Political Notes: June 2016
Turner Leaving EPD: Judson Turner stepped down as director of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, effective June 1. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Turner, named “water czar” by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2014, will remain a member of the state’s litigation team in the fight with Florida over water from the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers.
Turner, who became EPD director in 2012, clashed with environmental groups over his interpretation of the law governing marshland buffers, which eased requirements for developers. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld his action, but the General Assembly clarified the law last year.
PSC Approves Merger: The state Public Service Commission gave unanimous approval to Southern Company’s merger with AGL Resources and a settlement that includes a three-year freeze on Georgia Power’s rates.
Southern Co. is parent company to Georgia Power, which will keep its rates the same through December 2019.
“I believe this agreement contains safeguards for ratepayers and consumers while at the same time allowing this merger to move forward in accordance with Georgia law and Commission rules,” PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton said in a news release.
“Had AGL Resources left our state with one of the other companies pursuing them, they would have taken many jobs with them,” said Commissioner Tim Echols. “Keeping them in Georgia has a very positive effect.”
The settlement also provides that service quality for customers of both Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light will be maintained and that merger costs will not be passed on to ratepayers.
Award To Allen: District 12 Rep. Rick Allen was among members of Congress honored with a True Blue Award from Family Research Council Action, which rewards conservative lawmakers who score 100 on the group’s vote scorecard.
FRC Action President Tony Perkins noted that despite criticism of Congress, “There are individual members, like Rep. Allen, who deserve praise for their unwavering commitment to stand for life, family, marriage and religious liberty.”
JQC Resignation: Cartersville attorney Lester Tate resigned as chair of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) after the General Assembly passed legislation (HR 1113) – subject to voter approval in November – to abolish the commission and create a new one with members appointed by legislators.
The JQC, created in 1972 by a constitutional amendment, is an independent commission charged with removing bad judges from the bench.
In his letter of resignation, Tate called the legislation “an all-out political assault on the Commission’s independence” and says it “politicizes the entire process of judicial ethics.”
He said the short-term effect would be that any action undertaken by the Commission could be met with delay “in the hopes that political considerations, rather than facts and the law, will govern the outcome,” Tate said. “I cannot in good conscience continue to participate in a charade.”
Some HR 1113 supporters were concerned with the JQC’s handling of investigations into the conduct of judges in DeKalb County and Brunswick.
Georgia Grown: Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told members of the Dougherty County Rotary Club that falling commodity prices and foreign imports threaten some of the state’s peanut, cotton, corn, broiler and hog farms, according to the Albany Herald.
“We are sitting on the edge with what’s going to happen with our cotton farmers. We are really in uncharted waters,” Black said. “I really don’t know when things will turn around in regard to our prices.”
But the commissioner was optimistic about the Georgia Grown program his department operates to license Georgia agricultural products. In the past four years, he said, the Department of Agriculture has licensed more than 900 Georgia Grown producers.
Agribusiness is a $71-billion industry in Georgia.
New Georgia Southern President: Dr. Jaimie Hebert will become president of Georgia Southern University July 1. He is leaving Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where he is provost and vice president for academic affairs. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.