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Posted: May 5, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Some good people are leaving office

Before we get caught up in the drama of the primary election campaigns, we should stop and take note that some good people will be leaving their current elected offices after this year.

Politics attracts its share of scoundrels and troublemakers, but there are still some politicians in public office who actually try to serve the public. I want to mention a few of them.

Public Service Commissioner Bobby Baker in recent years has been almost the only PSC member who stood up for the consumers who get their electricity and natural gas from the state’s biggest utilities.

The PSC is dominated by members who will eagerly vote to approve whatever the utility lobbyists request. This majority also has a tendency to exempt large business and industrial users from the negative effects of their decisions — instead putting the burden on residential and small business customers.

Baker questioned the fairness of this approach to utility regulation. He also supported efforts to change PSC rules so that utility lobbyists and lawyers could no longer meet privately with commissioners while they are in the process of deciding a rate increase.

This pro-consumer stance nearly always resulted in Baker being on the losing end of commission votes. His lonely stands also brought him verbal abuse and taunts from other PSC members.

Nor surprisingly, Baker decided he did not want to put up with this for another six years. His retirement from the PSC is a discouraging development for Georgia consumers.

While he doesn’t get the media attention that goes to more powerful legislators, Sen. Don Thomas of Dalton has had more of an impact on the everyday lives of Georgians than just about any other lawmaker.

He quietly but firmly worked for the passage of legislation that outlawed smoking in most public places. As a family physician, Thomas knew that cleaning up the air we breathe would be a good public health move.

Thomas also tried for years to change the state law that allowed people to ride in pickup trucks without being required to use seat belts. Thomas faced powerful opposition from House speakers like Tom Murphy and Glenn Richardson, but he persevered.

The good doctor finally succeeded in getting his seat belt legislation passed during this session. He now will retire from public life to look after his wife, who is battling cancer, and spend more time with his grandchildren.

Sen. Jeff Chapman of Brunswick, who’s leaving the Senate to run for governor, was a conservative lawmaker who really believed in conserving.

Throughout his Senate tenure, Chapman fought hard to protect the natural beauty of Jekyll Island and the Georgia coast from the encroachments of developers.

Chapman’s efforts angered many of his colleagues, but he never backed down. Georgians who are still able to enjoy the scenic charms of our barrier islands in the years ahead will owe a debt of gratitude to Chapman and the legislators who voted with him.

Two House members who are leaving the Legislature to run for other offices are DuBose Porter of Dublin and Austin Scott of Tifton.

Scott was a maverick Republican who often differed with his colleagues on controversial issues such as immigration and the state flag. He was not afraid to speak the truth, even if it hurt a fellow Republican like Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Perdue privatized state government’s computer and telecommunications systems two years ago by awarding fat contracts to AT&T and IBM, claiming that this move would save money for the state.

In fact, the privatization cost Georgia millions of dollars at a time when legislators were desperately trying to fill a gaping budget deficit. Scott was one of the few lawmakers with the courage to speak out against this financial waste.

As the Legislature cut state funding to K-12 school systems by a combined total of more than $2 billion over the past six years, Porter consistently pushed back against the budget reductions. He argued eloquently that cutbacks in public education would be harmful to the state’s future — a message that was largely ignored.

You can’t blame any of these people for making the decision to leave their elected offices, but it’s too bad for the rest of us that they are. Georgians will miss them very much.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at tcrawford@capitolimpact.net.

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