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Crawford: Ga. makes progress in state jobs, prisons, not so much with banks
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While we’re in a post-holiday lull, let’s take a few minutes and look back on some of the news developments we’ve been tracking this year.

Back in May, we reported that 61 Georgia banks had collapsed in less than three years, a number that was higher by far than in any other state.

That shockingly high number of bank failures had failed to generate a single comment or call for action from any of the state’s top politicians, which I thought at the time was amazing. 

It’s even more amazing now: The wave of failures has continued so that 74 banks have now been shut down by regulators. That’s nearly 1 out of every 4 banks that was in business back in August 2008, which was when the first of those 74 financial institutions went belly-up from the collapse of the real estate industry.

There still has not been a single word of concern about the bank closures uttered by Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston or Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams. I guess they figure if they don’t say anything about it, it never happened. ...

The issue that’s dominated political debate this year has been the need to create jobs that would put a dent in the state’s 10 percent unemployment rate.

Deal has turned out to be quite an active job creator, finding employment for a growing number of people. They’re all government jobs, of course, and they tend to go to persons who have connections to the legislature, but they are still the kinds of positions that pay salaries of $130,000 or more.

Deal named state Rep. James Mills to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. He appointed state Sens. Jim Butterworth as the adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard and Mitch Seabaugh as deputy state treasurer. 

He appointed former House members Melvin Everson as director of the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity and Tim Bearden as director of the state’s Public Safety Training Center. Former state Sen. Bill Stephens is now the director of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.

The biggest plum was saved for Hank Huckaby, who was Deal’s floor leader in the Georgia House but left the legislature to accept an appointment as University System chancellor. Huckaby’s new job pays him an annual base salary of $425,000 with a housing allowance of $72,000.

You can’t say the governor hasn’t been successful in finding high-paying jobs for Georgians. ...

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the terrible nuclear disaster that hit Fukushima, Japan, and noted that Georgia Power is in the process of building two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. I wondered about the possibility of earthquakes hitting Georgia and causing a Fukushima-like incident here.

One week after that column was published a minor earthquake was recorded in Williston, S.C., which is a few miles east of Waynesboro and Plant Vogtle. During the first week in November, three minor earthquakes were recorded in the northwest Georgia area around Dalton and Trion.

A few days ago, we learned that USArray, a research initiative that seeks to pinpoint geographic faults and predict where future earthquakes might occur, will place several seismographic instruments in Georgia as part of its national network.

Here’s hoping that if our state is prone to earthquakes, those disturbances will be minor. ...

We wrote earlier this year about former Gov. Zell Miller’s “tough on crime” policies that have instituted harsh sentences and given us a prison system packed to greater than 100 percent capacity that costs more than $1 billion a year to operate.

One of Deal’s first initiatives was to appoint a commission of judges, lawyers and legislators to review Georgia’s sentencing laws and see if there might be some alternatives to tossing every nonviolent offender into a hard-bed prison.

That special commission finished its work recently and passed along recommendations to Deal that judges be allowed to impose lighter sentences for some nonviolent crimes and move people charged with drug possession into drug courts and treatment programs.

Deal has the opportunity to make Georgia’s treatment of drug addicts a little more compassionate and save the taxpayers some money in the process. That’s a hopeful sign.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that reports on government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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