Sunday, October 15, 2023

Democratic Public Service Commissioner Candidate Tells Oconee County Democrats She Is Waiting On Court Decision And Ready To Run

***District 10 Candidate Also Speaks At Party Meeting***

Patty Durand said she is ready to run as a Democrat and challenge Republican Incumbent Tim Echols as District 2 representative to the state Public Service Commission.

Durand said she was ready to run and challenge Echols in 2021, when she lived in Gwinnett County, then a part of District 2.

And she said she was ready in 2022, when she moved to Rockdale County because the state legislature removed Gwinnett County from District 2. Public Service Commissioners must live in the District they represent.

Now she is waiting for a court decision on when the election will be held. A federal judge ruled last year that the state’s system for electing utility commissioners at large violates the federal Voting Rights Act, but the decision is under appeal.

Durand outlined her plans to seek a position on the Public Service Commission and the reasons she decided to challenge Echols last month at the meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party.

Lexi Doherty, who is planning to enter the Democratic Primary with the hopes of challenging Republican Mike Collins in the 10th Congressional District, also spoke at the meeting.

The Oconee County Democrats will meet again on Thursday in a session focused on the Role of Local Media, with Caitlin Farmer and Amanda Prochaska from The Oconee Enterprise and me as featured speakers.

On Oct. 23, the Oconee County Republican Party will hold its regular meeting, with Oconee County Chairman John Daniell and Sheriff James Hale discussing the county’s plans for providing probation services in light of Chief Superior Court Judge Eric Norris’ decision to change the current probation system.

Waiting Game

Georgia was scheduled to hold elections for two of five seats on the Public Service Commission in the general election on Nov. 8 of last year.

Durand had defeated Russell Edwards from Athens-Clarke County in the May 24, 2022, Democratic Primary for District 2 and was poised to challenge Echols on the November 2022 ballot.

While commissioners represent one of the five districts in the state, they run statewide.

Before that election could be held, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Grimberg ruled that the way Georgia elects Public Service Commission members violates the federal Voting Rights Act. That decision is now before the 11th District Court of Appeals, which last held a hearing on the case in December.

At the Democratic Party meeting on Sept. 21, Durand said at this point is isn’t clear from Grimberg’s ruling if the election scheduled for Nov. 8 of 2022 has been postponed or cancelled.

“If the election was postponed, then I’m the nominee,” Durand said. If it was cancelled, there will have to be new primaries.

The election could be in March or in November, she said. “There is just no way of knowing what is going to happen. It is a wild ride right now.”

Echols’ term expired at the end of last year, but the judge ruled that Echols and Fitz Johnson, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill a vacancy in District 3 on the Commission, are “holdover candidates,” meaning they can continue in their seats until an election is held, Durand said.

Decision To Run

Durand used the Sept. 21 meeting with the Oconee County Democrats to provide an update on the election and explain why she wants to be on the Commission. She spoke remotely via Zoom.

Durand 9/21/2023

Durand served for 10 years as President and CEO of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that conducts consumer research for the utility industry.

The industry created the nonprofit “to conduct unbiased research that the whole industry could share,” Durand said.

While working at Smart Energy, Durand said, she met with Echols, who, she said, didn’t know that the Commission had passed a rate plan that it had just approved.

“I don’t think he was lying,” she said. “I think he just didn’t know. Which is awkward for a commissioner not to know what his own Commission is doing.”

“I said, ‘Commissioner, your job is to protect the people from monopoly pricing power, and you didn’t do it in this case. I’m really surprised and disappointed.’”

“I just thought, wow, this is much worse that I imagined,” she said.

Durand said she stayed with Smart Energy for another six month.

“So that’s when I resigned and that’s why I’m running,” she told the Oconee County Democrats.

Role Of Commission

“For those of you who care about climate change,” Durand said, “the Public Service Commission is on the front lines of climate change. That is the state agency that determines what generation mix Georgia Power must use in making electricity.”

The Commission also has regulatory responsibility for construction of Georgia Power Company’s Plant Vogtle, a four unit nuclear power plant located in Burke County east of Augusta.

“At $35 billion dollars Plant Vogtle is the most expensive power plant every built on earth,” Durand said. “That is a shocker. Right here in Georgia.”

“Not only that,” she said, “It is $18 billion over budget, which is an insane amount of money. It is also eight times more expensive than the equivalent amount of clean energy.”

“Solar plus battery is six to eight times cheaper than Plant Vogtle,” Durand said. “But the reason Georgia Power went to Plant Vogtle is because it is profitable for them. The bigger they built, the more they spend, the more profit they make.”

An Associated Press story from May of this year lists the total cost of Plant Vogtle at $35 billion, the cost overrun at $17 billion, and says the plant “may be the most expensive power plant ever.”

The project is seven years behind schedule, according to that AP story, and the fourth and final reactor isn’t expected to be operational until next year.

