Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Feb. 2

The Times of Gainesville on Georgia first lady Sandra Deal's breast cancer diagnosis:

Spouses of elected officials often don't seek the spotlight they are thrown into, even when they fully support their husbands' or wives' careers. Most accept their role and make it their own with the skills and abilities they bring to the partnership. That certainly describes Georgia's first lady, Sandra Deal.

As wife of a member of the state legislature and later U.S. Congress, Mrs. Deal was exposed to the political theaters of Atlanta and Washington and spent time on the stage and campaign trail. But when Nathan Deal was elected governor in 2010, it put her into a new position of her own that comes with fresh responsibilities and expectations. She has embraced her role and thrived in it with grace, dignity and heart.

Those strengths will serve her well in her new battle. Mrs. Deal recently was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, and has undergone surgery to remove a tumor discovered during her annual mammogram. She is beginning chemotherapy treatments as a precautionary measure to ensure her full recovery, but said her prognosis is good.

Mrs. Deal used her diagnosis to urge all women to take the steps necessary to receive regular exams.

"Since I caught it in its early stages, I am confident that the chemotherapy will yield successful results. In light of this, I encourage all women to be proactive about their health and see a medical professional for an annual mammogram," she said in the Monday announcement.

"Nathan and I appreciate your thoughts and prayers during this time, and I look forward to continuing to read to students across the state."

It is well in character for Mrs. Deal to use her own health challenge as a way to reach out to others. In her time as first lady, she has been an effective advocate for the issues near and dear to her. Chief among those has been literacy, a topic that hits close to home for a longtime Hall County elementary school teacher.

Once a teacher always a teacher, and Mrs. Deal has been, in fact, as much first educator as first lady. Her "Read Across Georgia" initiative has been aimed at increasing the number of children achieving grade-level reading skills by the end of third grade. In the past seven years, she has visited every school district in every county in the state, including some 800 schools, to read to students and urge them to pursue a love of books as the gateway to a lifetime of learning.

She's even done a bit of writing of her own. Last year, she collaborated with Jennifer Dickey and Catherine Lewis of Kennesaw State University on a book detailing the history of the Georgia governor's mansion, "Memories of the Mansion: The Story of Georgia's Governor's Mansion."

She also has been involved in the Governor's Office for Children & Families and serves as chairwoman of the Georgia Children's Cabinet addressing challenges families face in education, child and health care and juvenile justice. She has served as an advocate for women's empowerment, immunization awareness, parental engagement and volunteerism, among others.

She followed in the big shoes of so many memorable Georgia first ladies who made their own marks, including Betty Vandiver, who passed away just last month, Betty Foy Sanders, Rosalynn Carter, Marie Barnes, Mary Perdue and Shirley Miller. Each brought their own style and attention to issues to the role and set the stage for others to follow.

Sandra Deal has raised that bar higher for the next first lady who moves into the mansion next January. We wish her well in a speedy recovery, and thank her for all she has brought to her share of the spotlight.

Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com/

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Feb. 3

The Marietta Daily Journal on Gov. Nathan Deal calling a man's citizen of the year award long overdue:

Since 1963, the Marietta Daily Journal has recognized Cobb County men and women who have made significant contributions to the quality of life and success we enjoy here. These Citizens of the Year have shared common traits of leadership, vision and a civic spirit that have made our community better, safer, smarter, richer and more beautiful. This year's recipient, Kennesaw businessman and philanthropist Jay Cunningham, is no exception.

In fact, Gov. Nathan Deal called the award long overdue.

"He has been a faithful servant. Somebody who does a lot of things behind the scenes that most people have no idea that he's doing. But he does it because he has a heart for people," Deal said.

Cunningham is a self-starter, outlining his plans for a plumbing business on a bar napkin in 1988.

He launched Superior Plumbing from his garage with a single truck and one plumber — himself — and has grown the company to a fleet of trucks, trailers and equipment with 73 employees and more than 30 licensed plumbers.

Classes should be taught on his marketing savvy. It only takes one listen to his company jingle — "Superior, the honest one/Call 770-422-PLUM — to remain lodged in the mind ever after. It's likely you are hearing the tune in your head as you read this.

Dr. Ike Reighard, president & CEO of MUST Ministries, deadpanned that he was surprised, upon visiting the empty tomb of Jesus, that Cunningham hadn't secured that prime location with a Superior Plumbing ad.

At the same time, Reighard said he took great delight in imagining how uncomfortable Cunningham would be at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce's annual gala Saturday night when the MDJ presented him with the surprise award. John Loud, president of Loud Security, also touched on Cunningham's preference to be behind the curtain, saying whenever he and Cunningham pair up to advocate for a public issue, such as a special purpose local option sales tax for education, Cunningham always asks Loud to be the front man. Standing in the spotlight is the last thing Cunningham wants. And this is because he is motivated by his heart and not the limelight, Loud said.

As the governor said, Cunningham is far more than a successful businessman. Were he to retire on a mountaintop and enjoy his material success, surrounded by his seven children, five grandchildren and prized dog, Petey, no one would blame him. But that's not Cunningham, a servant leader who has taken to heart Einstein's belief that "Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living."

Reighard called him one of the most giving individuals he's ever encountered. Over the years, Cunningham and Superior Plumbing have bettered the community in countless ways whether it's helping our schools, our police or our firefighters. Some examples are donating iPads to deserving teachers, funding scholarships, organizing events for special needs students, providing mobile lavatories for community events, sponsoring countless youth and high school sports and most recently, giving $1 million to help build Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's 48,000-square-foot outpatient care center in Kennesaw.

