Oxford resident and former county commissioner Ester Fleming qualified for the District 17 state senate seat, held by Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle). Douglas announced earlier this week he is not running for reelection.
State representative John Lunsford (R-McDonough) initially announced he would run for the seat but then withdrew his name from qualification.
Lunsford said Speaker of the House David Ralston personally requested that Lunsford stay in the house, because of the importance of having stability with the upcoming reapportionment, following the 2010 Census.
However, Lunsford felt it would be unfair to qualify for his current state representative seat, District 110, unless the other candidates voluntarily dequalified, because they entered the race only or mainly because the seat was vacant.
Not all candidates agreed to do this, therefore, Lunsford decided not to run for reelection. Regarding the state senate seat, Lunsford said he had already recruited Rick Jeffares to run in his stead, and Lunsford felt it would disingenuous to jump back in that race.
"I have the right to mess up my own life, but not someone else's life," he said Friday.
Lunsford said he was looking forward to having time off after being a representative for 10 years. He said he would spend more time with his family and support Jeffares in his state senate campaign.
Fleming said he is running for state senate because he wants to promote job creation and because he believes his local government experience will allow him to represent better local concerns at the state level.
"We need someone who has served at the local level, someone who understands budgeting and finance. These unfunded mandates are trickling down to the local level, which makes it hard for counties to operate," Fleming said.
However, Fleming said he does not support increasing taxes or borrowing money to increase the state budget.
"Coming from the local level is important, because I know the vital services that we need and those that we don't need," he said.
While Lunsford points to his 10 years as a state representative as a positive asset, Fleming said he believes voters want to see a fresh outlook in Georgia's congress.
"Residents are discontent at every level of government, because they're not getting the job done," Fleming said. "My opponent has been there 10 years, and I don't mean this in a negative way, but maybe he's part of the problem. People want to talk about seniority as an asset, but when you poll the general public, they view incumbency as a negative thing. The issues should have been already addressed, the economy, jobs. Incumbents like to blow their horns and say they can get on this or that committee, but I will serve on any committee I'm appointed to."
Freshman state politicians are generally assigned to a state committee, such as agriculture and consumer affairs, ethics, finance, higher education and transportation.
Fleming said even though he has never held statewide office, his more than 13 years as a county commissioner make him well qualified. Fleming served as District 2 commissioner from 1990 to 1996, before ending his second term early to run for chairman. He was District 3 commissioner form 2000 to 2008.
"Local government is where the rubber meets the road. People know me here. They know my values; they know my conservative philosophy. I don't waver. When I take a position, I'm there. I'll do my homework and research an issue and then take a stand," he said.
Fleming works in the land acquisition department of the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation, where he focuses on right-of-way issues. He previously worked in real estate with Colony Realty and in the convenience store industry, owning his own store, and worked as regional director of operations for Mumford. Before qualifying, Fleming was also the chair of the local Republican party.
Job creation, the budget and transportation are Fleming's most important platform items. He said Georgia needs to make itself more attractive to companies to reverse the state's higher than average unemployment numbers.
As far as the budget is concerned, Fleming said all frills need to be cut out and the state needs to be run like a business.
"A lot of people don't think you can do that. It's a struggle, it's hard, but this economy is tough. We can't raise taxes high enough to spend what some legislators may want to spend, and we have to make sacrifices across the board. We need to cut whatever we can, while protecting vital areas like public safety," Fleming said.
Finally, Fleming believes traffic and transportation planning needs to be improved. He said he's interested to see how the regional sales tax talk ends and will continue to research ways to fund transportation. For more information call Fleming at (678) 618-1188.