Dave Belton, a Republican Morgan County School Board member who spearheaded Caleb’s Law, which made texting while driving illegal for drivers under 18 in Georgia, is the third candidate to enter the race to replace outgoing State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle.
Belton, 49, is running for the 112th district house seat after Holt announced earlier this week he would not seek reelection in 2014 after a 10-year stint.
Belton said his run for state office is not for personal ambition. He said he believes he has the leadership qualities to garner consensus on issues important to Morgan and Newton counties.
"I’ve led men and women into war, and I’ve led 15-year-olds to lobby Georgia senators. I’ve flown half-billion-dollar airplanes and navigated hotly-debated bills through the Golden Dome. I’m the conservative candidate with the proven track-record of getting the job done," Belton said on his website, davebelton.com.
Belton said his top priority will be increasing "Jobs for Georgians," by making the state more business-friendly and ensuring that Georgia’s technical and vocational colleges are aligning programs with the jobs being created at industries such as Baxter International, on the Newton/Walton county border, and Caterpillar, in Athens.
"A lot of people think companies come in and (locals will) automatically get jobs, but that’s not the case. I hear from a lot of people expecting those companies to hire from Atlanta. I want our kids to be able to raise their kids here. We can do that, but we need to streamline our vocational and technical (programs) so that our kids are ready for those jobs when they come," Belton said in an interview Thursday.
He said he believes he can move the vocational education issues forward by helping to set priorities for education and bringing "all the parties together.
"I’m not a brilliant guy, but what I can do is bring people together by building bridges and finding common ground," Belton said.
Belton pointed to his success in getting Caleb’s Law passed and signed into law. Morgan County teenager Caleb Sorohan died in a 2009 accident while texting and driving, and Belton worked with Sorohan’s family – including sister Alex Sorohan, who has promoted not texting while driving around the nation – to campaign to make texting while driving illegal for anyone under 18.
Belton and a group of Morgan County sophomores lobbied hard at the state capitol, and House Bill 23 was passed overwhelmingly in the house and passed without a single "nay" vote in the senate in 2010. A companion bill signed into law in the same year made texting while driving illegal for a driver of any age.
"I was at the capitol just about every day of session lobbying with state legislators and senators," said Belton, noting a similar bill had failed in the senate the year before. "The reason it passed the second time around was because of those kids."
Belton has been an international pilot with Delta Airlines since 1998, flying the 300-passenger Airbus 300 across the world, including to Africa, South America, Europe and Asia.
Belton said he’s learned about other cultures and has seen how different countries handle educational issues. He said while in China, he would see children returning home in their school uniforms at 8 p.m. He asked the reason, and locals explained that children went to school until around 3 p.m., took an hour break and then went to private tutoring from 4-8 p.m.
"We, as a country need to step up our games, educationally. We need to expect more of our kids. India is the same way. There’s a lot of horrible poverty there, but there are 1.1 billion people and there are a lot of smart and educated people who will take our wealth and our piece of the pie if we’re not stepping up our game," Belton said.
Prior to working for Delta Airlines, Belton served 23 years in the military for the Navy and Air Force Reserves.
He flew missions in five different wars and conflicts, including the Lebanese and Liberian civil wars, the Persian Gulf War, Operation Provide Comfort and the Bosnian conflict. While he was actively involved in combat, Belton mainly flew helicopters for combat support.
His most dangerous mission was a helicopter flight into northern Iraq during Operation Provide Comfort near the end of the Gulf War, He helped to set up a Marine base near the Syrian border to defend and aid Kurds from Iraqis.
He also flew a mission transporting then-Secretary of State James Baker into a hidden base in Turkey during the Gulf War and flew as air cover for President George H.W. Bush over foreign soil.
Belton served in the Navy for nine years and then joined the Air Force Reserves, eventually being assigned to Robins Air Force base in Warner Robins. In 1994, he was named instructor of the year for the Air Force.
Belton is also an author, writing the Divine Masquerade book series, including "The Gods Among Us," under the name D.C. Belton.
Belton attended the University of Oklahoma on an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Belton is finishing a second term on the Morgan County Board of Education; his term will end in 2014.
Belton said he originally ran for school board because people asked him to run. A group of parents was upset with a situation at the county’s high school and went to the school board, and while the school board eventually listened to the parents, Belton and others felt they were treated poorly.
Prior to his run, Belton was very involved with activities at the county’s elementary, middle and high schools, including being involved in parent teacher organizations, band boosters and other groups. He said the system has been successful – including having the 13th best high school graduation rates in the state and the highest elementary school College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) score of any county in Georgia – despite cutting the budget each of the past four years. Belton said the school system has lowered its cost per student from $9,047 to $7,941.
"I’m very proud of our teachers and all they accomplish ... They have really stepped to the plate," Belton said.
Belton has written several education opinion pieces for area newspapers and the
He is also vice chair of the Morgan County Republican Party and is a member of the Coverdell Leadership Institute, a conservative group that trains Republican leaders in Georgia.
Belton and his wife of 25 years, Theresa, have three children, including daughters Daniela, 22, a University of Georgia graduate, and Caitlin, 20, who attends Georgia, and son David, 9.
To contact Belton, email him at email@example.com or tweet him @davebelton112 or visit www.davebelton.com.