Georgia House District 1
If elected, what do you see as the most important issue facing District 1 that can be addressed by the Georgia House of Representatives, and what is your plan to see that it is addressed?
Tom McMahan: “We have two-thirds of our school systems in the state operating at a reduced year. Some of them are operating at as few as 120 days a year versus the standard 180 days. As an educator and as a Georgian, this is a huge embarrassment. It sends the wrong signal to businesses looking to move into our state, and it cheats out hundreds of thousands of students in this state of the education we deserve. As a state I believe we need to change course, not just with education, but in transportation, mental health and so many other areas. We’re not go-ing to furlough our way into being a first-class state again.
“Returning all of our school systems to the 180-day year should be job one of the state house. Toward that end, I propose that the state suspend all corporate subsidies currently being paid out, subsidies that run into the hun-dreds of millions of dollars each year. I also support the state actually taking its responsibility seriously to fund our schools according to the Quality Basic Education law. Those are mandated by law and it’s something that hasn’t happened for years now while our school systems’ budgets have been left billions of dollars short of where they should be. We can’t recover all that funding in one year’s time. But the process needs to begin now so we can stop cheating students of their rightful education.
“I also want to bring up something that’s specific to District 1, and that is the issue of representation itself. Geor-gia has a 40-day legislation session, but what happens the rest of the year, or what’s supposed to happen, I think is just as important as what goes on then. And that is me being your connection to your state government...A represen-tative is someone who will actually return those phone calls, hear your complaints and take the necessary steps to connect you with the person ready to see your need. They show up to your city council meetings, to your school board meetings, visit your county commissioners and sheriff in person, and not expect them to come to me. That is the part of the District 1 representative that’s been sorely missing over the past eight years...Our district has been left hanging, essentially voiceless.
“There’s too much corruption as far as the kickbacks and that sort of thing that’s going on in the state. Georgia’s been rated the most corrupt state in the country by an outside group as far as that goes...I support the $100 limit on lobbyists’ gifts to representatives. I hope that passes; I’ll definitely be voting for it in the new year. There are lots of ways that we can save money and we need to take a long look at our sales tax and income tax structure. Right now it’s causing lower-income people to spend too much of their money. We need to work toward a flatter, fairer tax structure that will fund our programs better, but also be more fair than the current one.”
John Deffenbaugh: “I feel that there are basically two main issues that are affecting us and all of Geor-gia, but it certainly does pertain to us directly. The first one is the budget. I don’t disagree with anything that Tom said about the representation...I think either one of us, Tom or myself, has devoted ourselves to that change so that won’t occur again. But with the budget, the budget shortfall right now is three to five percent. When we first get down there the first of January, we’re going to have to work on adjusting the budget. Now, as freshmen, we’re going to have minimal effect, but we can have an effect. We can encourage certain things to be accomplished. The three to five percent is going to come out of discretionary spending. It’s not going to come out of some lump sum. We’re going to have to switch directions, change where we’re spending money, and how much we’re spending. And so we’re go-ing to have to have someone who’s capable of looking at that and saying, okay, this is where we need to make those changes. This is where we need to cut, this is where we need to add to, this is where we need to adjust because we have a constitutional, a Georgia constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget.
“And so doing that, we have to build relationships with the different representatives down there. I can’t function on my own, I can’t function with knowing one or two of them, I need to know a lot of them. And that’s one of my spe-cialties: I’ve been in sales for the last 40 years. I know how to deal with people. I can get what is necessary by learn-ing what they want and what they need and we can work together. That’s one of my attributes is that I can work to-gether with a lot of different people doing a lot of different things to get the goals that we want.
“I do believe that having a relationship with you as a representative and with the other representatives down there as being a crucial, crucial part of making government work for all of us...We can change a lot of things. Better distribution of taxes. Better use of tax money, by all means.”
Walker County sheriff
What do you feel is the most difficult public safety issue facing Walker County, and how do you plan to address it?
Steve Wilson: “I feel that the theft and burglary of scrap metal is one of our most difficult problems that we’re facing now in northwest Georgia, particularly in Walker County...In 2007, the problem of scrap metal theft be-gan to rise due to the unprecedented increases in commodity prices...Over the past twelve months the sheriff’s of-fice has investigated more than 70-plus cases of metal theft including copper, aluminum, scrap metal, ferrous and non-ferrous metals. In addition, we’ve investigated many, many cases of jewelry thefts that we know are taken im-mediately to the scrap gold dealers and are melted down.
“As a law enforcement agency, how do we address this crime?...I commend our legislatures for passing House Bill 872, which went into effect July 1. This law, called the Metal Theft Bill, gives law enforcement more resources in the prevention and in the investigative area of metal thefts. How do we reduce metal thefts in Walker County? First of all, with education and training for secondary metal recyclers. With education for our citizens throughout the community with presentations at civic clubs, Chamber events, churches and other group settings. And with edu-cations to our citizens in their homes by putting out information, because as all of you know I say every week on Sheriff’s Talk, you are our eyes and ears, and we cannot do it without your help.”
