For the last few weeks, you have probably been paying very close attention to the runoff elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia. The two races are drawing national attention and millions of dollars in outside spending, and understandably so: both races are set to decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. But the flood of outside money and nonstop television ads are overshadowing a third runoff election that Georgia voters will also decide on January 5.
THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
Every two years, Georgia voters get to elect members of what is called the Public Service Commission. Members of the commission are elected to staggered six-year terms. Though all five members are elected by the entire state, they each represent one of five districts, as seen on the map above. Here is a list of the current members of the commission:
- Jason Shaw (R-District 1)
- Tim Echols (R-District 2)
- Chuck Eaton (R-District 3)
- Lauren “Bubba” McDonald (R-District 4)
- Tricia Pridemore (R-District 5)
The Georgia Public Service Commission may not get a lot of attention, but it has a very big impact on Georgia families. The commission, which currently consists of all Republicans, gets to oversee issues relating to utilities and energy, such as electricity, gas and internet access. It also gets to determine how much utility companies such as Georgia Power can charge their customers.
2020 PSC ELECTIONS
In November, two seats on the five-member PSC were up for election. Longtime Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, a Republican from rural North Georgia, found himself forced into a runoff with Democratic challenger Daniel Blackman after neither candidate crossed the 50% threshold necessary to win the election outright. McDonald, 82, was first elected to the commission as a Democrat in 1998. Blackman, a former business consultant, ran against McDonald when the seat was last on the ballot in 2014 and is now seeking a rematch. The second race saw incumbent Republican Jason Shaw win re-election outright.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently noted that the two candidates have aligned themselves very closely with their party’s candidates for U.S. Senate, as the PSC runoff will coincide with the nationally-watched U.S. Senate contests.
On a Dec. 5 stop in Georgia to stump for Loeffler and Perdue, President Donald Trump called the names of Georgia officials present and highlighted that “Bubba McDonald — I like that name” — was seeking reelection to the PSC. Biden also cited the PSC race on a recent campaign visit for Warnock and Ossoff.
Blackman has said that the commission has always put the needs of utility companies over the needs of consumers. He reported seeing a spike in donations ever since his race was forced into overtime, telling the AJC that he’s raised more money “in the last six weeks” than he has all year. McDonald, who has been a staunch proponent of expanding the use of solar energy, is receiving contributions from donors who have ties to some of the largest utility companies in the state. “Among those who gave to him: attorneys who represent Georgia Power before the PSC,” says the AJC.
Blackman is also trying to raise awareness to recent utility service disconnections. In recent months, electric and utility companies have granted moratoria on service disconnections as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as people have been losing their jobs and have not been able to make their payments on time as a result. In fact, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted in the spring to suspend service disconnections indefinitely, but voted to allow companies to resume disconnections in June. “Since then, about 107,000 households have had their power shut off, while an additional 381,279 have received disconnection notices on their bills, according to numbers compiled by Georgia Power,” says Dawson County News.
The Democratic challenger argued that the moratorium was ended too soon, while the Republican incumbent defended the move, saying that utility companies such as Georgia Power offer assistance to customers who are behind on their bills. “There is no free electricity,” McDonald said in an interview. “Somebody’s going to be paying for it.”
The two U.S. Senate runoffs are attracting so much attention and money because they have huge nationwide implications, but the runoff election for Public Service Commission will have huge implications for the pocketbooks and wallets of millions of Georgians. While it may not be the flashiest race on the ballot, the outcome will determine just how much Georgia families pay in utilities for years to come. It will also play an important role in helping struggling Georgians get back on track as we look to the next chapter in the nationwide battle against COVID-19.