Political Notes: The Up, Downs, and In-betweens
End Of An Era: Vernon Keenan, the longtime head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, retired in January after almost 40 years with the agency, the last 15 as its director. He was appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Keenan is widely respected throughout the law enforcement community and beyond, and he is credited with modernizing the agency. On his watch, the GBI Cyber Crime unit, housed in the new Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta, opened last July.
“Much criminal activity in today’s world has a nexus to technology, whether it is computers or cellphones or smartphones,” Keenan said in a Georgia Trend interview last summer. “We’re called upon constantly to become involved in investigations where we need to get into an encrypted device – we do this with a court order. It requires specialized skills and also requires specialized technology, which changes routinely. So it’s a constant process – to move investigations forward, you have to be able to deal with the new technology.”
To Appeals Court: Judge Todd Markel is the newest judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, appointed by former Gov. Nathan Deal in December. Markel, a former Fulton County Superior Court judge, served as Deal’s executive counsel. He fills the vacancy left when Judge Billy Ray was appointed by President Donald Trump to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Markel has an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and a law degree from Mercer University.
The Bus Stops Here: Former State Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), best known for his “deportation bus” campaign stunt during last spring’s Republican gubernatorial primary race, was indicted on insurance fraud charges stemming from an allegedly false report he made claiming that computer servers were stolen from his campaign office. His former campaign manager, Seth Weathers, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the indictment was “a political witch hunt” and said, “I guess it’s the price you pay for being a fearless conservative.”
Williams, an early and enthusiastic supporter of President Trump, came in fifth of five candidates in the GOP primary. Other campaign stunts included raffling off a weapon used in a mass shooting.
Deal Tribute: Just before the year-end holiday break, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson took to the floor of the Senate to praise former Gov. Nathan Deal, then in the last weeks of his second term.
“Nathan has been a great governor of our state,” he said. “Georgia is now the No. 1 place in the country to do business.”
Referencing the debates that took place in Congress before the federal criminal justice reform bill passed both houses, Isakson noted Deal’s role in reforming the state’s criminal justice system: “Nathan Deal was the originator of reform … to see to it that those who are getting ready to get out anyway had an opportunity that when they got out, they would have more of an education or better preparedness for work because of programs created by Gov. Deal.”
Tightening Food Stamp Rules: Georgia’s former governor, now U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, is proposing a significant change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would toughen work requirements for food stamp recipients.
“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Perdue said in a USDA press release. “As we make benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency … particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”
The change focuses on requirements for those the Department of Agriculture calls able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, and would apply to non-disabled people between the ages of 18 and 49 with no dependents.
Current requirements say such able-bodied adults must work or participate in an employment program for at least 20 hours a week to continue to receive benefits for more than three months over a 36-month period. States may request waivers to the time limit in areas with an unemployment rate above 10 percent or where there are insufficient jobs.
Perdue’s proposal, made at the direction of the Trump administration after the farm bill failed to strengthen SNAP work requirements, would make those waivers harder to come by.
Critics of the change say it undermines a state’s ability to respond to local job conditions and that it is likely to harm those in the workforce whose employment is periodic or erratic.
The USDA is accepting comments on the new rules through late February.
New Judges: Before he left office, former Gov. Nathan Deal filled two vacancies on the Superior Court of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit. The new judges are Rachel R. Krause, who was a partner with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, and Emily K. Richardson, who was deputy chief assistant district attorney in DeKalb County.