Political Notes – What happens after Tolleson steps down from the Senate?

[private]In the wake of Sen. Ross Tolleson’s surprise announcement to retire from Georgia Senate on Nov. 1 due to health reasons, two major questions immediately surfaced: who will run in the special election to replace him and who takes over as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee?

There are already some people who could mount an immediate campaign in the special election, regardless of what date is set for it.

That’s because a special election was held last summer for the House seat in Houston County that was vacated by Larry O’Neal. Houston County makes up a sizeable portion of Tolleson’s district, so the candidates who lost the House election could gear up and run again in the Senate race.

Shaw Blackmon won the special election for the House seat, edging out businessman Larry Walker III in a runoff and Kelly Burke, the former district attorney of Houston County, in the first round of balloting.

We’ve been told that Walker, the son of former legislator Larry Walker, has already decided to run in the Senate election. Burke hasn’t announced his plans yet.

Senate District 20 includes a large portion of Houston and all of Laurens, Pulaski and Bleckley counties.

The committee chairman position is important because the panel controls bills involving the state’s water resources and related environmental issues. As the committee chairman, Tolleson promoted Gov. Nathan Deal’s water initiatives and stopped an effort by coastal lawmakers to renew a prohibition on the injection of surface water into the Floridan aquifer, a ban that Deal opposed.

Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), the current vice chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, is seen as a likely replacement for Tolleson in the chairman’s slot.

Jeffares is the owner of J&T Environmental Services and a project manager for G. Ben Turnipseed Engineers. He is also vice-president of the Georgia Rural Water Association and vice chairman of the Henry County Water and Sewage Authority.

May, oui!

When former attorney general Mike Bowers released his investigative report on DeKalb County government last week, the media coverage focused on the allegations of corruption as well as the report’s recommendation that CEO Lee May resign.

One thing that went overlooked in some of the coverage was the fact that May was Gov. Nathan Deal’s guy – it was Deal who appointed May as the interim CEO more than two years ago when Burrell Ellis was indicted on extortion charges.

Martha Dalton of WABE was one of the few reporters to delve into that particular aspect, asking Deal in an interview if he had any regrets about appointing May:

“I think at the time he was the best logical choice that we had, and I don’t want anybody to jump to conclusions that he’s actually done anything wrong,” Deal said. “I think that’s why it’s important to review this report to see if there are factual circumstances that back up some rather inflammatory statements.”

Those statements include an allegations May took out an illegal loan and used county money for personal expenses. May has denied the charges.

Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens have asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to review the report. Olens has said the state doesn’t currently have the authority to intervene.

Supreme Court heads to the mountains

The Georgia Supreme Court will hold its annual special session of oral arguments in Ellijay, located a few miles south of the Georgia-Tennessee line, on Oct. 16.

The justices will be hearing arguments in a very interesting case: a lawsuit that argues undocumented immigrants should be allowed to pay the lower in-state tuition rates when they attend a college in the University System.

The Board of Regents currently requires students who aren’t legally residing in Georgia to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which can be two or three times higher than in-state rates. That makes it financially unfeasible for many of these students to attend a public college.

Immigration attorney Charles Kuck filed a lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of non-citizen students, arguing that they should pay the lower in-state tuition because President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program amounted to legal residence in Georgia.

The attorney general’s office argues that the state has sovereign immunity and can’t be sued, an argument that so far has been upheld by the courts.

The lawsuit was dismissed in Fulton County Superior Court, a dismissal that was upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals. The matter is now before the state Supreme Court.

Completing the annexation discussion

The House study committee on annexation and the incorporation of new cities wrapped up its third and final public hearing on Tuesday and will now try to compile the recommendations it received into a final report.

“We will review all the testimony and recommendations and submit a report by Dec. 1,” said Rep. Jan Tankersley (R-Brooklet). A Senate study committee chaired by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) has also held several hearings on these issues.

As Tankersley and her committee were completing that hearing, there was a new development in a Pierce County controversy that demonstrates why state laws on incorporation and annexation need to be revised.

Waycross city officials have been bickering with Pierce County officials over water service to a portion of Pierce that was part of Waycross until July 1, but was then forcibly de-annexed under a bill sponsored by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) and passed by the Legislature.

As reported by the Florida Times-Union:

Waycross has refused to let Pierce County fire officials test hydrants that the city owns on land in Pierce County that was legislatively de-annexed July 1.

In a fire chief-to-fire chief request, Pierce County asked if it could test the hydrants for Insurance Service Organization, or ISO, ratings that are used to set homeowner and commercial insurance rates, Waycross City Manager Raphel Maddox said. . . .

Maddox said he refused the request because Pierce County has no full-time water and sewer department and, as a result, does not have the expertise necessary to test the hydrants without the risk of damaging the system.

“We don’t want to cause damage to Waycross city property and incur more cost to the taxpayers of Waycross,’’ Maddox said. . . . “If there’s a big fire, they can call and request assistance,’’ Maddox said. “We would send a truck over subject to the approval of the city manager.”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: annexations , Charles Kuck , DeKalb County , elena parent , Georgia Supreme Court , immigrant students , Jan Tankersley , Nathan Deal , Rick Jeffares , Ross Tolleson , University System