After 17 years on the Georgia Public Service Commission, 82-year-old Republican Lauren “Bubba” McDonald was leading Wednesday afternoon in his statewide runoff with Daniel Blackman, who had hoped to become the first Democrat — and first Black member — to serve on the five-person PSC in 15 years.
The Associated Press called the race in McDonald’s favor at about 1 p.m. Wednesday. The results were incomplete, but with most votes counted McDonald had a 51% to 49% lead, ahead by about 68,000 votes. The incumbent in a low-profile race, he had gathered more votes than the two other, far better known Republicans up for vote, U.S. senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
As of Wednesday morning, McDonald had not declared victory, nor had Blackman conceded. Georgia law gives losing candidates a right to a recount upon request if they lost by a 0.5% margin or less. McDonald was ahead by a wider margin than that early Wednesday afternoon.
The PSC race was one of just three statewide contests on the ballot. But McDonald and Blackman often struggled for notice as national attention focused on Georgia’s two U.S. Senate races.
AJC results for the Georgia Senate runoff
The PSC, nonetheless, has direct financial impact on millions of Georgians.
It oversees utility and energy issues and decides what Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light can charge consumers and businesses. It will determine how much customers will pay toward Georgia Power’s billions of dollars in overruns on the nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle.
In a spot check of several voters in Sugar Hill on Tuesday, all said they were surprised to see the PSC race on the ballot. None knew the candidates or mentioned knowing what the PSC was.
“I’ve got no idea. There are so many commissions,” said Mark Hondzinski, a retired sheet metal worker and Georgia Power customer. He and several others said they voted solely based on the party of the PSC candidates running.
Blackman, a 41-year-old former business consultant who lives in Forsyth County, said he would protect consumers and accused McDonald of often favoring big utility companies over residential and business ratepayers. McDonald characterized himself as an experienced and “very conservative, independent voice” who would stand up to utilities when needed.
McDonald disclosed more than $430,000 in campaign donations before the general election, about 10 times as much as Blackman. Many of McDonald’s donors had ties to industries the PSC regulates or influences, including attorneys who have represented Georgia Power before the PSC.
Blackman has since reported a sharp increase in runoff donations from a variety of people. A small share was from people who testified before the PSC against the Vogtle project. Another listed donor: comedian Amy Schumer.
McDonald voted early on to back Georgia Power’s Vogtle expansion, which is now years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. He said he supports the project as a long-term, stable generator of carbon-free energy. Blackman criticized the PSC for not capping what consumers would be liable for early on.
McDonald, who had been a long-time state legislator, first landed on the PSC as a Democrat in 1998. He later lost to a Republican in 2002. In 2008 he ran and won as a Republican. He has had a seat on the PSC ever since.
If elected, Blackman would be the first Democrat and first Black member to serve on the PSC since David Burgess left office at the end of 2006.
McDonald was the top vote getter in his November general election race with Blackman and Libertarian Nathan Wilson, but fell barely below the 50% of votes needed to win outright.
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