His friends and admirers use the words humble, generous, unique, mentor, someone who unites, an effortless innovator, family man and friend to describe him.

Marietta's Tricia Pridemore said when folks began to criticize law enforcement, Cunningham rang to say Cobb County has one of the finest sheriffs in the country, asking her to help him serve the Sheriff's Department lunch. That was the least they could do to say thanks, he told her. Pridemore has also held back tears as she watched young girls with special needs run up to Cunningham to give him a hug.

"They do it in a prom dress, and it's because he's made a way for them to not only have prom, but go to prom," she said.

Phillip Page, assistant superintendent with the Cobb School District, first met Cunningham on the sidelines of a North Cobb High School football game, Cunningham's alma mater. When Cunningham asked if there was anything he could do to help the school, Page half-jokingly asked if he would like to provide the funding for a staff member. Cunningham said he would and that allowed the school to start its career pathway in construction and plumbing.

Naming the time, day and location of where you first met someone isn't always the easiest thing to do. But Sean Casey, executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, said it's a no brainer when it comes to Cunningham: 11:15 a.m. Nov. 25, 2010, at Children's Healthcare at Emory. Three weeks earlier, his newborn daughter had undergone surgery. On Thanksgiving Day, Casey said he and his wife heard an announcement in the hospital hallway to visit the lobby. Casey said it looked as if Willy Wonka had been there given the magnificent feast spread before them.

"Jay really served us our first Thanksgiving dinner as a family," Casey said. "He kind of calmed our hearts, he calmed our souls and gave us a very positive outlook on life."

Tina Myers, Superior Plumbing's marketing director, said in her 10 years with the company, she's learned that Cunningham doesn't demand loyalty. Rather, he earns it by being fair, honest and loyal to his values. What set the tone for their working relationship was one of the first tasks he asked of her, which was to read Jon Huntsman Sr.'s book, "Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times."

One of the passages in that book could be said to describe Cunningham:

"Wealth isn't always measured in dollar signs. We each have time, talent and creativity, all of which can be powerful forces for positive change. Share your blessings in whatever form they come and to whatever level you have been blessed."

And so he has.

The Marietta Daily Journal salutes Jay Cunningham as the 2017 Cobb County Citizen of the Year.

Online: http://www.mdjonline.com/

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Feb. 6

Savannah Morning News on federal action needed on combustible dust after the Imperial Sugar refinery explosion:

Some wounds even time can't heal.

Ten years ago today, the Imperial Sugar refinery erupted in flames. Explosive sugar dust was the fuel, faulty equipment the ignition source. Fourteen of our friends and neighbors died. Thirty-nine more were hurt, 14 of those men and women suffered burns so severe - covering as much as 80 percent of their bodies — they spent months in an Augusta burn center.

As we remember the victims, let's also take action. Let's renew our call for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal government agency, to enact a standard on combustible dust.

Because somehow, a decade removed from the accident and 12 years after the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board first called for such regulations, the federal watchdog refuses to take steps to enact a "Most Wanted" regulation to protect American workers. The Combustible Dust Standard, still in development last year, was among those labeled "ineffective, duplicative and obsolete" and eliminated last July by the President Donald Trump administration.

Trump's Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, labeled the Combustible Dust Standard along with the other 859 withdrawn regulations as not "very sexy" or "very glamorous."

Instituting a regulation that prevents needless death and injury may fail to move the Twitter interest needle. But creating the Combustible Dust Standard is imperative for us as a nation, as four more combustible dust explosions have claimed lives since our local disaster.

Savannah's Congressional member, Rep. Buddy Carter, voiced a measured take on the Combustible Dust Standard when reached by telephone on the eve of the anniversary. He credits the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program, enacted weeks after the Imperial Sugar explosion, for providing safeguards and helping ensure "the health and safety of workers."

Under the program, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can leverage 19 different standards. According to Carter, the Combustible Dust Standard's shelving does not weaken these safeguards. And he noted the inability of former President Barack Obama and his administration to enact the regulation in their eight years in office.

"It's difficult, complicated," Carter said. "What I want to see is what everybody wants: To not have any more accidents."

Still, Carter hedged when pressed on whether the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program standards go far enough.

Our answer is an emphatic no, even in this era of restricted federal government reach.

Deregulation is not an appropriate answer in every instance, particularly when it comes to safety. A Department of Labor official in 2010 bluntly summarized Imperial's negligence by saying the company "cut corners" on safety "to save money."

The refinery investigation revealed that an Imperial project engineer discovered approximately five inches of granulated sugar on the floor of the blast site just hours before the explosion. The engineer reported the findings to the plant's quality assurance manager. "I really don't have the people to clean this up," was the response, according to interview transcripts from the investigators.

Investigators reported more than 200 violations in the Imperial Sugar case, which also encompassed a facility in Louisiana. The company paid a $6 million fine at a time when it was generating nearly $850 million in revenue. Furthermore, Imperial officials never admitted fault, and the U.S. Attorney refused to bring criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence.

The victims, their families and this community bear the pain and the scars alone.

Granted, a Combustible Dust Standard far from guarantees protection from Imperial-like accidents. And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can issue steep, dust-related fines even without a formal regulation through the aforementioned Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program.

We as a community need to demand the federal government do more. Carter's focus is on ensuring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has "the authority they need to make sure the facilities are following the guidelines correctly."

In this instance, more is more. Let's push for the Combustible Dust Standard.

We owe it to yesterday's victims. And tomorrow's, too.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/

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