State House candidates visit

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2012

HOPING TO REPRESENT US: Shown at Monday’s forum are: left to right, District 171 incumbent Jay Powell (R-Camilla), District 171 challenger Jewell Howard (D-Baconton), District 173 incumbent Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) and District 173 challenger Haley Shank (D-Thomasville). The $16 trillion banner is the approximate national debt.|Justin Schuver

Four Georgia House of Representatives candidates visited Bainbridge on Monday night to participate in a question-and-answer forum sponsored by the local Bainbridge Tea Party Group.

Because of redistricting, Decatur County voters will be split into two new districts in 2013. District 171 will include most of the northern half of Decatur County, and District 173 will include most of the southern half of the county. Decatur County is currently represented by District 172 State Rep. Gene Maddox, a Republican. That district is shifting to another part of the state, and Maddox is not running again this year.

Those in attendance Monday included District 171 incumbent State Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and his opponent, Jewell Howard (D-Baconton); and District 173 incumbent Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) and her opponent, Haley Shank (D-Thomasville).

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Several of the candidates publicly voiced their opinion on some other issues on the November ballot.

Shank said she is opposed to Amendment 1, which would give the state legislature the right to create special charter schools, if the referendum approved by the voters in November.

“I do not think we should allow a third party to supersede the local control of our schools,” she said. “I think it should be handled on the state and local level.”

Taylor said she was opposed to the recent T-SPLOST, a regionally-based one-cent tax that would have gone toward transportation projects. Only three of Georgia’s 12 regions voted to approve the tax.

“We need roads, but a tax increase was not something that was needed in our current economy,” she said.

Forum moderator Sheila Lane asked each of the candidates several questions during the forum, including some that were directed toward specific candidates. Other questions were more general in nature.

Lane asked each of the candidates about their opinions on grant programs that dole out federal tax dollars to agencies. She pointed out that those agencies often call it “free money,” even though it comes from taxpayers nation-wide.

“There certainly is nothing that is free,” Powell said. “However, I don’t think that you can paint all grants in a negative light. For example, in Georgia, we make many grants competitive and make sure that the tax dollars go to the group that will give you ‘the biggest bang for your buck.’

“A lot of times, I think that’s better than just giving out money to every agency.”

Powell also pointed out that Georgia’s grant programs are fully funded, and do not require the state to borrow any money.

Each of the candidates was asked if they would consider voting to appeal the legislation that led to the T-SPLOST referendum, and all four said they would.

“I would vote to repeal it,” Howard said. “However, I would make sure that the three regions who did pass the tax aren’t negatively impacted by any repeal. We have to be sure that everyone in the state would be on the same page.”

All the candidates also said they approve of Georgia’s “zero-based” budgeting. Under zero-based budgeting, agencies are not necessarily entitled to the same budget they received the year before. Instead, they start at “zero” and must argue why they are entitled to any funding.

“I expect every agency to ‘defend their life’ and show that they’re making good use of taxpayers’ money,” Taylor said.

After the planned questions, audience members were also allowed to ask questions of the candidates. Ted Snell asked if the candidates would consider legalized gambling as a solution to Georgia’s economic woes.

“I would look long and hard at anything like that,” Powell said. “If it brings in additional crime, or other negatives that we don’t want, then I’d vote against it. I don’t care how much money it might bring into the state.”