State commissioner races up for grabs
by Ray Henry
Assocaited Press Writer
October 06, 2010 12:00 AM | 732 views | 1 1 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA - Voters will decide next month who will fill open seats in state government that oversee Georgia's massive agriculture industry, regulate how much consumers pay for their lights and gas and administer labor and insurance rules.

One of the most noticeable changes will be the retirement of Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, a Democrat who will step down in January because of age and ill health after nearly 42 years in office. He's among the longest-serving state officials in the country.

Irvin supports fellow Democrat and former state Sen. J.B. Powell against Republican Gary Black and Libertarian Kevin Cherry.

Powell lives in Blythe and has a family cattle farm. He was elected a Richmond County commissioner in 1994, then defeated a Republican for a state Senate seat a decade later. He proposed last month allowing horse racing in Georgia to boost the economy.

"I support growing our economy, creating thousands of jobs and increasing state revenues through legalizing horse racing in Georgia," Powell said in a written statement. "Georgians deserve to have a commissioner of agriculture who will fight for commonsense ideas that will help lead Georgia out of the economic challenges we face."

His opponent Black served as president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, an industry lobbying group, for 21 years until resigning in April to run for office. Black lives at Harmony Grove Farms in Commerce, where he raises cattle. Black says his accomplishments include starting AgriTrust of Georgia, a firm that provides cheap workers compensation insurance to farmers. He ran against Irvin in 2006 but lost.

Both candidates have called for changes after a 2009 salmonella scare traced to a Georgia peanut processing plant killed nine people, sickened hundreds more and caused an economic crisis for the state's peanut farmers.

Powell said he wants to create a 24-hour hot line and website where consumers can report suspected food-borne illnesses. Black said he wants to establish a better career path and advanced training for the state's food inspectors.

"There's some challenges in making sure we have enough resources in food safety, and that means all the way from having a competitive pay scale to ... availing ourselves of every opportunity to have the best and brightest on the front line protecting you and I," Black said.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who failed to win the Republican nomination for governor, will be leaving a post he won in 1994. Running to succeed Oxendine are Republican Ralph Hudgens, Democrat Mary Squires and Libertarian Shane Bruce.

Squires, 52, is executive director of the Georgia Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, a trade association for the self-insurance industry. She served in the Georgia Army National Guard for a decade and worked as a liaison with firefighters. In Georgia, the insurance commissioner also oversees fire safety.

A former state lawmaker, Squires said the next commissioner must put an equal emphasis on keeping the regulatory market fair for insurance companies and protecting consumers.

"Past insurance commissioners have either selected one or the other, but not both," she said.

Hudgens, a Republican state senator, has promised to oppose President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The 67-year-old said one of his primary goals will be attracting more insurance companies to Georgia.

"I look forward to working to attracting more insurers to Georgia which will increase the level of competition and keep policy rates reasonable," said Hudgens, a business owner, in a written statement.

The impending departure of Robert Baker from the Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, has triggered a three-way race between Republican Tim Echols, 49, Democrat Keith Moffett, 39, and Libertarian James Sendelbach, 70.

Echols said the commission needs to better enforce rules in the transportation industry, including cracking down on illegal movers, and offer more incentives to spur the growth of renewable energy. He supports nuclear energy, but faults state lawmakers for allowing Georgia Power to collect the financing costs of building a new east-Georgia nuclear power plant before it's built.

If the Obama administration refuses to allow the nuclear expansion, Georgia Power customers will be stuck with the bill.

"I don't feel like in this economic time you want to take a chance by pre-charging people," Echols said.

Keith Moffett, 39, is director of internal affairs for the mayor of Macon. Moffett earlier ran unsuccessfully for Bibb County school board and Macon city council. Like Echols, Moffett said Georgia needs more investment in renewable energy, but he also wants to educate consumers on reducing their energy consumption and to reduce harmful power plant emissions.

"I think that could have the same effect, if not a greater effect, in how we do business," Moffett said.

Another open seat for state labor commissioner opened when incumbent Michael Thurmond, decided to run for U.S. Senate. Democrat Darryl Hicks, 47, is running against Republican Mark Butler, 40, and Libertarian Will Costa, 42. Democrats have held the office since it was created during the Great Depression.

Hicks spent 20 years working for Atlanta Gas Light, and finished his career as a lobbyist at the Statehouse. He lost a race for Secretary of State in 2006. He proposes steering money to train unemployed workers to a better network of vocational schools.

"I also think that labor commissioner is partly an ambassador ... talking to corporations about what our labor force can do, how we train them," he said.

He's competing against Republican state Rep. Mark Butler, 40, who said the commissioner's office needs a pro-business agenda and should focus on augmenting worker skills to prevent more job losses.

"What we should have been doing is looking at the skill set of the people who work in those industries and see what we can do with them in our technical schools," he said.
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October 13, 2010
Why mention the Libertarian candidates if you're not going to interview them? Is it too much to ask that all candidates receive fair and equal coverage?
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