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Stories about Georgia

Georgia’s suspended insurance commissioner found guilty on 37 charges of fraud; voters to decide in 2022 on suspending pay for indicted officials

On July 22, a jury found former Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck (R) guilty on 37 counts of fraud, including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud.

Beck was elected to the office on November 6, 2018, and was suspended from the office by Governor Brian Kemp (R) on May 16, 2019.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in late January that Beck had been receiving pay and benefits since being indicted for federal wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering charges in May 2019. The charges included allegations that Beck stole over $2 million from his former employer, the Georgia Underwriting Association, and used those funds to pay for his 2018 campaign. Because Beck was suspended and did not resign, the state had been compensating him as well as John King, Kemp’s appointment to fill the position during Beck’s suspension.

Following the verdict, insurance commissioner John King said, “The state of Georgia is no longer paying for two commissioners. We took him off the payroll within hours of the jury coming back.”

Beck was placed on house arrest until sentencing, which was set for October 8, 2021.

Voters in Georgia will decide in 2022 whether to amend the state constitution to suspend compensation for the following public officials while suspended from office due to a felony indictment:

1. any member of the General Assembly;

2. Governor;

3. Lieutenant Governor;

4. Secretary of State;

5. Attorney General;

6. State School Superintendent;

7. Commissioner of Insurance;

8. Commissioner of Agriculture; or

9. Commissioner of Labor

Currently, under the state’s constitution, assembly members and public officials who are suspended from office due to the indictment for a felony still receive compensation until they are convicted. Officials that are reinstated to their position would receive pay that was withheld under the amendment.



Governor Brian Kemp appoints new state supreme court justice, public service commissioner

Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to the Georgia Supreme Court and Fitz Johnson to the Georgia Public Service Commission on July 20 and 21, respectively. Colvin will fill the vacancy left by Justice Harold Melton, who retired on July 1 of this year, while Johnson will take former Commissioner Chuck Eaton’s position. Governor Kemp appointed Eaton to the Fulton County Superior Court on July 20. 

Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. The current chief of the court is David Nahmias. As of July 2021, Republican governors appointed seven judges (eight once Colvin is sworn in) on the court and one was initially selected in a nonpartisan election. Judges are selected using the nonpartisan election of judges system. They serve six-year terms. When an interim vacancy occurs, the seat is filled using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection with the governor picking the interim justice from a slate provided by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. 

The Georgia Public Service Commission is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative state body responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities: electric, gas, telecommunications, and transportation firms. The commission is composed of five popularly elected members who serve staggered, six-year terms. If a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson must win election in November 2022 to serve the remainder of Eaton’s term, which expires in 2024.

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Gov. Brian Kemp fills vacancy on Georgia Supreme Court

Georgia GovernorBrian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to theGeorgia Supreme Court on July 20. Colvin was Kemp’s third nominee to the nine-member court.

Colvin succeededHarold Melton, who retired on July 1. Chief Justice Melton joined the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).

Prior to her appointment to the state supreme court, Colvin served as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Kemp appointed her to that court on March 27, 2020. Colvin was previously a judge with the Macon Circuit of the 3rd Superior Court District of Georgia. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on March 24, 2014. Prior to becoming a superior court judge, she was an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements. To date, 11 of the vacancies have been filled.

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Leesa Hagan wins special runoff election in Georgia House district

Leesa Hagan (R) won the special general runoff election for Georgia House of Representatives District 156 on July 13. She defeated Wally Sapp (R), earning 51.7% of the vote to Sapp’s 48.3%. 

Hagan and Sapp advanced from the general election held on June 15, where they defeated Democratic candidate Wright Gres. A runoff became necessary after no candidate earned more than 50% of the vote in the general election.

The special election was called after Greg Morris (R) resigned to join the State Transportation Board at the Georgia Department of Transportation. Morris served from 1999 to 2021.

Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. As of July 12, Republicans controlled the Georgia House of Representatives by a margin of 101 to 77 with two vacancies.

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Georgia House of Representatives

State legislative special elections, 2021



Two Georgia House special runoffs set for July 13

The special general runoff elections for Georgia House of Representatives Districts 34 and 156 are scheduled for July 13, 2021. 

  • In District 34, Devan Seabaugh (R) is facing Priscilla Smith (D) in the runoff. In the June 15 general election, Seabaugh and Smith advanced from a field of five candidates and earned 47.1% and 24.6% of the vote, respectively. The special election in District 34 was called after Bert Reeves (R) left office to become Georgia Institute of Technology’s vice president of university relations. Reeves served from 2015 to 2021.
  • In District 156, Leesa Hagan (R) and Wally Sapp (R) are competing in the runoff. In the June 15 general election, Hagan earned 43.1% of the vote and Sapp earned 42.3%. The special election was called after Greg Morris (R) resigned on April 13 to join the State Transportation Board at the Georgia Department of Transportation. Morris served from 1999 to 2021.

Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state House by a margin of 101 to 77, with two vacancies.

As of July 2021, 43 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 17 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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Redistricting review: Georgia, Maryland, and Michigan hold public redistricting hearings

Redistricting authorities in at least three states held hearings about their respective redistricting processes in the past week. Here’s a roundup.

Georgia: Last week, Georgia lawmakers announced a schedule for public redistricting hearings, the first of which took place virtually on June 15. Ten more public hearings are scheduled, with the next taking place in Atlanta on June 28 and the last taking place virtually on July 30. In Georgia, the state legislature is responsible for both state legislative and congressional redistricting. District plans are subject to gubernatorial veto. According to WABE, an NPR affiliate in Atlanta, a special legislative session on redistricting “is expected later this year.”

