Former House Speaker Ralston’s widow loses in runoff for his seat

ATLANTA – A banker from Blue Ridge defeated the widow of former Georgia House Speaker David Ralston Tuesday in a runoff election for Ralston’s Northwest Georgia House seat.

Republican Johnny Chastain captured 52.8% of the vote to 47.2% for Sheree Ralston, according to unofficial results.

The seat became vacant when Ralston died in November at the age of 68. He had served as House speaker for a dozen years.

Chastain and Sheree Ralston were the top two vote getters in a special election in early January. But the race was forced into a runoff when neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote.

Several other special elections for vacant seats in the General Assembly also took place on Tuesday.

Former state Rep. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie, easily won a seat in the Georgia Senate over two other candidates. Watson declared for the Senate after former Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge, took a position as chief medical officer with the state Department of Community Health.

Colquitt County Administrator Charles “Chas” Cannon was elected to succeed Watson in the House. Cannon, a Republican, ran unoppose

The other special election contested on Tuesday won’t be decided until a Feb. 28 runoff. Republicans Holt Persinger and Charlie Chase received the most votes in a seven-way race for the House District 119 seat.

Persinger, a landscape architect from Winder, received 27.9% of the vote to 25.5% for Chase, a contractor also from Winder.

The seat opened up after then-Rep.-elect Danny Rampey was arrested in December and charged with stealing prescription drugs from an assisted living complex he was managing in Winder. Rampey chose to resign the seat he had just won in November rather than face being suspended from the legislature.

The 119th House District includes all of Barrow County and a portion of Jackson County.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kia celebrates Georgia success while looking to future

Kia plans to begin producing its EV6 electric vehicle in the U.S.

ATLANTA – Georgia’s political leaders celebrated Kia Day at the state Capitol Tuesday, touting past successes at Kia’s plant in West Point even as the Korean automaker prepares to start producing EV6 electric vehicles in the U.S.

The West Point Kia plant, which opened in 2009, is turning out more than 1,400 cars per day, Stuart Countess, president and CEO of Kia Georgia, said during an outdoor ceremony at Liberty Plaza across from the Capitol. The company expects to pass the 4 million mark sometime in April, he said.

The plant boasts a workforce of more than 3,000 employees and more than 14,000 when counting the various suppliers that serve the plant.

“What an incredible story,” said Gov. Brian Kemp, who followed Countess to the podium. “Kia has not only been a good partner for our state but has been incredibly successful here.”

Kia’s success story helped convince Korean affiliate automaker Hyundai to commit $5.5 billion last year to building an electric vehicle manufacturing near Savannah expected to create 8,100 jobs when fully built out, making it the largest economic development project in Georgia history.

Together, Kia and Hyundai have been responsible for two “generational” investments in the Peach State in less than two decades, Kemp said.

The West Point plant thus far has produced the highly popular Telluride sports-utility vehicle and the Sorrento SUV. Now, the Korean automaker is making a foray into the U.S. electric vehicle market with the EV6.

“Kia’s an active participant in Georgia’s Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance,” Kemp said, referring to an initiative the governor launched in 2020 aimed at strengthening Georgia’s status as a leader in the electric mobility industry.

Kemp and legislative leaders are anxious to move forward during the current session with legislation paving the way for construction of a network of EV charging stations across the state.

A bill addressing that issue fell short last year, caught up in a disagreement over who would build and operate the charging stations, retailers including convenience stores or electric utilities.

Kemp acknowledged Tuesday the issue likely will involve difficult negotiations but said he’s confident a solution can be reached.

“It’s going to be a complicated process,” he said. “But our goal is to keep everybody at the table.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Ossoff goes to bat for two proposed land preservation projects in Georgia

Dugdown Mountain Corridor

ATLANTA – U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., is asking the United States Forest Service to support two fiscal 2024 Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects in Georgia.

The proposed Dugdown Mountain Corridor project would build on a multi-state effort to connect the Paulding/Sheffield Forest areas northwest of Atlanta to the Talladega National Forest in Alabama.

The proposed Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest project would add new land across watersheds that provide drinking water to millions of people and contain habitat for endangered species, ensuring they are further protected.

“There is significant demand for public use for both projects,” Ossoff wrote in a letter last week to the chief of the forest service, Randy Moore. “However, these areas’ proximity to urban centers also increases the risk that they will be converted into non-forest use. Thus, it is urgent that these lands be secured through the LWCF.”

Both areas are popular with Georgians seeking recreation and exercise. Three million people visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest each year, while 46% of all Georgia hunters and anglers visit the Dugdown Corridor.

Ossoff’s efforts to protect the two areas follow congressional passage last year of legislation he sponsored providing $90 million in federal funds to help protect the Chattahoochee River.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Senate bill aims to regulate third-party food delivery industry

ATLANTA – Legislation establishing regulations for the fast-growing third-party food delivery industry in Georgia has been introduced in the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 34 is an outgrowth of a Senate study committee chaired by Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, that held several meetings last summer and fall to talk about an industry that has no federal oversight and only patchwork state and local regulations.

Third-party food delivery was virtually non-existent before the pandemic closed restaurants to in-person dining. Apps including Uber Eats and DoorDash sprang up so quickly and grew so rapidly that health regulators couldn’t catch up, resulting in complaints from customers of unsanitary practices.

The industry also ran afoul of restaurant owners, who complained third-party food deliverers were running ads featuring their names without authorization, touting relationships that didn’t exist.

Senate Bill 34 would put an end to such practices in Georgia, prohibiting third-party food companies from advertising non-existent connections with restaurants and requiring them to enter into contracts with restaurants before picking up and delivering food from those facilities.

The legislation also would require vehicles used for third-party food delivery to be clean. No smoking or vaping would be allowed inside delivery vehicles, and pets would be prohibited unless they are service animals.

Food containers delivered via a thirty party would have to be closed, sealed and tamper resistant. Thermal containers would be required when necessary to keep food at the proper temperature.

Parent’s bill has bipartisan cosponsors, including Republican Sens. John Albers of Roswell and Frank Ginn of Danielsville. Democratic cosponsors include Sens. Harold Jones of Augusta and Sally Harrell of Atlanta.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Sustainable building materials company bringing jobs to rural Georgia

Pat Wilson

ATLANTA – A sustainable building materials company will build a new headquarters in rural Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday.

Green Georgia LLC will invest $59 million in a project that will create more than 170 jobs. The facility will be located in Thomaston, the seat of Upson County.

The company will design and manufacture low-carbon materials used to create prefabricated buildings for a variety of structures, including sustainable factories.

“Green Georgia … is going to transform the way we build today,” said John Wolfington, the company’s principal. “By building in a controlled environment, our products can be produced at a much lower cost and quicker than traditional construction without producing the waste that comes with traditional construction.”

The company has committed to using local contractors and suppliers to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant with more than 300,000 square feet of space to meet increasing demand for its products across the Southeast.

“Green Georgia LLC’s eco-friendly building materials are designed to help businesses grow while reducing their impact on the environment,” said Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development. “With companies increasingly focused on meeting corporate sustainability goals, this new facility is uniquely positioned to support the growth of key industries in Georgia.”

The economic development agency worked with the Thomaston-Upson County Industrial Development Authority, Georgia EMC, and the Technical College System of Georgia’s Quick Start program to secure the commitment from Green Georgia.

Operations are expected to begin by early next year.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.