Kemp names Fitz Johnson to vacant PSC position

He’s the first Black member of panel since 2006
Fitz Johnson

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Fitz Johnson

Gov. Brian Kemp tapped Fitz Johnson on Wednesday to a newly-vacant seat on the Public Service Commission, a move that officials say makes him the first Black Republican to serve on a five-member panel that has a financial impact on millions of Georgians.

Kemp wasted little time in appointing Johnson to the statewide seat, selecting him a day after he named Commissioner Chuck Eaton to an open spot on the Fulton County Superior Court bench.

Johnson is a 21-year U.S. Army veteran and retired businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the Cobb County Commission last year and state school superintendent in 2014. A Citadel graduate, he was once owner of the Atlanta Beat women’s soccer team.

Though the PSC is obscure to most voters, the commission has an outsized influence on the bank accounts of millions of Georgians.

The commission oversees utility and energy issues and decides what Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light can charge consumers and businesses.

Members of the PSC are paid a little over $121,000 a year.

Kemp said he was drawn to Johnson because of his “remarkable record of service to our nation, experience as a private sector business leader, and dedication to his community.”

“With his diverse background and real-world leadership credentials, I know Fitz will work hard every day to ensure Georgia remains the top state for business and the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Johnson has contributed $2,500 to Kemp’s re-election campaign, according to state campaign disclosures.

Counting Johnson, at least three of the PSC’s five members were appointed by governors, giving them incumbency status before facing voters.

With the departure of Eaton, the PSC retains just one commissioner, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who originally voted to let Georgia Power launch a nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle. The project has gone billions of dollars over budget and fallen years behind schedule.

The PSC, which has continued to support the overall project, will begin making decisions later this year about how much of the company’s Vogtle costs might ultimately be picked up by Georgia Power customers.

Johnson will soon try to earn the approval of voters, too. He’s up for election in November 2022 to fill out the remaining two years of Eaton’s unexpired term. If he wins, he’ll be back on the ballot in 2024 for a full six-year term.

No Democrat has yet announced for the fresh vacancy, but the party is hoping to parlay its recent success in premier races into some wins in down-ballot contests. Though Democrats swept the U.S. Senate runoffs in January, Daniel Blackman narrowly lost to McDonald, a Republican, in a PSC election.

PSC commissioners must live in particular districts to be eligible to run but they’re elected to office statewide, one of the reasons why the group has remained entirely Republican even as metro Atlanta has swung solidly Democratic. Johnson, who Kemp’s office said recently moved from Cobb County to Fulton County, would represent the 3rd District, which spans Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and Rockdale counties.

Chuck Eaton talks with former commissioners Stan Wise and Doug Everett after presiding over an administrative session. (BEN GRAY / Staff)

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Facing a likely diverse Democratic ticket in 2022, Republicans are under pressure to field a slate of candidates that better reflect Georgia’s population.

White male GOP candidates carried every statewide race in 2018 save for the PSC contest won by Tricia Pridemore, a Republican appointed to the seat earlier that year. Kemp, who is running for a second term in 2022, has tried to broaden the GOP’s fold.

The governor in 2019 made John King the state’s first Hispanic statewide official when he tapped the former police chief as the interim insurance commissioner. He selected Kelly Loeffler for an open U.S. Senate seat later that year. And Johnson will become the first Black member to serve on the commission since Democrat David Burgess lost to Eaton in 2006.

Eaton, a former manufacturing executive, enrolled in night law school during his first term on the commission and passed the state bar exam in 2013. He narrowly won a third term on the commission in 2018 after being forced into a runoff against Democrat Lindy Miller. He’ll replace Judge Shawn LaGrua, who was elevated to the state Supreme Court by Kemp in January.

— AJC staff writer Matt Kempner contributed to this article.

FILE - PSC approves $448 million in Vogtle’s construction costs covering the six months ending in December 2017. The decision was unanimous. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain, File)

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