Tim Westbrook: “I feel like a lot of this has stemmed from our methamphetamine and drug abuse that’s going on in our community, and by far I feel like these are our two most devastating problems. And it’s going to be up to us as citizens to take it upon ourselves to work with the sheriff’s department and have an open door policy where we can communicate and get into the sheriff’s office at will and identify these problems. And as your sheriff I would pledge to put forth every conceivable measure and badger whatever bureaucracies, whatever executive bod-ies I must to raise funds for Walker County to rid ourselves of these plagues. When the state has budget problems, citizens should step up and utilize maybe some of their own voluntary monies to every extent possible to purchase the equipment and hire the personnel to fight the war on drugs and drunk driving.
“As your sheriff, I would try, and one of the sources I see that’s available to us is the Georgia Police Accredita-tion Coalition. It’s been around since 1984, and from what I can study and learn about this, it will get us a lot of help to get our department certified and it would be a wealth of information as far as how to manage and different ways to work with the community that have been proven. A lot of money has been spent in studies and research for this organization. There’s a lot there that’s available to us that I believe hasn’t been utilized until this point.”
Walker County commissioner
What do you feel is the most significant issue facing Walker County, and what specifically will you do to improve this issue?
Ales Campbell: “I believe there are many issues facing Walker County right now. Politically, there are issues. There are issues financially. There are issues with the people of Walker County. In 2008 we began to see people losing their homes, people losing their jobs, plants closing and moving away, a downturn in our county...The last four years, we’ve seen that improve drastically, but it’s not the place where it was prior to 2008 and early 2009. And I also feel with the last round of quantitative easings that are coming from the federal reserve, we’re not over this yet. So to me that brings the biggest struggle I see in Walker County right now is our lack of funding, our lack of finances. I know in the last commissioner’s meeting I attended, where the millage rate was signed in, although we didn’t have a budget at that time, we’re automatically looking at a shortfall of over $203,000 from the very beginning, and I believe it’s going to be more than that. But when I look around me and I see the things that are being done in our county, I don’t see a lot of belt-crunching. I don’t see a lot of things happening to diminish our spending. And I see a lot of spending going on. I see a lot of people that are upset about fines that we’re receiving from EPD for various projects – two projects in particular: the Rock Creek Durham trail and the Villanow water project, we re-ceived a fine for that for not having correct permits.
“I do see some areas where we can save money. I see a lot of our county workers with take-home vehicles that are not on call and I’m wondering, why do they have a county vehicle? Why are they taking their children to school in a county vehicle and going through McDonald’s and why are they using the county fuel to do things like that?
“I don’t see our basic services being the best they can be. I don’t see our roads being the best they can be. I see our SPLOST dollars being used for projects instead of paving roads. I see purchases, I see renovations, I see options to buy, instead of those things that I believe should be basic services for the people. I believe our roads could be better. I believe our basic services could be better. That’s what I would like to work on. I don’t want to raise taxes to do that. The first thing that I would like to do is look inside all of our departments, go and meet all of the people that work in those departments, spend time with them, get to know them. I’m a people person. I enjoy people...I would like to serve the people. I would like to see some changes in our county. I would like to see people have the option to vote on a five-person board. I would like the see us have the opportunity to have advisory boards – volun-tary, community advisory boards, not paid positions.”
Bebe Heiskell: “In my opinion the most critical issue facing Walker County is our economic viability. For the last three years, or more than the last three years, we’ve seen our national economy suffer the worst downturn since the Great Depression. And that’s not the fault of Walker County, but we have suffered the consequences. I know many citizens are suffering from the loss of their jobs, unemployment or underemployment. They can’t pay more taxes. Holding the line on taxes is critical to them and it’s also critical to bringing new business to Walker County.
“At 4.8 mils, Walker County’s property tax rate is the second lowest for the operation of county government in the state of Georgia. We couldn’t possibly do that if we were blowing money. But at any rate, this county has the highest level of services now that we have ever had, and this is an indication that we’re properly administering our tax dollars where they’re working for you and for our businesses as well. Jobs are our number-one focus, and Walker County has been successful in either bringing in new jobs or saving jobs from going to other counties or states...We have consolidated and internalized many of our services in order to save money, and we have saved mil-lions of dollars. We have been very successful in a very difficult economy. In conclusion, our plan is to keep taxes low, provide new jobs, and provide the very best services available for the citizens of Walker County.
“Yes, we do have problems in Walker County. We do have problems in our roads. Those problems are created by the fact that the state has stopped providing us with the amount of tax dollars that we used to get in order to pave our roads. We levy millage to maintain our roads, and that is to patch them, to ditch, to mow and to build shoulders, but the money for paving has come from the state, and that money has dwindled.
“I do not believe that when you invest in an option on a piece of property that’s a five hundred-acre piece of property or close to it, and it’s the only piece of property that’s industrial in the southeast that’s that large and it has every amenity that you need to automatically make it into an industrial park, that that’s a waste of money.”