Political RoundUp: January 2009
Making changes: For the first time in six years, a new president pro tem will lead the state Senate when the General Assembly convenes a new session this month. Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) stepped down after six years in the second-ranking Senate position and will be replaced by the former majority leader, Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons). Williams will be succeeded as majority leader by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock). Over in the House, Rep. Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) got the votes from the Republican caucus to go for a third term as speaker. The Democratic leaders in both chambers remain the same: Rep. DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) and Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon).
He spoke too soon: When Gov. Sonny Perdue attended the annual conference of the Republican Governors Association in Miami, he said this about the ongoing water dispute between Georgia and Florida: “Georgia has a pristine undeveloped coastline with marshes there that people love to look out on. And then I come to Florida and I see the developed coastline all the way around from Jacksonville … I really wonder how we can be preached at as Georgians over environmentalism and water.” He may have been premature in that statement – less than a week later, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that gutted the coastal marshlands protection act and removed any remaining legal hurdles to the construction of a huge residential development next to protected marshes in Camden County.
The Ox and Newt: Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine may be running for governor in 2010, but he still found the time to launch a movement to draft Newt Gingrich as the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. “This is a critical time in the history of the Republican Party,” Oxendine said. “It is important our party realize we lost in 2008 not because we are conservative, but because we failed to be true to and successfully communicate a credible conservative message in 2008. Newt has the vision to lead our party.”
Bringing the news: For the benefit of data-deprived motorists, a network of digital billboards is being installed around the state to give drivers the latest information on weather alerts, hurricane warnings and abducted children notices. The billboards will be administered by the GBI and the Georgia Emergency Management Association (GEMA) in a public-private partnership with the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia. Billboards will be placed in Metro Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Brunswick, Macon, Rome, Savannah and Valdosta.
Low ratings, no problem: Members of Congress may get little approval in other parts of the country, but Georgia’s voters seem to be quite satisfied with the performance of the state’s U.S. House delegation. Each of the 13 House members was reelected in November. Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon was the only incumbent who didn’t get at least 60 percent of the vote (he clocked in at 57 percent). Rep. John Barrow of Savannah, who was reelected by an 864-vote margin in 2006, rolled up 66 percent of the vote in his landslide victory over Republican John Stone, winning by a margin of 79,789 votes.
Growing enrollment: Despite the University System’s budget woes, enrollment in the state’s 35 public colleges increased by nearly 13,000 during the fall semester to a record level of 282,978 students. System officials project that by 2020, enrollment will outstrip today’s numbers by 100,000. The largest percentage increases in enrollment were at Atlanta Metropolitan College (up 19.1 percent), Bainbridge College (16.2 percent), East Georgia College (28.6 percent), Gainesville State College (10.2 percent) and Georgia Gwinnett College (98.4 percent).
Sandy Springs parkland: The Georgia Land Conservation Program, Sandy Springs municipal government, the Trust for Public Land and the Sandy Springs Conservancy joined forces to preserve a 22-acre site in the newly incorporated city that will be dedicated as a passive park. The Lost Corner Preserve is located about 2,000 feet from the Chattahoochee River and is largely undeveloped. State officials held a ceremony in Sandy Springs to observe the closing of the property sale and recognize the contributions of Margaret “Peggy” Miles, a lifetime resident of the property.
The Price is right: U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, has been elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 100 conservative House members who advocate lower taxes and reduced government spending.
New DNR leader: Chris Clark, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, has been tapped by Gov. Sonny Perdue to replace Noel Holcomb as commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources when Holcomb retires in April. Clark’s appointment will mark the first time a DNR commissioner was not promoted from within.