State Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) defended the Georgia General Assembly’s performance over the last two years and blamed the recent state’s legislative woes on bad relations between the Senate and the House of Representatives.
"The senior leadership in the House and Senate probably need to work on getting along a little better," Douglas said. "I think that in the next session we need to concentrate on the economy."
Douglas’ remarks came during Thursday evening’s Candidates’ Forum, held at Turner Lake Complex and sponsored by The Covington News, The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce and the Newton County Farm Bureau.
Douglas’s opponent, Democrat Rudy Cox, a college professor who is challenging him for the State Senate District 17 seat, said his background in education would serve him well in the Senate. As an educator, Cox said he has learned to put disagreements with coworkers aside in order to collaborate on bigger picture issues.
"I have had to agree to disagree. However, something can always be worked out for the good of the community," Cox said.
Asked what the three largest issues facing the state are, Cox responded, "The economy, the economy and the economy. If we can get the economy turned around, then everything else will turn around."
Douglas named transportation, education and the economy as the state’s most pressing issues. He said he would support legislation allowing communities to levy their own Local Option Sales Tax to raise funding for local road projects. Douglas, who previously served on the Board of Education in Newton County, said he thinks there needs to be more "local control" over education. He also spoke against raising taxes.
"You can’t tax yourself out of a recession. The way that you get out of a recession is you provide more money back to the people that earn it so they can go buy consumer goods, which creates jobs, which gets us out of a recession," he said.
Only one of the two candidates running for the Georgia House’s District 95 seat spoke at the forum. Democratic candidate Toney Collins reportedly briefly dropped by the forum but did not speak, leaving his opponent Republican Erick Hunt to address the audience alone.
"The lifestyle and qualities that we enjoy in the 95th District are worth protecting," said Hunt, who has a background in the corporate marketing sector. "We realize that what we have here is a gem."
Hunt said he sees the state’s three priority issues as being education, transportation and law enforcement.
"We have resources in our young people that are just disappearing. We have a 30 percent drop-out rate," Hunt said. "If we don’t deal with our young people …when they are being educated, where are they going to end up? The criminal justice system?"
Hunt said he would encourage more regional bus services such as the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress bus service. He also said he would work to ensure that all existing state laws dealing with illegal immigration are enforced.
Board of Education
Charging that the Newton County Board of Education is suffering from a lack of leadership, Democratic challenger Eddie Johnson criticized his opponent District 2 board member Rickie Corley for not doing enough to bring up student test scores and graduation rates.
"We can not afford four more years of failed leadership and erosion of public confidence in Newton County," Johnson said. "We have too many students failing promotional requirements. Half of our students failed AYP results. We need a fundamental change in our educational process."
Corley defended the work of the BOE in running the county’s public school system saying, "Our schools are great schools." He agreed that the "school system is not where we want it to be" and said he wants to see more parental involvement and personal responsibility over the quality of their children’s education.
"Education is a work in progress. It is a journey, not a destination," Corley said. "My goal is to provide the best education possible for the young people of this county, one that will allow each of them to reach their full potential."
He also attributed the school system’s mediocre test results to No Child Left Behind, which he said has set unrealistic testing standards.
"They expect all children to perform at the same level, and that’s not going to happen, Corley said.
Johnson said he did not think the BOE has done much to encourage parental involvement, noting that very few parents attend the board’s bi-monthly meetings.
"We do not have parental support in the Newton County School System. Just go to the board meetings and see how many parents show up," said Johnson, who is a bus driver for NCSS. "We’ve got to change the leadership. Leadership is the foundation of this whole foundation."
Nicholas Day, the Democratic candidate for tax commissioner, frankly admitted that the reason he decided to run was because he wanted to see all school property taxes eliminated for senior citizens, even though the tax commissioner does not have the authority to put a tax referendum on the ballot. That authority lies with the Board of Commissioners.
"I know that’s not the job of the tax commissioner, but that is the job of the individual that wants to say and that needs to be done," Day said. "I’m not there to blindly take your money and look away."
Day noted that DeKalkb, Fulton and Clayton counties have already exempted seniors from paying school property taxes.
Republican incumbent Barbara Dingler, who has been the county’s tax commissioner for the past 9 years, said she has worked to bring credit and debit card payments back to the Tax Commissioner’s Office and has also instituted online car registration of vehicles and online property tax payments and brought the filing of homestead exemptions back to her office.
"I have worked within my yearly budget. I have 15 dedicated employees that will go above and beyond the call of duty," Dingler said. "As your tax commissioner, I will continue to update anything that’s possible to better service the citizens of Newton County."