Democrat fights to stay in PSC race amid redistricting controversy

Before entering the District 2 Public Service Commission race, Patty Durand worked for information technology firms and led environmental and energy policy non-profits.

Credit: Greg Scott, Picturethis! Photogr

Combined ShapeCaption
Before entering the District 2 Public Service Commission race, Patty Durand worked for information technology firms and led environmental and energy policy non-profits.

Credit: Greg Scott, Picturethis! Photogr

Patty Durand is facing disqualification for failing to meet the state’s residency requirement for Public Service Commission seats

A Democratic candidate for the Georgia Public Service Commission facing disqualification challenged the state’s residency requirement in court Tuesday, arguing a judge should allow her to stay in the race — in part due to an alleged effort by her opponent to draw her out of the district boundaries.

Meanwhile, the state attorney general’s office argued the decision to disqualify the candidate should be left up to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — not the judge.

The candidate in question, Patty Durand, won the Democratic primary for the Public Service Commission (PSC) District 2 seat, which encompasses much of the eastern part of the state. Durand would face commission Vice Chairman Tim Echols, a two-term Republican incumbent, in this fall’s general election.

The PSC’s five members play a key role in deciding how much of the electricity used in Georgia is generated here and how much customers pay for it, as well as regulating natural gas and telecommunications infrastructure.

Though PSC seats are voted on statewide, Georgia law requires candidates live within the boundaries of their district for 12 months prior to an election. Durand previously lived in Gwinnett County, which was in District 2. But earlier this year, just days before candidate qualifying, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 472 (SB 472), which moved Gwinnett County out of District 2 and approved redrawn maps for all five PSC seats.

Soon after, Durand moved to Rockdale County within the new District 2 boundaries, but will only have lived there for roughly eight months before the Nov. 8 general election.

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The Georgia General Assembly voted to approve new Public Service Commission districts on March 4, 2022.

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

The Georgia General Assembly voted to approve new Public Service Commission districts on March 4, 2022.

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia General Assembly voted to approve new Public Service Commission districts on March 4, 2022.

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

Credit: Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office

The day before the May primary, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger disqualified Durand from the race, arguing she had not lived in District 2 long enough to be eligible. But on Election Day, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melynee Leftridge allowed Durand to stay in the race, pending a final ruling.

In court filings, Durand’s attorney Bryan Sells acknowledged that his client has not lived in the district long enough to be eligible for the seat. But in court Tuesday, Sells made the case to Judge Leftridge that the circumstances of Durand’s case merit heightened scrutiny and claimed that applying the durational residency requirement would infringe on her First and Fourteenth amendment rights.

Among the evidence Sells pointed to were screenshots of text messages from January between PSC Chairman Tricia Pridemore and Echols.

In the messages, the two shared draft district maps and discussed trading counties. At one point, Pridemore texted Echols, “Don’t forget to get her home address and send to me please,” referring to Durand. Echols later responded with Durand’s former Gwinnett County address. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported on the text messages and other emails, which appear to show the commissioners’ were closely involved in the redistricting process.

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In text messages obtained through discovery and provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Patty Durand, a Democrat running for the District 2 seat on the Public Service Commission, Commission Chairman Tricia Pridemore asks Commissioner Tim Echols for the home address of Durand, his potential opponent in this fall's general election.

Credit: SPECIAL TO THE AJC

In text messages obtained through discovery and provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Patty Durand, a Democrat running for the District 2 seat on the Public Service Commission, Commission Chairman Tricia Pridemore asks Commissioner Tim Echols for the home address of Durand, his potential opponent in this fall's general election.

Credit: SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
In text messages obtained through discovery and provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Patty Durand, a Democrat running for the District 2 seat on the Public Service Commission, Commission Chairman Tricia Pridemore asks Commissioner Tim Echols for the home address of Durand, his potential opponent in this fall's general election.

Credit: SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Weeks later, state lawmakers approved new political maps, including one that removed Gwinnett County from Echols’ district, threatening Durand’s ability to run.

Echols and Pridemore both declined to comment through a PSC spokesman citing the ongoing litigation.

Sells argued the texts and other evidence show that the new District 2 map was motivated, in part, by an effort to draw Durand out of the district.

“The record here establishes that Commissioner Pridemore, a longtime Republican activist, drew the map in SB 472,” Sells said. “I don’t think I need to say it here, but she’s in the same party as Mr. Echols, the secretary of state and the attorney general, and a different party from Ms. Durand.”

ExploreMessages reveal alleged effort to draw Democrat out of Georgia PSC district

Charlene McGowan, the state’s assistant attorney general who represented Secretary of State Raffensperger, disputed Sells’ claim that Durand was the victim of a targeted political redistricting campaign. Instead, she said the maps were redrawn to account for population shifts in Gwinnett and other metro Atlanta counties. McGowan wrote in a court brief that Durand’s “complaint of partisan gerrymandering is a political question that this Court has no jurisdiction to review.”

Sells argued that changing the composition of District 2 on the eve of candidate qualifying excluded nearly 1.5 million people from running in the district, drastically limiting the pool of potential candidates.

Because of this, Sells said it is up to the secretary of state to prove a compelling reason for enforcing the residency requirement, which Sells claimed Raffensperger failed to do.

If the Fulton court rules that Durand is not eligible to run in District 2, the Democratic Party would be allowed to select a replacement.

Leftridge but did not indicate when she would issue a ruling.