There are six candidates in the June 9 Republican Primary competing for the right to represent Georgia’s 50th Senate District. That seat is being vacated by John Wilkinson, who is running for U.S. Congress.
The winner of the Republican primary – possibly requiring a runoff election Aug. 11 if none get 50% – will face Democrat Dee Daley in the November election.
The race includes Habersham County residents Stacy Hall, Tricia Hise and Bo Hatchett, along with former Franklin Springs Mayor Lee Moore, former state representative Dan Gasaway of Banks County and former Northeast Georgia Police Academy director Andy Garrison of Jefferson.
Hall is a businessman and chairman of the Habersham County Commission. Hise and Hatchett are both Habersham County natives and local attorneys.
The candidates were asked what makes them the best choice for the position as Georgia Senator for the Midweek print edition of The Northeast Georgian. They also answered these three questions.
Their answers are presented here in alphabetical order.
1. What is the biggest issue facing Habersham County today that our next senator should take on in the legislature if elected?
2. What effects will COVID-19 have on state expenditures and what can be done to ensure that essential services or schools are not impacted too deeply by the revenue losses?
3. In what ways can our next senator support legislation that abides by the rural values of this district with the idea of sharing in potential post-COVID-19 growth coming from Atlanta?
1. The biggest issue we’ll be managing for some time are the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor is predicting we will need approximately $4 billion to balance next year’s State budget. These cuts have prompted every state agency to reduce its current budget numbers by 14%. Habersham, along with all the counties of our district, will feel this impact. Even though the state budget will have been established before I enter office, the maintenance of this budget and the preparation for future events will be top priority on my agenda. We will need to adjust our priorities and the way we approach programs and policies as we plan for our future.
I will support legislation that will strengthen our economy, secure our infrastructure, and prepare our state and our citizens for future events.
2. Our schools and businesses have taken a hard hit and I will be looking for new innovations to prevent another catastrophe. I will support legislation that will arm both our schools and small businesses to prepare for the future.
Broadband access will be a primary focus on our technology growth. Our schools will need to access more distance learning technologies to support their current mission. There are currently funds allocated, through the United States Department of Agriculture, to assist Habersham and surrounding counties to address the establishment of broadband.
As your next state senator and as an advocate for education, I will seek funding to bring better broadband service to our area.
I will also support innovative initiatives to address educating our children. One area is through career academies where businesses partner with our schools to prepare the students for a wide variety of career pathways to their future.
3. As your next state senator, I will support legislation like the Right to Farm Bill.
With my training, through the Georgia Academy for Economic Development, I will help develop and support local legislation that will manage growth areas for both businesses and residential.
Based on current surveys the 85/985 north growth corridor will be our first concern with residential housing following. Proactive legislation and zoning parameters need to be in place and established quickly. I will support our local governments through legislation to promote residential/industrial/commercial zones within their respective counties.
1. I have already served six years in the legislature. Every county in District 50 has different issues. The biggest issue in Habersham is the hospital situation and how to find a more equitable deal for Habersham County taxpayers. The biggest issue that will face the next state senator that will affect every county in the district will be the budget shortfalls created by the current economic contraction. How can we generate additional revenue to fill holes in the state budget without raising taxes. I believe we will be forced to make significant cuts to the amended year budget that will be passed in February 2021. I believe the next state senator will face significant pressure to raise taxes, which I have a record of resisting. Some in this race are making promises that will only be possible with significant tax increases. I will resist tax increases.
2. The current economic contraction is unprecedented. No one knows, at the point of this writing, how deep the economic damage will go. It would be dishonest for any candidate to say there will be no cuts to education. K-12 and higher education make up over half of the state budget and they will face significant cuts when the legislature goes back into session in mid June. I served from 2013-2018 during the end of the last recession and my wife is a public school teacher who faced furlough days and lost income. I have real experience and I will say, we are headed into another period of austerity cuts in education and the key to rapid economic recovery is to keep taxes low on citizens and businesses.
3. I believe one key to maintaining our rural lifestyle, as more urban growth moves our way, is to continue to support CUVA (Conservation Use Valuation Assessment). This is a state program where landowners receive a reduced ad valorem tax rate for their property if it is used for farming, forestry, or is environmentally sensitive land. Many legislators in more urban areas do not see the value in CUVA and the program is facing increasing pressure to be dissolved. I believe the post-COVID 19 economy will bring increasing pressure to raise taxes and increase revenue, on all legislators. I believe that reducing the CUVA program will be looked at as a way to get more tax money into the system. I believe all tax incentives will be evaluated and some need modification. The CUVA program, and farming in general, must be protected.
1. As state senator, I will use my 18 years of business experience to help get folks back to work quickly. I will passionately fight to help stabilize our rural hospitals and will unwaveringly support the Right to Farm Act. I’m also very concerned about the rise of frivolous lawsuits in Georgia that costs families thousands of dollars each year. According to the Institute for Legal Reform, Georgia families pay on average $3,631 per year more in goods and services due to these out of control lawsuits. Lawsuits in Georgia also increased car insurance rates 54% vs. national average of 22% between 2011-2017. In 2019, Georgia ranked 41st out of 50, with 50 the being the worst, for frivolous lawsuit claims per the Institute for Legal Reform.
2. As tax revenues are projected to be down across the board, the Georgia Office of Planning and Budget recently requested a 14% reduction in the initial 2021 budget draft. It’s widely expected that cuts will have to be made across the board. As specific cuts are debated, two areas that I would like to see the least amount of reductions include K-12 education and public safety. Instead of just focusing on cuts, I will work to get our businesses ramped up quickly to limit lost revenue. Many times government itself is a barrier to growth. I support cutting cumbersome regulations and bureaucratic red tape, hiring incentives, a renewed focus on vocational training, and looking for areas of government to privatize at a competitive cost savings.
