoundUp: October 2006
Families first: The Georgia Supreme Court has created a ‘Court Commission on Children, Marriage and Family Law’ to develop recommendations for how the state’s legal system can more effectively deal with these issues. The commission, to be chaired by Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, will be made up of two smaller panels: the Advisory Committee on Healthy Marriages that will also be chaired by Sears and the Committee on Justice for Children, which will be headed by Justice P. Harris Hines.
High-energy move: Gov. Sonny Perdue has appointed a 22-member Energy Policy Council that will develop short-term and long-term energy strategies for the governor’s office. Lee Thomas, the retired president of Georgia-Pacific, will chair the new council, whose members will include several energy industry executives as well as state Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) and Sen. Joe Carter (R-Tifton). Four state officials will serve as ex-officio members: Paul Burks, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority; Carol Couch, director of the Environmental Protection Division; Ken Stewart, director of the Georgia Forestry Commission; and Public Service Commission Chairman Stan Wise.
Probation and incarceration: Richard Leonard, who was the campaign manager for Linda Schrenko’s failed and ultimately felonious campaign for governor, was given a one-year probated sentence by a federal judge and fined $3,000 for attempted witness tampering during the investigation of Schrenko’s campaign funding misdeeds. Schrenko, the former Republican state school superintendent, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment after pleading guilty to stealing more than $600,000 in federal education funds and illegally converting them for personal and campaign use in the 2002 GOP primary for governor.
Moving onward and upward: The state Senate’s Committee on Assignments upgraded committee assignments for two Republican freshmen. Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas) was named vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee while Sen. Nancy Schaefer (R-Turnerville) was appointed to the appropriations panel.
Fewer and lower-paying: Georgia State University economist Rajeev Dhawan gave us a reminder the other day that the economic boom of the 1990s has truly ended. While Georgia still adds 80,000 to 90,000 new jobs a year, Dhawan noted, that number is well below the 114,000 new jobs a year added during the 1990s. A large portion of these are low-paying positions in health care and tourism instead of high-paying technology jobs, Dhawan said. The percentage of ‘premium jobs’ generated annually has been nearly halved over the past few years – where these jobs once made up 32 percent of the yearly total of new positions, they now make up only 17 percent.
Drought disasters: Who did they leave out? The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted Georgia’s request to designate 155 of the state’s 159 counties as disaster areas because of crop losses caused by drought and excessively high temperatures this summer. Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to apply for the disaster designation, which Perdue did in an Aug. 9 letter to the federal government. ‘Georgia has the second-highest number of disaster designated counties of all the states and this widespread, damaging drought and high temperatures have taken a toll on Georgia’s crops,’ said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
A new system?: The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) issued a report recommending improvements to the state’s tax system, which the think tank says is in need of an upgrade to cope with the economic realities of the new century. ‘We have a tax system basically created between 1930 and 1950 that was very relevant to the economies of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,’ said Alan Essig, the GBPI director. ‘The economy is very different today.’
Welcome aboard: The University System has grown from 34 to 35 public colleges since Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville opened the doors in August to its first freshman class. Located in the middle of one of the fastest-growing counties, Georgia Gwinnett is expected to move quickly up the ranks to become of the state’s largest colleges.
Dean returns: Rockmart insurance agent Nathan Dean retired from the state Senate in 2004 after 42 years as a state legislator, but he’ll be coming back to state government as the newest member of an advisory commission. Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Dean, 72, to the state Board of Community Affairs.
Toll operator: David Weir has been named deputy executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA); he will direct the agency’s daily operations. Weir had been serving as SRTA’s transportation policy analyst.