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Republicans corner market on PSC primaries

ATLANTA - The Republican primary will be where the action is this summer in races for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Commissioner David Burgess is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in PSC District 3, while fellow Democrat Dawn Randolph faces no primary opposition in her bid to challenge GOP Commissioner Stan Wise in District 5.

As a result, the only PSC contests on the July 18 primary ballots are on the Republican side.

Businessmen Chuck Eaton and Mark Parkman are competing for the Republican nomination to face Burgess, while Wise faces GOP primary opposition from retired businessman Newt Nickell.

Although the five members of the PSC are elected statewide, each represents a district and must live within its borders.

The compact District 3 consists only of Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties. District 5 stretches west of Atlanta from Cobb County to the Alabama border, then south through Columbus.

District 3

Eaton, 37, a Realtor from Atlanta, is a longtime activist in the Republican Party. While he ran for a state House seat in the GOP primary two years ago, most of his political experience has been behind the scenes.

He is serving as Fulton County Republican chairman. Before that, while living in LaGrange, he was campaign manager for state Rep. Jeff Brown, R-LaGrange, and Troup County chairman for former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr.

Parkman, 41 and also from Atlanta, is a political newcomer. But he said his 13 years of experience in the telecommunications industry with Olympic Television, which provides coverage of the Games to dozens of countries, makes him well suited for the PSC.

"I'm a successful businessman on an international scale,'' Parkman said. "I work hand in hand with some of the most important companies in Georgia. That's where I see my experience making a difference in this race.''

With natural gas prices in Georgia well above the national average and gasoline hovering at just less than $3 a gallon, both candidates believe the PSC should be aggressively pushing the development of alternative sources of energy, from liquefied natural gas to environmentally friendly motor fuels like ethanol and biodiesel.

"We lag many nonagricultural states in biofuels production,'' Eaton said. "Countries like Brazil, that are far less economically developed than we are, are ahead of us.''

Eaton said he also would encourage the PSC to offer utilities "performance-based rate making,'' a concept that rewards companies that are willing to invest in equipment that increases the efficiency of their operations.

Parkman said he'd like to see the state eliminate taxes on energy used in manufacturing as an incentive to attract major industrial companies to relocate to Georgia.

District 5

Nickell, 59, first developed an interest in the PSC as a citizen activist with a group that fought against the right of electric utilities to run power lines through residential neighborhoods. That was several years ago, before a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that made eminent domain a hot issue across the nation.

"You remember the old country song, 'I Was Country when Country Wasn't Cool,''' said Nickell, a retired businessman from Marietta. "I was for eminent domain reform when eminent domain wasn't cool.''

During the current campaign, Nickell has accused Wise of being in the pockets of the companies the PSC regulates.

Nickell said a plan Wise spearheaded this year to review the efficiency of the commission's adversarial staff was an attempt to muzzle criticism of utilities.

The challenger also has made a point of not seeking campaign contributions from utility executives or their families. Georgia law prohibits members of the PSC from accepting donations from utilities but says nothing about contributions from people who work for those companies.

"I think the law needs to be revised to eliminate the loopholes,'' Nickell said.

But Wise said such limitations on personal campaign donations would go against the right to freedom of speech established by the First Amendment.

"The law that restricts companies from participating (in elections) as companies is appropriate,'' he said. "Anything beyond that is restricting the freedom of Americans.''

Wise, 54, who also lives in Marietta, said he called for a review of the commission's adversarial staff because it was overdue, and he criticized his PSC colleagues who combined to thwart his proposal.

He said that since he took office in 1995, following one term on the Cobb County Commission, competition among utilities has grown so much that market forces are enough to keep rates down.

"The business climate changes dramatically in a decade,'' he said. "Yet, we've got a commission that sits on their hands and says, 'We didn't do things that way in '95.'''

Wise said he's proud to run on his record, which includes reducing electric rates by more than $1 billion.

Public service commissioner

District 5

•The Candidates: Republicans

Newt Nickell

Age: 59

Residence: Marietta

Occupation: Retired businessman

Education: Bachelor's degree in education, Marshall University

Political experience: None

Family: Wife, Pat

E-mail: Newt.Nickell@mindspring.com

Stan Wise

Age: 54

Residence: Marietta

Occupation: Member, Georgia Public Service Commission; former owner of insurance business

Education: Bachelor's degree in business management, Charleston Southern University

Political experience: Elected to Public Service Commission, 1994; elected to Cobb County Commission, 1990

Family: Wife, Denise, two adult children

E-mail: info@stanwise.org

Public service commissioner

District 3

•The Candidates: Republicans

Chuck Eaton

Age: 37

Residence: Atlanta

Occupation: Realtor

Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting, University of Alabama

Political experience: Ran for Georgia House of Representatives, 2004

Family: Wife, Erika

E-mail: chuck@chuckeaton.org

Mark Parkman

Age: 41

Residence: Atlanta

Occupation: Television executive

Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Georgia

Political experience: None

Family: Wife, Kelly, three children

E-mail: info@markparkman.com

Story schedule

The Gwinnett Daily Post today starts its previews leading up to the July 18 primary election. Election developments and news of other races will be published as warranted.

TOday

H Republican primary Public Service Commissioner races between Chuck Eaton and Mark Parkman for District 3

H Newt Nickell and Stan Wise for District 5

Wednesday

•Candidates who are unopposed in July, some of whom may face some competition in November

Thursday

•Race for House District 104 between John Heard and David Rodriguez

Friday

•Democratic primary race for School Superintendent between Carlotta Harrell, Denise Majette and Danny J. Carter

Saturday

•Barrow Board of Education races between Randall Holland and Jeff Hendrix for District 1

•Beverly Kelley and Larry Ballard for District 4

•Amy Osier, Dan Cromer, Tim Taylor and John Stevens for District 7

July 2

•Lieutenant governor primary challenges between Greg Hecht, Griffin Lotson, Jim Martin, Steen Miles and Rufus Terrill for the Democratic nomination

•Casey Cagle and Ralph Reed for the Republican nomination

•Race for House District 98 between Wayne Hill and Bobby Reese

July 4

•Race for House District 102 between Clay Cox and Woody Woodruff

July 5

•Race for House District 96 between Torry Lewis and Pedro Marin

July 6

•Race for Senate District 55 between Gloria Butler and Jerry Wyatt

July 7

•Race for the Republican nomination for House District 95 between Robert Mumford and Steve Perry