3. Northeast Georgia values include common sense, hard work, personal responsibility, honesty, and love for our neighbors. We believe in the Bible and support our Constitution. We value our agricultural community and are thankful for the many businesses that employ our family members. As Atlanta moves north, local communities through smart, strategic planning can control where and how that growth occurs. Different communities have different expectations for growth. My role as a state senator is to work with local leaders throughout the district to help them achieve their objectives. One thing you can count on, I will always fight for our conservative values.
1. The biggest issue facing our county right now is getting folks back to work. It is my hope that this will be resolved in the very near future. As your state senator, I will work very hard to eliminate government red tape and create more jobs for people here in our area.
2. It is yet to be determined the full extent of the effect of COVID on state expenditures. Much of that will be determined when session reconvenes on June 11. There has been much discussion about where to cut and how much. I believe the General Assembly, under Republican leadership, has shown a commitment to ensuring our educators, students, and those who perform essential services are a top priority. It is my hope that if cuts are needed in these areas, they are minimal.
3. Ashley and I moved back home to Northeast Georgia because we wanted to raise our family here. The values we all share of being pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-family is what makes our community a unique place to live. As your senator, I will not let the wave of socialism coming out of Atlanta make its way into our district. I will work hard to create a pro-agribusiness and northeast Georgia friendly business climate so our young people can and will move back here after they are done with school.
1. The COVID-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of our lives, but the biggest issue is the direct impact upon our economy. Small businesses closed and some won’t reopen, our children were educated using remote learning, tourism came to a screeching halt, the prices at the sale barn plummeted, and food production dropped more than 50%. The answer to this crisis is to increase revenue. I am experienced and equipped to manage this crisis. My focus is our communities, tourism, education, small businesses, food production, and agriculture. I am working hard now and will continue to work to assist all sectors to be innovative and inventive in generating revenue. Right now, I am boots on the ground working with the Chamber, development members, small businesses, and our tourism sector. I will have a smooth transition as State Senator because of great working relationships under the Gold Dome and here at home.
2. Not only has COVID-19 affected the education of our children, it has also taken away the stability that some kids received only from their school families. Our first responders, teachers, rural hospitals are so vitally important to our health, safety, and education – they are my priority in fighting for their funding in Atlanta. Education takes up nearly 50% of the State’s annual budget. The bottom line is that revenue must dramatically increase in order to offset the cuts. Not only will I fight to cut the fat in the budget – and there is fat – but I’ll also fight hard to immediately increase revenues to stop the economic crisis. I will help build bridges between the state and local governments. I’ll work to streamline applications for funds and grants to help our hometown, fight to protect our schools and educate our children, and fight for our first responders and rural hospitals.
3. I was born and raised in Habersham. I came home after school because of my deep rooted Christian conservative values. I’ll continue to fight for our values under the Gold Dome, I’ll work with local governments to provide protections for our way of life, values, lands, agriculture, businesses, and smart selected growth. We don’t need Atlanta telling us how to live, how to spend our money, how to work, worship, play. I’ll continue to be the voice for our communities and to protect our number one industry – agriculture. I’ll continue to support tourism and agritourism, work alongside local Chambers of Commerce, and support locally designed smart strategic growth to capture revenue while preserving our rural living. Having grown-up in 4-H and FFA, I support the Farm Bill and am a fighter for our farmers, agriculture, agritourism, and ag education. I’m the experienced competent servant and I ask for your vote.
1. With decline in state revenue and significant budget cuts looming, the next state senator must ensure that Habersham County and other counties in District 50 do not give up our value system or way of life in order to balance the state budget. There are those in Atlanta who will use this opportunity to push socialism and other liberal policies in order to chip away at our conservative foundations. We need a leader in Atlanta that will be a strong advocate for us in the State Senate, and who isn’t afraid to stand toe-to-toe with the liberals to guard our personal liberty, defend our gun rights, preserve our Christian, conservative values and protect taxpayers from bigger government and higher taxes. As your state senator, I will always have Northeast Georgia on my mind, stand up for our conservative values and vote to put Senate District 50’s needs first.
2. COVID-19 took the wind out of the sails of the best economy we’ve ever seen, and as a state, difficult spending decisions are required in the next 12-24 months. My commitment to Senate District 50: I will not support balancing the budget on the backs of teachers, students and first responders. Georgia’s rainy-day fund is sizable. However, it will not be able to completely cover the budget deficit. Spending must be reduced. I believe taxpayer dollars should only be spent if it's constitutional; if it reduces the size and scope of government; and if it lessens, not raise the tax burden on Georgians. In good times, government becomes bloated, but that shouldn’t be the norm. Georgia has the opportunity for a fresh new start by reducing or eliminating big government spending on department budgets and prioritizing state spending on what is constitutional and necessary, such as education and essential services.
3. This is a delicate situation that requires a balance between protecting the health and safety of Georgians and respecting the rights and liberties of individuals and businesses. As state senator, I’ll work with the Governor, other members of the legislature and state health care officials to develop a robust testing program, provide medical professionals and hospitals sufficient personal protective and critical medical equipment, and the ability for the state to monitor conditions and mitigate any future outbreaks by applying protocols that will protect our fellow citizens. By developing, preparing and implementing these programs now ensures Georgia will not need a statewide one-sized-fit-all-approach. Instead, state leaders will be able to manage future outbreaks by focusing on targeted local hotspots without shutting down the entire state. Combating this or any virus should not come at the expense of our values, individual liberty and the right of a business to operate.