Regulatory Capture

In 2017, Westinghouse Electric Co., the U.S. nuclear unit of Japan’s Toshiba Corporation, filed for bankruptcy and pulled out of the Plant Vogtle project.

Durand said that was an opportunity for the Georgia Public Service Commission to pull the plug on Plant Vogtle, but it did not.

“And the reason is they are in regulatory capture,” she said, “which means that they have become advocates for the regulated industry. And that is not that uncommon.”

“It doesn’t make them evil or malicious,” she said. “It does make them weak. But that’s not evil. Nonetheless, it is a serious problem for Georgians.”

“When Plant Vogtle’s costs get put into all of our rates,” Durand said, “even if you are not a Georgia Power customer, your rates are going to be going up.”

“EMCs are on the hook for 30 percent of this project,” Durand said. “Which might not sound like a lot, but 30 percent of $35 billion is a lot for the Electric Membership Cooperatives with a much smaller membership base to have to bear. So we are all on the hook for this.”

According to the AP story, Oglethorpe Power is a part owner of Vogtle. Oglethorpe Power provides electricity to 38 member-owned cooperatives, including Walton EMC, which serves Oconee County.

“The fact is that the Commission has really let us down in managing Georgia Power,” Durand said.

“My goal in running for office, why I want to be elected, is to solve those problems,” she said. “To solve the regulatory capture problem.”

Doherty And Congress

Doherty, who is from Athens-Clarke County, told the Oconee County Democrats that she has worked at a variety of jobs leading up to her current position as a geologist and educational consultant.

Doherty 9/21/2023

She said she has learned that “The vast majority of people are kind, are hard working, and would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. They are just trying to make ends meet and live good lives.”

“We all want the same things,” she said. “We want our families to be safe. We want our children to have a good education and have opportunities available. And we want fair pay for our work.”

“I don’t think these are extraordinary demands in the richest country in the world,” Doherty said.

“I’m especially interested in the way that complex systems interact and play off each other,” she said. “I know in politics everybody wants a really simple answer to fit a sound bite. The unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of problems today just don’t have simple answers like that.”

“I think we need more in Congress who are not going to shy away from these complex problems, that will really dig in and explain to their constituents the risks and benefits of every policy decision.”

“I feel especially frustrated when I hear people say the system is broken because the system is working exactly as it was intended,” she said.

“This country was built and maintained by a select few people, and they are the wealthy, the older, and, historically, men, and the system works very well for them,” she said.

Why Running

Doherty said she is “running to make sure that the people that have been historically left out of the democratic process will have fair representation.”

Doherty said said she will not be taking “any corporate donor money to fund my campaign. I want to make sure that the only people that I’m answering to when I’m elected are my constituents.”

“I have no interest in being a part of the entrenched political establishment,” she said. “As a newcomer, I will have the ability to forge my own path. I will be able to do what is in the best interest of my constituents without having to pay back favors.”

“My main goal as a representative is going to be to improve the lives of our citizens,” she said. “In particular, I will be focusing on expanding healthcare access and protecting reproductive choice, improving education access and student outcomes, and promoting fair wages and labor practices, and reducing the effects of climate change.”

“I believe it is time for everyday, working-class Americans to come together and build a politics where we have hard conversations in good faith and we work together to solve our problems,” Doherty said.

“Many people think that this district is going to be impossible to win, and I think we haven’t had someone that’s gone out and worked hard enough yet,” Doherty said. “I think with your vote we can flip this district just like we flipped Georgia for (Sen. Raphael) Warnock and (Sen. Jon) Ossoff.”

The 10th Congressional District is represented by Republican Collins, who received 64.5 percent of the vote to 34.5 for Democrat Tabitha Johnson-Green last November. Collins, from Jackson, is in his first term in Congress.

Party Meetings

The Democratic meeting on Thursday on Local Journalism will be the second for the party in recent months that has focused on issues in journalism.

Greg Bluestein, political reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke to the group at its June meeting.

Speakers Caitlin Farmer is a reporter at The Oconee Enterprise, while Amanda Prochaska is co-publisher with here husband, Michael Prochaska. Local businessman Mark Martin owns the paper.

I will draw on my experience as a social scientist, former journalism educator, and author of this blog since 2006 in commenting on community journalism.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the basement of the Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Street in Watkinsville. The meeting also is on Zoom

The Oct. 23 meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Lobby Meeting Room of the Piedmont Oconee Health Campus, 1305 Jennings Mill Road.

Guess Speakers are Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson, Board of Commissioners Chair Daniell and Sheriff Hale, and Watkinsville City Council Candidates Rebecca Billings and Carolyn Maultsby.

Daniell and Hale will speak on proposed probation system changes, following up on the discussion at the Board of Commissioners meeting of Aug. 29.


I recorded the video below of the Sept. 21 meeting at the Chamber of Commerce.

Durand was linked to the meeting room via Zoom.

Durand began her comments at 3:39 in the video.

Doherty was present at the meeting and began speaking at 40:31

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