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Posted: July 19, 2010 1:00 p.m.

District 95 candidates answer questions at forum

Candidates for the District 95 state representative seat answered Newton County-based questions at Tuesday night's Newton County Voter's League political forum.

The candidates were asked a series of questions by a group of panelists and the audience. The questions and each candidate's responses are listed below. All three challengers attended the forum, but Democratic incumbent Toney Collins was not present.

Question: What will you do to increase recreation and wellness programs?
Republican Rodney Upton, from Rockdale County, said he would like to see steps taken in both areas, but he will ensure the state stays within its budget. He said local and state budgets must be balanced.

Democrat Andrea "Andre" Cooper, from Newton County, talked about his continuing efforts to bring a Boys and Girls Club to the county, as well as his work to reduce gang activity. He said he would also like to see more health clinics and more preventative care.

Democrat Pam Dickerson said she would like to see more wellness programs and would like to partner with senior centers in her district. She said she would also like to see more parks and more summer programs in the existing parks.

Question: Should the state support the efforts to reevaluate the federal immigration policy?
Upton said he would like to see an immigration policy that says illegals can’t be here. He said he has two sisters-in-law who have emigrated to the U.S. and become legal citizens and they support legal immigration. He said illegal immigration puts a huge burden on infrastructure. He said Georgia knows what’s best for Georgia and may want to pursue its own policy.

Cooper said he wants the state to create an opportunity for these immigrants to become legal, because he believes that would boost the tax base.

Dickerson said the state should push the federal government to further the laws, because local citizens are the ones who have to pay for the needs of the illegal immigrants. She said corporations that hire illegals should have to pay the state to cover those people’s associated costs.

Question: How would you address the inequities in transportation funding?
Dickerson said she would work with all of local representatives in her district to use effectively the transportation special local option sales tax bill, H.B. 277, to fund local projects.

Cooper said he also supported the statewide transportation plan and said he would push for that money to fix areas like Salem Road and other problem intersections. He said he also supported a light rail system.

Upton said he believed the state should be divided up by regions and taxed locally to maintain and expand local transportation infrastructure. This is what H.B. 277 does. However, he said the main issue is what local governments can really afford and are willing to pay.

Question: How would you involve people in the legislature?
Dickerson said she would hold town hall meetings in all three counties in her district, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale. She said she would inform constituents of legislation before its passed and plans to have a website. Residents could also call and e-mail her.

Cooper said he would do his best to stay visible in the community and would continue to attend local meetings. Both he and Dickerson said they want to be accountable and accessible.

Upton said he is using social media like Facebook and Twitter to connect to his constituents. He said he spent most of Tuesday out meeting people, looking them in the eye and hearing their concerns.

Question: Would you support the Grady Health System?

Dickerson said Grady has been great for the state and she would like to see more counties financially support the hospital, not just DeKalb and Fulton.

Cooper said he also supported Grady.

Upton said if any money is going to be spent it should be spent on Newton and Rockdale medical centers.

Question: Newton County Commissioner Nancy Schulz asked if the candidates would be committed to the Leadership Collaborative and the 2050 Build Out Plan.

Upton said he was unfamiliar with the Leadership Collaborative, because he was predominantly involved in Rockdale County. However, he said if it’s important to Newton's citizens he will get involved.

Cooper said he would continue to support the efforts of the Leadership Collaborative.

Dickerson said she started reading the 2050 plan after getting a copy from Chairman Kathy Morgan, and she would like to become more engaged in Newton’s plans.

Question: Oxford resident Jim Burkholder asked how candidates proposed to fund new roads, recreation projects and other new projects.

Upton said no new projects should be started if the state or counties can’t afford them. He said he was married young and has six kids, so he’s had hard times and experienced living on a tight budget.

Dickerson said as far as transportation goes, H.B. 277, puts a transportation SPLOST in place. She said she would look for creative ways to fund projects.

Cooper said with the economy being down he would not be in favor of pulling money away from the taxpayers.

Question: Oaks Golf Course Owner Dick Schulz asked if the candidates had a game plan for economic development.
Upton said the state should lower taxes for industry, even if temporarily, to give them incentive to move into an areas and immediately employ people. He said Newton and Rockdale have a lot of local industrial areas and lowering taxes could be a benefit.

Dickerson said the counties should allow access of funds to small businesses.

Cooper said he would work with local governments to stabilize the tax base.

Question: The Covington News reporter Gabriel Khouli asked how the candidates had prepared for their potential role as state representatives.
Upton said he had spoken with as many politicians as possible and had met with several local officials to ask them what the constituency wanted. He’s also been speaking to constituents directly.

Cooper said he had spoken to local and state officials and had attended meeting throughout the district. He said he tried to stay involved.

Dickerson said she recently finished the Leadership Rockdale program and has always been interested in politics. She said she is looking forward to being a public servant.

Question: Resident Dr. Lois Upham asked about candidates’ vision for the future.
Upton said he visited one street and met five people seeking employment. His vision is to put incentives in place to put people back to work. Education, the environment and infrastructure all suffer if people are not put to work, he said.

Dickerson said she would push for education without furloughing teachers, because the children are the future. She said she would carefully study the state budget to allocate more money to education and smaller classroom sizes.

Cooper said he would also support education, not furloughing teachers and smaller classroom sizes as well.

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