Political Notes: Burkhalter, Smith try to grab that DOT board seat

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While legislators plow through the details of the transportation funding bill introduced Thursday by the House leadership, a related development is unfolding over at the State Transportation Board.

There’s a board vacancy to be filled, thanks to the sudden resignation of former legislator Dan Moody last week, and that could provide an opening for the return of Mark Burkhalter to capitol politics after an absence of nearly five years.

Burkhalter, who was speaker pro tem of the Georgia House for five years and then House speaker for a total of 11 days, is lobbying legislators from the North Fulton area to be picked as Moody’s replacement for the 6th Congressional District seat.

There’s spirited competition for the seat from Ray Smith, an Atlanta lawyer and veteran Republican Party activist. Another potential candidate is James Comerford, an attorney with political links to former governor Sonny Perdue.

Burkhalter was first elected to the House in 1992 and for his first 12 years as a lawmaker was part of the Republican minority. When the GOP won control of the House after the 2004 elections, Burkhalter initially went up against Glenn Richardson for the House speakership.

After a meeting at the governor’s mansion hosted by Perdue, the decision was made that House Republicans would go with Richardson as the new speaker and Burkhalter as speaker pro tem.

When Richardson was forced to resign from the House in late 2009 after a messy sex scandal involving a female lobbyist, Burkhalter initially said he would run for the speaker’s job, only to change his mind quickly and drop out of the race.

Richardson left office effective Jan. 1, 2010, which meant that Burkhalter, as the speaker pro tem, moved up to speaker. He served in that job until Jan. 11, when the General Assembly convened a new session and House members formally elected David Ralston as the House speaker.

Burkhalter resigned his House seat in April 2010 and later joined the government affairs group at McKenna Long & Aldridge as a senior strategic advisor and independent consultant. He is still employed at the influential firm, but is not registered as a lobbyist.

Smith is the head of the litigation department for Thrasher Liss & Smith, and among the verdicts he lists in his official biography is this: “Obtained a six-figure jury verdict against the Georgia Department of Transportation in a condemnation action (2011).”

Perdue appointed Smith to the Governor’s Committee for Sandy Springs, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, and the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Burkhalter’s supporters include Alpharetta legislators Sen. Brandon Beach and Rep. Chuck Martin. Smith’s backers include Reps. Wendell Willard and Joe Wilkinson of Sandy Springs.

Sheldon speaks for solar

Another former legislator, Donna Sheldon of Dacula, has resurfaced this session as a spokesperson for Georgians for Solar Freedom, a Republican-backed group that promotes wider deployment of solar energy. She served more than a decade in the Georgia House before running unsuccessfully for Congress last year.

Sheldon attended Wednesday’s meeting of the House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee, where the committee gave unanimous approval to HB 57, the bill by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) that would authorize third-party financing of solar generation systems for residences and small businesses.

“This bill advocates property rights, which is a cornerstone of our core conservative principles,” Sheldon said after the committee vote.

Coyle named director of Georgia Watch

Liz Coyle, who’s been serving as interim executive director of the consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch, has been selected to fill the job on a permanent basis by the organization’s board of directors.

She replaces Elena Parent, who stepped down as executive director last year to run successfully for the state Senate.

“Liz has played a vital role in ensuring the success and stability of Georgia Watch since taking the helm last year,” said Ray Carpenter, the board chairman. “Following an extensive search process, the board confirmed that Liz will continue effectively leading the organization to achieve its mission.”

Coyle joined Georgia Watch in 2012 and was named deputy director in 2013 before moving up to interim executive director.

Congressional committee assignments

Georgia Sen. David Perdue hasn’t even been in office for a month but already has a Senate subcommittee chairmanship to his name.

Perdue was named chairman of the foreign relations subcommittee on State Department and USAID management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development. The subcommittee will review the budget and operations of the State Department and USAID.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton was named chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on commodity exchanges, energy, and credit.

“Congressman Scott has a deep knowledge of both commodity programs and risk management,” said Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas. “Thanks to his knowledge and experience he played an important role on the Committee during the drafting and passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.”

Another Scott, Rep. David Scott of Atlanta, is the ranking Democratic member of Austin Scott’s subcommittee.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Austin Scott , David Perdue , David Scott , Donna Sheldon , Georgia Watch , Liz Coyle , Mark Burkhalter , Ray Smith , State Transportation Board