When it comes to politicians, there was a lot to criticize this year. It would be wrong, however, to end the year without noting some people who deserve commendations for what they accomplished in 2015.
For example, there is state Rep. David Stover, a conservative Republican legislator from Coweta County. Stover displayed courage and independence when he stood up to his own party’s leadership on its top legislative priority, the gasoline tax increase.
Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, among others, wanted to raise the motor fuel tax to pay for highway construction. Stover noted that in an improving economy, tax revenues were already growing by nearly a billion dollars a year. The state should use that new money to fix roads rather than impose a major tax increase, he argued.
“So many times here in the Capitol, we forget that we’re elected to serve those that elected us to these positions,” Stover said in a stern speech criticizing the governor. “In fact, we’re pressured to only have one branch of government. Somehow, we have lost our way in the legislative process.”
The tax increase passed, but Stover stuck to his guns on the issue. You won’t see many politicians willing to take a stand that is so unpopular with the powers that be.
Tom Newsome is a financial analyst at the Public Service Commission who has tried to keep the state’s consumers from being hit by higher electricity bills.
Several years ago, Newsome recommended that the PSC adopt a risk-sharing policy where Georgia Power’s shareholders would have to absorb some of the potential cost increases associated with building nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.
Georgia Power didn’t like the idea, and the commissioners sided with the utility, ignoring their own staff’s recommendation. The projected cost of the Vogtle reactors has subsequently increased by roughly $4 billion from initial estimates, and that will probably be passed along to customers in the form of higher bills.
More recently, Georgia Power ran up more than $600 million in losses from trying to predict the future prices of natural gas on the commodities market (the utility buys a lot of gas to run its generators). The lost money was recovered through the monthly bills of Georgia Power customers.
Newsome recommended that the PSC put some restrictions on Georgia Power’s commodities market activities in an attempt to hold down the size of these financial losses. Georgia Power objected to the restrictions.
The commissioners once again ignored their own staff’s recommendations and voted to allow Georgia Power to continue betting on the future prices of natural gas.
Newsome and other PSC staffers have tried to hold down electricity bills for consumers. Unfortunately, their bosses on the commission sometimes neglect to listen to them.
Ted Terry is the youthful mayor of Clarkston, which has become one of America’s most diverse cities because so many refugees have found homes there. Terry has pushed back against demands by the governor and other politicians to ban the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
Terry points out that Clarkston has been a destination for Syrian and Muslim refugees for many years, and the city has not seen any bombings or other terrorist activities. Quite the opposite, in fact — the municipality has attracted national attention for its efforts to assimilate refugee families into our culture.
Syrian families continue to be resettled in Clarkston. Somehow, Georgia has survived.
Finally, I want to call attention to the lobbyists who work for nonprofit organizations that try to help children and low-income families. These people don’t have the resources that corporate lobbyists do, which means they can’t afford to wine and dine legislators at fancy Atlanta restaurants.
What they can do is persuade lawmakers to put some money in the budget for programs that clean up the environment and help families who don’t have health insurance or who struggle to obtain food and shelter.
These are groups like Voices for Georgia’s Children, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Families First, the Riverkeepers, Georgia Watch, GreenLaw, All About Developmental Disabilities, the Georgia Council on Aging and many other public interest organizations.
They provide a voice for the powerless who don’t have their own lobbyists. We should thank them for that.
Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report.