By: Rachael Andrews
SPIA alumnus Jason Shaw, a former representative for state House district 176, is the newest member of the Georgia Public Service Commission, and he likens his time there to his time at UGA. Shaw insists that ever since he began his term in the commission, he has been in “learning mode,” especially considering that the Public Service Commission is a relatively small agency in terms of staff size. Shaw was appointed by Governor Deal on January 3, 2019 to serve on the commission.
The Public Service Commission is a constitutional, quasi-judicial agency charged with regulating electricity, natural gas and telecommunications in the state, as well as handling disputes or contested cases. This means that Shaw regularly interacts with companies like Georgia Power, Georgia Natural Gas, Atlanta Gas Light, as well as landline telephone carriers. The commission also handles safety violations of Georgia’s pipelines.
Shaw and his fellow commissioners have been especially busy, with the commission hearing multiple rate cases this year. These cases decide utility rates for the companies, with the commission providing oversight. This oversight allows Shaw and the other commissioners to protect consumers from overpaying for utilities and to verify that the utility companies can provide reliable service.
The commission is made up of five commissioners, each representing a different district of the state in a six-year term.
“The Public Service Commission allows a deeper dive into the policy side,” Shaw says. His background in the House of Representatives helped with finding compromise while dealing with the public, utility companies, and special interest groups.
Shaw comes from a long line of public servants – his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all in public service. “I like to say, for me, it’s a genetic flaw,” Shaw jokingly insists.
“While I was a student at UGA, I wasn’t naturally thinking, ‘one day I’m going to run for office,’” he goes on, “that just kind of happened out of timing,and politics is all about timing. Unlike many other things, it has to do with your personal situation, your family, your career, and the timing of the politics around it. Obviously you cannot be effective if you can’t get elected.”
On Shaw’s run for office, he attributes the decision to good timing when the opportunity arose. He also credits his “good background and reputation in the area because of past involvement with community and business.”
Shaw continues, “The time was right to make the sacrifice. In most cases, public service is a sacrifice – particularly in the state legislature, you cannot say that anybody is doing it for the pay.”
Technically, serving in the legislature is a part-time job. Legislators are paid $17,342 per year. But Shaw said, in reality, the work is much more than part-time. “It is a year-round, full-time job,” he says.
Shaw has many positive things to say about public service, “[I’ve] never looked back, [and] once you get in, it is hard to get out.” In fact, he still gets calls from constituents and friends for help, and he is glad to give it.
“I’d like that to be a part of my legacy one day, that I liked to help people,” Shaw says.
Shaw also has an enduring passion for rural communities, which are the heart of his house district, and is heavily reliant on agriculture and forestry. During his time in the legislature, he chaired the Rural Caucus. Shaw explains, “Rural communities are struggling, population shifts continue, the numbers are frightening, and these communities are part of the fabric and history of our state,” he says, “I’m proudest of the relationships I’ve made and the part that I’ve played in making rural economic development such a focus like it is now.”
Specifically, Shaw places an emphasis on rural broadband provisions. Broadband is federally regulated, but Shaw maintains that it is very important to the commission to do everything they can to support improvements to the rural broadband network across the state. “This issue is just as important as rural electrification was in the ‘30s because now the internet is not just an economic development tool,” Shaw contends, “Now, it is much, much more than an economic development issue, it is a quality of life issue for Georgians of every age. It’s only going to become more of a necessity with each generation.”
Shaw remembers his time at UGA fondly, and credits his degree with helping to facilitate his success in public office.
“My political science degree at UGA has given me a background to build on that has improved my ability to do my job everyday. There is [always] something that I learned at the university that helps me become a better public servant,” Shaw says.
In particular, Shaw remembers his study abroad experience fondly, “I did the study abroad in Verona in the summer of ‘96. [That was] an experience I’ll never forget and I will always be thankful that I participated in that program.”