Maryland: On June 16, the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission held its second public hearing, which took place virtually. It is expected to hold at least six more public hearings between now and July 28. The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, which was formed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) via executive order, is expected to submit proposals for congressional and state legislative district plans to Hogan, who will in turn submit those proposals to the state legislature. The state legislature can accept the proposed state legislative district plan as submitted or adopt its own by joint resolution, which is not subject to gubernatorial veto. If the legislature fails to approve its own state legislative district plan, the governor’s proposal takes effect. Congressional district plans are adopted solely by the legislature and may be vetoed by the governor.

Michigan: The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission conducted two public hearings, one on June 15 and one on June 17, both in Detroit. The commission is scheduled to conduct four more hearings between now and July 1. The commission was established in 2018 via constitutional amendment. This is the first cycle in which the commission will have responsibility for both congressional and state legislative redistricting.

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Two Georgia state legislative special elections advance to July 13 runoffs

A special general election was held for Georgia House of Representatives Districts 34 and 156 on June 15. In District 34, Priscilla Smith (D) and Devan Seabaugh (R) advanced to the general runoff and defeated Sam Hensley Jr. (D), David Blinkhorn (R), and Chris Neill (L). In District 156, Leesa Hagan (R) and Wally Sapp (R) advanced to the general runoff and defeated Wright Gres (D).

The general runoff election is scheduled for July 13. The filing deadline passed on May 7.

The special elections were called after Bert Reeves in District 34 and Greg Morris in District 156 resigned on Apr. 30 and Apr. 13, respectively. Reeves served from 2015 to 2021, and Morris served from 1999 to 2021.

There was a third special election held for a state legislative seat in Georgia earlier this year. A primary for the District 90 seat was held on Feb. 9 after Pam Stephenson (D) resigned her seat on Sept. 4. Angela Moore and Stan Watson advanced to the Democratic primary runoff election held on March 9. Moore won the seat. 

Georgia had 67 state legislative special elections between 2010 and 2020. The state has held at least one special election every year during that time period. The highest number in one year was 12 in 2015, and the lowest was two in 2012. 

Georgia is one of only two states that require a majority in all congressional, state executive, and state legislative elections in order to avoid a runoff. 

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Special elections to be held in two Georgia legislative districts on June 15

Special elections are being held on June 15 to fill vacant seats in Districts 34 and 156 in the Georgia House of Representatives. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote in the special election, the top two vote-getters will advance to a general runoff election. The runoff, if necessary, will be held on July 13. The winners of the special elections will serve until January 2023.

In the District 34 election, Sam Hensley Jr. (D), Priscilla Smith (D), David Blinkhorn (R), Devan Seabaugh (R), and Chris Neill (L) are running in the special election. The special election became necessary after Bert Reeves (R) resigned his seat on April 30 to become Georgia Institute of Technology’s vice president of university relations. Reeves served in the state House from 2015 to 2021.

In the District 156 election, Wright Gres (D), Leesa Hagan (R), and Wally Sapp (R) are running in the special election. The special election became necessary when Greg Morris (R) resigned his seat on April 13 to join the Georgia Department of Transportation’s State Transportation Board. Morris served in the state House from 1999 to 2021.

Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the Georgia House of Representatives by a margin of 101 to 77 with two vacancies.

As of June, 39 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 17 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Pennsylvania held 44 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Eight candidates file to run in two Georgia state House special elections

Candidates interested in running in the special elections for Georgia House of Representatives Districts 34 and 156 had until May 7 to file. The general election in both districts is scheduled for June 15. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote in the general election, the top two vote-getters will advance to a general runoff election. The runoff, if necessary, will be held on July 13. The winners of the special elections will serve until January 2023.

In the District 34 special election, Sam Hensley Jr. (D), Priscilla Smith (D), David Blinkhorn (R), Devan Seabaugh (R), and Chris Neill (L) filed to run. The special election became necessary after Bert Reeves (R) resigned his seat on April 30 to become Georgia Institute of Technology’s vice president of university relations. Reeves served in the state House from 2015 to 2021.

In the District 156 special election, Wright Gres (D), Leesa Hagan (R), and Wally Sapp (R) filed to run. The special election became necessary when Greg Morris (R) resigned his seat on April 13 to join the Georgia Department of Transportation’s State Transportation Board. Morris served in the state House from 1999 to 2021.

Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the Georgia House of Representatives by a margin of 101 to 77, with two vacancies.

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Bert Reeves resigns from Georgia House

Georgia State Representative Bert Reeves (R) resigned from the state’s General Assembly on April 30 to take a new role at Georgia Tech. He represented District 34 from 2015 to 2021. 

Reeves will serve as the school’s vice president for institute relations, working on government and community relations and economic development. Reeves graduated from Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in management and served as the school’s mascot, “Buzz,” from 1997 to 2000. 

Reeves was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2014 after defeating incumbent Charles Gregory in the Republican primary, 52% to 48%. He was re-elected in 2016 and 2018, and most recently in 2020, defeating challenger Priscilla Smith (D), 56% to 44%. 

When a vacancy occurs in the Georgia state legislature, the governor must declare a special election within ten days of the vacancy. The election must be held between 30 and 60 days after the governor’s announcement. 

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