Georgia senator quits for state job, prison chief steps down

A south Georgia state senator is leaving his elected office for a state job while Georgia’s prison chief is stepping down.

State Sen. Dean Burke, a Bainbridge Republican will step down from his Senate seat effective Dec. 31 to become the chief medical officer of Georgia’s Department of Community Health, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.

Kemp said a special Republican primary to fill Burke’s Senate District 11 seat will take place Jan. 31. Burke, a medical doctor, won a special election to the Senate in 2013. The south Georgia district includes Seminole, Decatur, Grady, Thomas, Brooks, Colquitt and Cook counties.

Corrections Commissioner Tim Ward, who leads a state prison system that’s under federal investigation for violent conditions, will leave his post and join the state Board of Pardon and Paroles. He will replace Brian Owens, who is retiring, on Jan. 1. Owens himself was corrections commissioner before Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the parole board in 2015.

Kemp named Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver as incoming corrections commissioner beginning Jan. 1. Department of Juvenile Justice Assistant Commissioner and Chief of Staff Shawanda Reynolds-Cobb will become interim commissioner.

Kemp also said state Department of Transportation Planning Director Jannine Miller will add the role of executive director of the State Road & Tollway Authority, effective Jan. 16. Kemp said he is also recommending Miller to be the executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, giving Miller purview over transit, toll road and road projects.

Burke told The Moultrie Observer that the Department of Community Health approached him about the position after Kemp won re-election in November. He noted he has led a subcommittee that oversees the department’s budget and said he’s focused on rural healthcare, efforts to reduce deaths among new mothers, and efforts to study healthcare payments.

“My passion’s obviously been health care,” Burke told the newspaper. “I feel like I can make a difference there.”

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