Political Notes – Looks like a busy primary for Echols in ’16

[private]Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who won a PSC seat in 2010 in something of an upset, isn’t going to get a free pass as he tries to win a second term on the regulatory panel.

The Athens resident has picked up Republican primary opposition from two female challengers who announced their candidacies this week: Michelle Miller and Kellie Austin.

Miller, a black Republican residing in Houston County, says she has a degree in energy and sustainability policy from Penn State University and has done energy research in Costa Rica.

Austin is a political consultant who lives in Lawrenceville but doesn’t list any educational or work experience related to energy and regulatory issues.

The one differentiating issue in next year’s PSC race will be the rate increase that Georgia Power is scheduled to file with the commission.

Echols voted for Georgia Power’s last rate increase in 2013 and has been a major booster of the company’s nuclear power project at Plant Vogtle, even with the cost overruns and delays that have now put the completion date of the reactors 39 months behind schedule.

Neither Miller nor Austin have indicated in their campaign materials where they stand on Vogtle or on Georgia Power’s impending rate hike.

Growing grass?

The Legslature’s medical cannabis commission held its second hearing Wednesday and took testimony from several growers in other states as to how Georgia might go about regulating the cultivation of legal marijuana as a new cash crop.

Jason Cranford of the Flowering Hope Foundation, who grows legal cannabis in Colorado, said there are at least four or five groups of “serious investors” who have put money into marijuana cultivation in those states that have legalized it and would likely invest in Georgia as well, if the opportunity arises.

But there still appears to be some uncertainty in the governor’s office about the possible entry of Georgia into the field of marijuana agriculture.

Ryan Teague, the legal counsel to Gov. Nathan Deal, told the committee that Deal is fine with allowing cannabis oil to be used for the treatment of specified medical conditions, but is a little uneasy about going beyond that.

“The governor is very comfortable with where we’ve come so far,” Teague said. “We’re also looking forward to hearing where this commission goes and what recommendations we might have.”

On the other hand, Deal “is not comfortable with the direction they’ve taken in Colorado,” Teague said.

In Colorado, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, legal sales nearly reached the $700 million level in 2014.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that business is booming to the extent that Colorado marijuana producers are gobbling up warehouse space that other types of companies want to lease:

The problem for Denver business owners: marijuana producers require lots of space to grow, package and store their products. In all, growers and distributors took up a third of all the warehouse space leased in Colorado over the past 18 months, according to Cresa Partners, a brokerage.

The warehouse crunch means many small businesses are struggling to find the space they need. Mr. Badgley, chief executive of Colorado Specialties Corp., a building-supply business, said his 7,500-square-foot warehouse and showroom is so crammed with bathroom fixtures and other materials that it is difficult to navigate. He would like to move to a building with triple the space, but can’t find anything affordable.

Bennett takes office

Taylor Bennett was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the Georgia House of Representatives from District 80 in DeKalb County.

Bennett, an attorney and former Georgia Tech quarterback, took the oath of office in the House chambers at the capitol from the last person to represent the district, Mike Jacobs, who’s now a DeKalb State Court judge.TaylorBennett4

Jacobs was first elected to this House seat as a Democrat n 2004, then switched parties and continued to get elected as a Republican. When Jacobs stepped down to accept the judicial appointment from the governor, that opened the door for another Republican, J. Max Davis, the former mayor of Brookhaven, to run for the House seat.

Bennett, a Democrat, defeated Davis in the special election but asked Jacobs to swear him in anyway.

Ranger of the Year

The Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division has named Corp. Casey Jones from Murray County as DNR’s 2015 Ranger of the Year. Corp. Bob Holley, who workes out of Crisp County, was given the James R. Darnell Award as the runner-up to Ranger of the Year.

“They work hard every day to enforce the conservation laws of the state and to ensure public safety, and I applaud their contributions,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Williams.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: DNR , Kellie Austin , medical cannabis , Michelle Miller , Nathan Deal , PSC race , Ranger of the Year , Taylor Bennett , Tim Echols