It was a standing room only crowd as Democratic gubernatorial challenger Jason Carter came to visit with Rockdale Democrats, stumping on issues of funding the public education system, economic development for the middle class and ethics.
The 38-year-old state senator from Decatur spent about 40 minutes at the Rockdale Democratic Party headquarters on Parker Road, speaking and taking questions from the supportive crowd.
Carter painted a picture of Georgia at the bottom in a number of key measures, such as unemployment, recovery from the recession, health indicators and high school graduation and state leadership that lacked a clear vision.
"Georgia has no business at the bottom," he said to applause. "This is a state we've been so proud of for so long, that has always been pushing forward; that for the longest time was the leader and driving force of economic development and prosperity in the south."
"We've got every ingredient we need. We're not putting them together in a way that makes sense."
Carter, a ninth generation Georgian, said he would do three things to reverse these trends.
"Number one - we have to protect our education system and invest in our future." Most school districts have experienced a gutting of public education funding, teacher workforce reduction, and calendar days reduction, he said.
He proposed funding the public education system budget separately and first before the general budget. He also loosely outlined an education vision that included recruiting and supporting teachers. Investing in education is an economic investment as well, he said.
"The other thing we have to do is have an economy that's for regular people again. It can't just be the people with a direct line to the governor's office. It can't just be for the governor's friends. Right now the economic development operation in our state is working for the governor and his friends and it's leaving the middle class behind," Carter said.
He also took a shot at the ethics scandals and accusations of ethics commission interference that have plagued Gov. Nathan Deal.
"Imagine this - imagine that you're riding to work in the morning and the radio comes on and there's a story comes on about the governor - and it's not about an ethics scandal. Wouldn't that be nice?" he said.
Questions from the audience included topics such as body cameras for law enforcement and Georgia's opting out of setting up a state-run healthcare insurance exchange.
"The way that discussion has unfolded has makes me realize how broken Washington has become," he said. "My job is to make sure whatever they're fighting about in Washington, Georgia does right by its people. Georgia has to do right by its people and get its fair share.
"Right now the current governor has played Washington politics the whole time and has left out the state of Georgia and its people. There's $36 billion in Washington and the governor wants them to keep it? You'd rather have the federal government run our health exchange than do it here in Georgia?"
A Rockdale Magnet School student asked Carter about the HOPE scholarship program and what he would do to ensure it would be available.
"The very top priority has to be access to higher education," said Carter, so students like the audience member could create companies and products and drive economic development.
"We have to make sure the lottery is putting the right amount of money into the fund. We have to make sure we're maximizing the number of people who can afford to go to college. Right now it's become an entitlement for some of the wealthiest people in the state and it's making it harder for regular people to afford college. The last thing we have to do is target the way we control the cost of colleges with a budgeting priority that makes sense and invests in our higher education so we can keep the costs of our HOPE scholarship down."
Carter closed with a personal anecdote of sending his 5-year-old son to his first day of kindergarten.
"Many of you have done this. You put that big old backpack on that tiny little body and you put on the brand new school shoes and favorite T-shirt, you walk him to the first day of school and put him on the bus and those doors close. You've entrusted your baby to the public school system. It matters that state government does its job."
During his visit, Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden presented him with keys to the county and District 43 State Senator Ronald Ramsey urged attendees to donate. BOC Post 2 Democratic candidate Dr. Doreen Williams, who is running against incumbent Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, also shared some of the spotlight as part of the Democratic slate on the ballot for Rockdale voters in November.
In the 2010 general election, the county went to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes 52 percent to 43 percent for Deal.