Political Notes: Ups, Downs and In-betweens

New GBI director, PSC election drama, an honor for U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop and more.
Political Notes Graphic
Graphic by Penny R. Alligood

Honor for Bishop: Georgia’s Second District Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop was named Legislator of the Year by the National Association of Farm Service Agency County Office Employees during its summer convention in Savannah. The organization describes itself as the bridge between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and farmers and ranchers.

In presenting the award, NAFSCOE President Marcinda Kester said that Bishop “continuously demonstrates a bipartisan, fiscally conservative stance that helps bring members together from both sides of the aisle to recognize and support the role of the American farmer and rancher.”

Bishop, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, is being challenged in the upcoming election by Republican attorney Chris West.

New GBI Director: Gov. Brian Kemp has named law enforcement veteran Michael “Mike” Register as director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, filling the vacancy left by Vic Reynolds, who was sworn in as a Cobb Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge. Register was previously assistant chief of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, public safety director and chief of police for Cobb and chief of police for Clayton County.

PSC Election Drama: Georgia’s upcoming Public Service Commission elections, typically overshadowed by higher-profile races, have had more than their share of drama this year. (The PSC regulates utilities and sets rates for electricity and natural gas.) In early August, a federal judge ruled that the statewide PSC election system violates the federal Voting Rights Act, which forbids racially discriminatory voting laws, and agreed with plaintiffs who argued that electing PSC members statewide disadvantaged Black voters. (Only one Black candidate has ever won a PSC election; the lone current Black commissioner, Fitz Johnson, was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp.)

But a week later the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, deter- mined that statewide elections for two PSC seats could proceed as scheduled in November because it was too close to the election to make a change. The court did not rule on the question of whether at-large elections for the commission are legal.

The U.S. Supreme Court quickly reversed that ruling and sent the case back to the appeals court – a decision that effectively canceled the November PSC election as the deadline for printing ballots approached. District 2 Commissioner Tim Echols and District 3 Commissioner Fitz Johnson, both Republicans, will remain in their posts while the court case continues.

Democratic PSC candidate Patty Durand, meanwhile, had her own election drama. The state legislature redrew district lines in March, cutting her out of District 2. She moved into the newly designated district, but Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger declared her ineligible because she didn’t meet the requirement to live in the district for one year prior to an election. A Fulton County judge overruled that decision and said Durand could remain in the race, which is a moot point given the fact that no PSC candidate will be on the November ballot.

Greene on the Ballot: Georgia’s 14th District Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene can remain on the November ballot, following a Fulton County Superior Court judge’s ruling that there were no procedural errors in an April disqualification hearing she faced. Activist groups have cited the U.S. Constitution’s ban on insurrectionists holding office in attempts to disqualify some GOP candidates, including Greene, an outspoken Trump ally and alleged supporter of the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The judge’s ruling did not address constitutional questions or whether the assault on the Capitol was an insurrection.

Atlanta Hosting? Atlanta is one of four cities vying to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, in competition with New York, Houston and Chicago. Over the summer, representatives from the Democratic National Committee toured the State Farm Arena, which would be the site of the convention.

Georgia’s role in President Joe Biden’s 2020 win and the 2021 election of two Democratic U.S. senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, no doubt helped put Atlanta in the running. A decision on the host city is expected by the end of the year or early in 2023.

More VA Troubles: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating employee allegations that the psychiatric unit at the Atlanta VA Medical Center is beset by unsanitary conditions and has not followed COVID-19 protocols throughout the pandemic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The Atlanta facility has had its share of problems relating to the care it provides to veterans with mental health issues, including three deaths.

Categories: Political Notes, Up Front