Speeches by gubernatorial candidates Dubose Porter and David Poythress highlighted the Newton County Democratic Party's first ever banquet on Saturday.
Local party members attended the banquet, which included updates from elected officials, a powerful keynote speech from U.S. Rep. Tyrone Brooks, dinner, entertainment and short speeches by 2010 statewide candidates. First Vice Chair Andre Cooper said the party raised around $4,000 from the event.
"It was an excellent event. Everyone was excited about the opportunity to meet the candidates and talk with them. We're planning to have more events in the future," said Cooper, who is hoping to bring the other gubernatorial candidates, Roy Barnes and Thurbert Baker, to Newton County next spring.
Although the most recent polls show Barnes as the clear frontrunner with Baker solidly in second, both Poythress and Porter said they are confident they will gain more support over the next year.
"Right now it's just raw name recognition," Poythress said. "Our pollsters are telling us don't bother polling right now ... change will come as the race comes into focus."
Porter said while Barnes has the biggest name in the race, he also has the most unpopular name. Porter, who is a state representative, said as the race develops he believes the support of other House members will help him.
Poythress, who touted his experience a former Secretary of State, Labor Commissioner and Adjutant General, said his main priority is reforming education.
"It all comes down to this. All of the other candidates want to spend more money to do more of the same. We need fundamental change," Poythress said. "We had it right 15 years ago. We need our kids to be globally competitive. This campaign comes down to educational policy and government leadership."
In an interview after his speech, Poythress said that Barnes continues to be stuck in the past.
"Roy Barnes was stuck where he was two years ago: basically teachers are the problems, and if we continue to beat them up that will fix it," he said. "We had it right when we voted in the lottery. There were three components to that. The scholarship and pre-k components have done well. But the third is educational software in the school system. This was a great idea that was 10 years ahead of its time.
"Now we have a new generation of teachers, students and software. If we refuse to recognize these changes we will miss the boat."
Education was also a focus for Porter, who said education needs to be improved at the early grade levels and that joint high school-college enrollment needs to be promoted. He said studies show that increasing third grade scores, improve chances for success later in life.
However, with the budget as tight as it is, Porter said the state first needs to improve its revenue stream by collecting a higher percentage of sales tax. He said the state should change to a system where local governments collect sales tax instead of the state.
"That's my issue. They keep saying this is not a problem, but there is over $1 billion in uncollected sales taxes every year," Porter said, adding that his efforts in the house have been blocked by Republicans.
He said the state also needs to developer a better partnership with local governments in areas like economic development, education, water and transportation.
Brooks was the keynote speaker, and he said the Democratic Party was buoyed by Obama's election, but in order to sustain their success they need to get people registered to vote.
"That is fundamental to our survival. Across this state there are more than 500,000 unregistered Democrats. We need to register more people, which will get us more votes, and we will take back the house and governor's office," Brooks said. "These unregisterd votes live on our streets. We have to make this a priority. You have to be a one-man army. Tell your relatives if they want to stay in the family, register."
He said people need to understand that local politics has much more of an effect on their daily lives than the policies determined at the state and federal levels.
Brooks also said the health care reform bill needs to be passed, which received raucous applause from the assembled crowd.
"We can't afford not to pass health care in 2009. If we don't, we'll give back the government to the Republicans, in the same way as the New Deal, when we lost Congress to Newt Gingrich," Brooks said. "If we don't pass health care, we will be saying (Obama) was the first black president."