There’s nothing sexy about the Georgia Public Service Commission.
(No cheating: Can you name any of the five PSC commissioners?)
In 2016, a half-million fewer Georgians — about 12 percent of the electorate — voted in the statewide election of a PSC commissioner than voted for president.
(Be honest: Have you ever skipped voting for the PSC because you didn’t know who was running or, for that matter, what the PSC does?)
The PSC regulates what we pay for electricity, natural gas and land-line telecommunications and how those utilities are delivered.
Dating to 1879, when it was created as the Georgia Railroad Commission (the name changed in 1922), only three women have served as commissioners, and only one was elected. Governors appointed the other two to fill vacancies.
The last Democrat elected to the commission was David Burgess in 2000 (also the first African-American commissioner).
Lindy Miller is seeking to disrupt that history in her quest for the PSC’s District 3 seat, representing Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Rockdale counties. Although the commissioners represent districts, they are elected statewide.
No Jewish woman has won a statewide race in a partisan election in Georgia, so there’s that history, too.
A victory in the May 22 Democratic primary (and any necessary runoff) over John Noel and Johnny C. White would advance Miller to the Nov. 6 general election against incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton, who was elected in 2006 and won re-election in 2012, and Libertarian challenger Ryan Graham.
PSC commissioners are elected to six-year terms that pay $116,452 per year. At present, all five are Republicans.
Miller’s professional résumé includes 13 years at Deloitte, a global business consulting firm, rising to associate director of public policy for Deloitte Global.
Two years ago, she co-founded a solar energy company, Cherry Street Energy (“a nights and weekends passion project because I had a lot of time, raising three little boys and working full time,” she quipped during an interview at her Decatur home).
Her Jewish résumé includes the Congregation Beth Jacob preschool and the former Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now part of Atlanta Jewish Academy), Congregation B’nai Torah (which her parents helped found and where she became a bat mitzvah), and Congregation Shearith Israel (where she is a board member).
The Atlanta Jewish Times included the 39-year-old Miller among its 2017 40 Under 40 honorees.
Miller connects Jewish values with serving on the PSC.
“This is a seat about social justice. When we think about how we grow the state, is our growth inclusive, or is it leaving people behind? That’s a Jewish value. When we think about the burdens people bear to meet their everyday needs — we have many ethics in Judaism, and many commandments that require us to think about the vulnerable. And this is a seat that shapes our energy policy and therefore impacts our environment. And when you think about tikkun olam, of repairing the world, this is a seat that matters,” she said.
Miller traces her interest in public service to childhood.
“When I was 5, I used to tell people that I was going to be the first female president of the United States,” she said.
Miller’s parents, Nola and Charles, were part of the mid-1970s exodus of Jews from South Africa, in their case out of a desire to not raise children in a country where racial separation and discrimination were ingrained in law.
Nola, trained as a pharmacist, was unable to afford the expense of requalifying for such work in America and stayed home, raising Miller and her younger brother.
Charles told his daughter that, back in South Africa, he had read an article in Fortune magazine about Charles Ackerman, the legendary Atlanta real estate developer. Miller contacted Ackerman, who offered him a job, and that was his entry to the field in Atlanta.
Lindy Miller remembers living in an apartment complex in the Chamblee-Tucker area populated by Jewish immigrants from South Africa and Quebec, the latter leaving their homeland because of anti-Semitism in the Canadian province’s ruling party.
The family later moved to Sandy Springs, where Miller’s parents still live.
She and her husband, Rabbi Jonathan Crane, have three sons: Nadav, 9, Amitai, 7, and Rafi, 4. Like his brothers before him, Rafi attends the Intown Jewish Preschool, but his mother no longer has time to serve as a classroom parent.
Rabbi Crane is the Raymond F. Schinazi scholar of bioethics and Jewish thought at Emory University’s Center for Ethics. He is also an associate professor of medicine and an associate professor of religion.
“I had a professor in grad school who said the most important career decision you make is who you marry. It’s been true for me,” Miller said. “I think that so much of what we’re able to do is because of the support we get.”
In addition to their membership at Shearith Israel, the Miller/Crane household is part of two havurot (Hebrew for “fellowship”), one that meets monthly on a Friday night for Shabbat and another that meets on Saturday evenings for Havdalah.
“The reason I can run is because of my parents, and the reason I have to run is because of my kids,” Miller said.
Her reaction to the initial suggestion that she take her business and energy experience to the PSC was “That’s the least sexy thing anyone has ever said to me.”
But Miller believes that the commissioners have acted contrary to the public interest “because the Public Service Commission is everything that’s wrong with government. There’s no transparency. There’s no accountability. There’s no public voice. … It is the epitome of the good old boys network in Georgia,” she said.
“And yet, it is such a fundamental, overlooked, under-the-radar seat that has a critical set of roles to play. One, in our everyday lives, because of our bills. And the second is that they’re responsible for creating the infrastructure that forms the foundation for all of our economic development. And the challenges, when you’ve got folks in these seats who are beholden to industry, who are rubber-stamping decisions, who aren’t bringing a vision of what’s possible and looking at what the future holds for a state like Georgia, you miss so many opportunities,” Miller said.
Ethics watchdogs contend that the PSC maintains cozy relationships with the utility companies.
“I believe that business can be a force for good. I’m a capitalist, but I don’t believe that you can socialize risk and privatize gain. That’s what is happening in the Public Service Commission,” Miller said.
Miller points to the ongoing saga of the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, a nuclear power station near Waynesboro, as an example.
The PSC voted unanimously in January to continue construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle (whose two existing reactors went online in the late 1980s), even though the project is several years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget — and consumers are paying before the reactors are operating.
“Vogtle has been decided by the sitting commissioners, and Vogtle has been a fiasco,” Miller said. “It is a bad deal for Georgia. Consumers are paying upfront in an unprecedented move. Every family in this state on average has paid $100 a year for the last six years” to help finance the project.
The two reactors are the only ones under construction in the nation.
Estimates of the cost for the Plant Vogtle expansion, initially $11.5 billion, now range as high as $30 billion.
“Nuclear power in this country has been a very important bridge to a carbon-free future. Over 54 percent of our carbon-free electricity in this country is generated by nuclear plants. That said, anyone who says nuclear power is clean … nuclear power generates waste that we haven’t learned how to deal with. It uses a tremendous amount of water and concrete and other materials,” Miller said. “Do I believe that we should shut down every plant? No. I think we would set ourselves back many decades in our search for a carbon-free future. Do I think we should be building new plants, these large-scale nuclear projects? No, they’re just too expensive.
“Energy efficiency is the cheapest resource. We always talk about addressing the supply side, but we don’t talk a lot about the demand side. And if you can reduce demand, you’re saving money and saving resources.”
On the campaign trail, Miller has learned that “you don’t win on qualifications alone.”
“At the end of the day, I think, people care if you relate to them, if they relate to you. People are looking for leaders they can trust. People are looking for leaders who are competent. … What they care about is, does she get my problems, and can I trust her to do something about it? … The most important thing is, are you listening to me? Do you hear the problems I’m facing and, moreover, will you amplify that when you’re elected? Will you be a voice for me and represent my interests, my family’s interests, my business’s interests, if I elect you? That’s what people care about. That’s what I care about. And that’s what I think is broken,” she said.
In her closing remarks at a May 3 debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Public Broadcasting, Miller said: “I’m not an expert in everything that the commission covers or that we talked about. I know what I’m good at. I’m good at listening. I’m good at asking questions. And I am really good at standing up when I see that something is wrong.”
As for the incumbent, she offered this play on names: “I say chuck him out. It’s Miller time.”