Swainsboro attorney Kathy S. Palmer capped her almost 20-year tenure as a Superior Court judge in Georgia’s Middle Judicial Circuit the morning of April 13 to qualify as a candidate for state Senate in District 4.
Palmer had been the chief judge in the circuit, which has two Superior Court judges, for the last 12 of those years. She planned to retire at the end of this year anyway. But to become a candidate in the June 9 special election to fill the final, unexpired term of the late Sen. Jack Hill, Palmer moved her retirement up by eight months.
Phoned the next day, she explained that she had submitted her resignation from the judiciary because laws prohibit serving in two branches of the government at the same time. That same day in Atlanta she signed up and paid the special election qualifying fee.
“I wasn’t retiring as in going home to rock in the rocking chair,” Palmer said. “I was retiring to do other, different things, and so this fits perfectly into my plan of action.”
She always wanted to run for the Legislature, but the opportunity never arose before at times when she was ready to do that, she said.
“It has been a lifelong dream of mine to throw my hat into the ring, so to speak,” Palmer told the Statesboro Herald. “So I’m ready to go, and I’m all-in as a Republican. I’ve spent 20 years being a very law-abiding nonpartisan judge, meaning don’t dabble in politics, judges just are not allowed, we have to be nonpartisan, but I retired from that yesterday.”
The other three Republican candidates are family-practice physician Dr. Scott Bohlke and certified public accountant Billy Hickman, both of Bulloch County, and Gulf War era veteran Neil Singleton of Tattnall County. Soon-to-graduate law school student Stephen Jared Sammons who, like Palmer, hails from Emanuel County, identifies as an independent candidate.
Law and 4-H leader
Palmer, now 68, grew up on a farm in Johnson County. She attended the University of Georgia, first getting a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences. She said she was the first student from that major, once known as home economics, ever admitted to the University of Georgia School of Law, where she received her law degree in 1979.
Her first job as an attorney was in the state’s executive branch, working for the Prosecuting Attorneys Council. Then she served as an assistant solicitor, a prosecutor, in DeKalb County for a while.
She and her husband, Danny Palmer, also originally from Johnson County, moved to Swainsboro in 1987. They have now been married 48 years and have two adult sons and two grandsons. She was an attorney in private practice in Swainsboro from June 1, 1987, until she ran for the judgeship in 2000 and took office Jan. 1, 2001.
Palmer eventually served a four-year rotation through the top offices, including president, of the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia. Before that, she served as the administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial Administrative District.
While administrative judge, she became a member of the Judicial Council of Georgia, which sets policies for courts throughout the state.
But Palmer indicated that she is just as proud of being “a lifetime Georgia 4-H’er.” She served on the Georgia 4-H Foundation for a number of years, becoming its chairperson.
“One of the things that I am most proud of is I have been a strong supporter of agriculture my entire life – agriculture and 4-H and family and consumer sciences,” Palmer said.
Issues for 2021
In the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Georgia General Assembly is widely expected to adopt a reduced budget when the 2020 session reconvenes. Palmer said she thinks “the economy is going to come back robustly” but that further budget cuts to adapt to a revenue shortfall will likely dominate the 2021 session.
“I’ve followed budgets with the Legislature since my very first legal job,” she said. “I’ve watched those, I’ve anguished over those, I’ve lobbied for money here, there and yonder. I’m not new to the legislative process. I’ve been doing it my entire legal career.”
Additionally, after the 2020 Census, the Legislature will be dealing with reapportionment of its own districts. Rural southern Georgia could lose a Senate district to metro Atlanta, with District 4 likely to expand geographically, she observed.
She called Hill “passionately devoted to representing the interests of the district” and “a genuine person” always.
“I’m not trying to fill his shoes,” Palmer said. “They can’t be filled. But I’m not going to embarrass the voters of Senate District 4. If they send me to Atlanta, I will represent them competently.”
A profile of candidate Neil Singleton will appear in Thursday’s edition.