Fitz Johnson

The head of a state board that regulates Georgia’s public utilities is set to become a superior court judge this summer, and the governor appointed a Cobb County businessman to the panel to replace him Wednesday.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp tapped commission Chairman Chuck Eaton for a judgeship in the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, replacing Shawn Ellen LaGrua who now serves on the state Supreme Court. Eaton’s appointment was among six judicial picks the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

Kemp announced Wednesday morning that Fitz Johnson will be his choice to replace Eaton on the all-Republican, five-member commission. Johnson ran as a Republican last year for the Cobb County Commission, narrowly losing to Democrat Jerica Richardson. The Army veteran and businessman previously ran for state schools superintendent and has served on the State Charter Schools Commission.

“Fitz Johnson’s remarkable record of service to our nation, experience as a private sector business leader, and dedication to his community uniquely qualify him to serve our state on the Public Service Commission,” Kemp said in a statement Wednesday morning. “With his diverse background and real-world leadership credentials, I know Fitz will work hard every day to ensure Georgia remains the top state for business and the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The PSC may seem like an obscure state regulatory panel but it’s an important one. The board plays a major role in deciding what Georgians pay for electricity and other utility services. For example, it is the commission that will decide how much of Plant Vogtle’s cost overruns should fall to Georgia Power’s customers.

Commissioner Tim Echols, who serves as the panel’s vice chair, said Tuesday he plans to nominate Commissioner Tricia Pridemore to replace Eaton as chair. The commission will meet Thursday.

“Chuck Eaton will be sorely missed on the PSC,” Echols said in a statement. “His calm nature and judicial competency coupled with a great sense of humor made him a great Commission Chair and will serve him well as a Judge.”

Eaton earned his law degree by taking night classes at Georgia State University after being elected to the commission and seeing the “judicial nature of the commission’s work,” according to a bio on the commission website.

He was narrowly reelected in 2018, when he edged out Democrat Lindy Miller by about 2 percentage points. The Atlanta Republican represents Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Rockdale counties. His term is set to expire in 2024.

Commissioners represent a district but are elected statewide. A pending lawsuit has challenged those at-large elections as being unfair to Black voters and is pressing the courts to force changes to how members are elected. The current commissioners are all white, and only one African American commissioner has served since the statewide at-large elections started in 1906, according to the lawsuit.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing...