Political Notes: The Ups, Downs and In-betweens

Georgia’s stature as a national political force, a new state Supreme Court justice and more.
Political Notes Graphic
Graphic by Penny R. Alligood

New Supreme Court Justice: Gov. Brian Kemp named longtime Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua to the Georgia Supreme Court.

She fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Keith Blackwell, who announced last February that he would retire in November, thus allowing the governor to appoint his successor rather than have the race decided by voters in the November general election.

LaGrua is a former prosecutor who served as solicitor general for DeKalb County and worked as inspector general in the secretary of state’s office. In Fulton County, she began an alternative sentencing program called My Journey Matters.

“Judge LaGrua has spent a 30-year career serving her fellow Georgians,” Kemp said in a statement, “and I am confident that she will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the bench.”

Another Special Election: Seven candidates are competing in the Feb. 9 election to fill the House District 90 seat vacated by Rep. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur) last fall due to health issues. She won the June Democratic primary and had no Republican opposition in November.

Decaturish reports the seven candidates are Stan Watson, a former DeKalb County commissioner; Greg Shealey, an entrepreneur; Ed Williams, a community activist; Angela Moore, a public relations practitioner; Joel Thibodeaux, an auditor; Diandra Hines, an account executive; and Valerie Murphy, a business analyst.

Run-off date is March 9. The district includes parts of DeKalb, Henry and Rockdale counties.

New CDC Head: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, former chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta. She replaces Dr. Robert Redfield.

New Farm Bureau President: Former State Rep. Tom McCall, a grain and livestock farmer from Elbert County, is the new president of the Georgia Farm Bureau. He was elected by the organization’s board.

The member-driven, nongovernmental farm bureau is the state’s largest general farm organization, representing the powerful agriculture industry.

McCall served in the state House from 1995 until his retirement at the end of the 2020 session.

In Memoriam: Former state Supreme Court Justice George Carley, who served in that capacity for three decades until he retired in 2012, died in November from COVID-19. He was appointed to the high court in 1993 by the late Gov. Zell Miller.

Prior to that, he served on the Georgia Court of Appeals. He was the first person in state history to hold the positions of presiding judge and chief judge of the Court of Appeals and presiding justice and chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

Council Appointments: Gov. Kemp named four new members of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, which works to increase opportunities for independence, inclusion, integration, productivity and self-determination for those with disabilities.

The new members are Nick Perry, Stone Mountain; Lisa Marie Newbern, Atlanta; Rena Harris, Lawrenceville; and Wesley Ford, Vidalia. All have a history of advocacy.

Reappointed by the governor to serve on the council are Evan Nodvin, Atlanta; Nandi Isaac, Macon; Deborah Hibben, McDonough; Teresa Heard, Albany; Dorothy Harris, Fitzgerald; and Sukie Glick, Decatur.

Board Appointments: Gary Vowell Sr., an Irwin County resident, has been named to the Board of Natural Resources by Gov. Kemp. Vowell is a former sheriff of Tift County and served as interim director of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. Ray Lambert Jr. has been reappointed.

J. Barry Schrenk, Tucker, has been reappointed as chair of the Georgia Council for the Arts. Also reappointed are members Maxine Burton, Gina H. Jeffords, John B. White Jr. and Gladys P. Wynant.

Three members reappointed to the board of the Technical College System of Georgia are Mary P. Flanders, Anne Kaiser and Baoky Vu.

W. Thomas Worthy, Atlanta, has been reappointed to the MARTA Board of Directors.

Looking Ahead: Georgia’s stature as a national political force, enhanced by the down-to-the-wire U.S. Senate runoffs last month that brought victories for the two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, is likely to grow.

The two new senators, whose election gave the Democrats control of the Senate, are sure to play a major role in implementing Biden Administration initiatives and are positioned to help the state make the most of its new prominence.

Warnock is the first Black senator from Georgia, and Ossoff, 33, is the Senate’s first millennial and the youngest Democrat since President Joe Biden was elected to the Senate from Delaware at age 30.

Categories: Political Notes, Up Front