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5 gubernatorial candidates speak here

Finding common ground during a political campaign is often difficult. But on the deck of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday afternoon, five candidates for governor of Georgia found common ground—water.

The forum, sponsored by South Georgia Businesses for Economic Development, drew a crowd of about 100 to hear from Democratic candidates Roy Barnes and DuBose Porter and Republican candidates John Oxendine, Eric Johnson and Karen Handel, who was represented by her husband, Steve.

Speaking with a backdrop of the Flint River, each candidate talked about issues facing Georgia and their solutions. Among the issues most mentioned was the water issues now being discussed between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Eric Johnson, president pro-tem of the State Senate from Savannah, admitted that Atlanta is the economic hub of the state and is very important to the state’s overall health. However, Johnson believes that Atlanta’s water need should not negatively affect any other community downstream.

“We have the Savannah River running through Chatham County and Atlanta has been eyeing it just like they have been eyeing the Flint. Atlanta is the economic heartbeat of this state, and we have to care about it. No candidate for governor ought to run against Atlanta, they are important, but so are you,” Johnson said.

Johnson continued “This river will stay the way it is, whatever solution is worked out, this river will not be dammed anywhere along the river where it is not dammed now.”

Current state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said the state must create jobs and work as one to be successful.

“We are one state, Georgia will either succeed together or fail together. It wrong to start regionalizing, saying Atlanta versus rural Georgia or rural Georgia versus Atlanta,” said Oxendine.

State-constructed reservoirs in north Georgia would go a long way to solving the water issue, according to Oxendine.

“The state of Georgia needs to get off its backside and build state-owned reservoirs in northern part of the state to capture rainwater. And we don’t need to be doing interbasin transfers, taking water from one river basin to another. I call that stealing. I will not let one drop of water to be taken from a river that will negatively affect anyone in Georgia,” Oxendine continued.

Making state governmental agencies more accessible to the public is another promise if Oxendine becomes governor. Pointing to the fact that the Department of Insurance is open until 7 p.m., Oxendine said all state agencies will extend office hours until 7 p.m. to better serve the public under his administration.

DuBose Porter, the State House Minority Leader from Dublin, cited three areas of need to jump-start the economy.

Porter, who helped introduce the Hope Scholarship to the state, said education and job training was most important to attracting new industry to the state.

“To bring the kind of industry we want to bring, we’ve got to get back to funding K-12 education to a level that works. Keep the small class rooms and give teachers the opportunity to produce the miracles they can produce if given the chance,” said Porter.

Porter also listed water and transportation as key areas to be improved to enhance economic growth in the state.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes also had a three-item list vital to economic development in rural Georgia. Value-added agriculture, tourism and a higher skilled workforce are all needed for economic growth in rural Georgia.

During his previous administration as governor, Barnes established the One Georgia Authority, taking 40 percent of the tobacco settlement money to invest in small business and enhanced agriculture in rural Georgia.

“If we can give money to Kia or any other automobile manufacturer to come to this state, then we ought to be able to give money and help and assist rural parts of Georgia to bring agricultural products and processes,” Barnes said.

The funding cuts to technical and community colleges have crippled the state’s economic development be reduced the field of highly skilled workers, according to Barnes.

Eco-tourism that encourages utilizing our environment is the No. 1 thing that can help rural Georgia succeed, Barnes said, citing the abundant natural resources in South Georgia.

Steve Handel, representing his wife, Karen, current Secretary of State for Georgia, said her past professional experience and accomplishments have readied her for the job as governor.

“As chairman of the Fulton County Commission, Karen stopped a huge tax increase and closed a $100 million budget gap with targeted reductions and smart program priorities. She also passed the strongest ethics laws of any county in the state,” said Steve Handel.

Relative to the water situation, Handel believes that the needs of each area of the state needs to be considered and no communities should be sacrificed for the needs of another community.