Candidates for Seabaugh’s seat have their say at forum

A candidates forum held Nov. 2 at the old Coweta County Courthouse in Newnan for the unexpired term held by Sen. Mitch Seabaugh (Dist. 28) gave a packed house of residents a closer look at the nine candidates vying for the seat. Voters will have their say on Nov. 8 and, odds are, again on Dec. 6 when the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff election.

The forum was conducted by the Newnan-Coweta County Chamber of Commerce.

Eight of the nine candidates reside in Coweta County, with the other a resident of Carroll County.

But who are the candidates and what issues do they consider important? Information provided to the chamber gave a brief overview of who they are and the main issues they see as significant:

-Cynthia C. Bennett, Non-partisan, 56, educator, of Newnan. Bennett’s issues include growing the economy; education and accountability of teachers; and the aging population and their families.

-Duke Blackburn, Republican, 61, retired state law enforcement officer and former small business owner, of Newnan. Blackburn’s issues include working for the benefit of the whole district; special interests include teachers, veterans, seniors and all public safety officials; reducing the regulatory burden for businesses; continuing the expansion of healthcare facilities in Coweta County; and support of the HOPE scholarship.

-Matthew Brass, Republican, 33, small business owner and golf professional, of Newnan. Brass identified issues that included a balanced state budget; no new taxes; job growth; support for small businesses; and a pro-life, pro-gun stance.

-Mike Crane, Republican, 48, general contractor, of Newnan. Crane’s issues included the economy; limited and more efficient government; and simplifying the tax code.

-Kyle Frank, Republican, 60, real estate appraiser and associate broker, of Senoia. Frank’s issues included jobs and the economy; streamlining the state tax code; and eliminating the state income tax.

-Dale Pepper, Republican, 52, airline pilot, of Newnan. Pepper’s identified issues were promoting job growth; eliminating needless business regulations; and tax relief for families.

-M. Wayne Seabolt, Democrat, 69, small business owner, of Roopville. Seabolt’s issues include education as a key priority; favoring the introduction in Georgia of horse racing and pari-mutuel betting; and term limits for local and state officials.

-Edward Stone, Republican, 44, attorney and former law enforcement officer, of Senoia. Stone’s issues include supporting free markets and gun rights; eliminating the state income tax; and illegal immigration.

-Jammie Williams, Democrat, 41, engineer/manager, of Sharpsburg. Williams’ issues include tax breaks for small businesses; restoring the full funding goals for the HOPE scholarship; and getting control of Georgia’s water.

-Newnan resident Mark Washington also qualified but has withdrawn his name from consideration.

The forum included several questions intended to give the more than 200 in attendance a closer look at the candidates and to provide a chance for the candidates to have their say.

One question asked what should be done to stimulate the Georgia economy.

Blackburn in his response said he has a solid plan to stimulate the economy, noting that Georgia is now reaping the benefits of the burgeoning movie industry and adding that potential industries look closely at public safety when considering a move to a new state.

Brass said the greatest source of jobs is a solid industry. Citing examples, he noted west Georgia’s new entry into the automotive industry and the affiliated businesses serving it and the growing medical industry. The state must give them the tools they need to succeed, Brass said.

Crane responded saying the state is attracting businesses, especially in the west Georgia area. Noting his two decades as a business owner, Crane said he knows what it takes to grow a business. Crane also proposed cutting state spending in non-necessary areas and leading by example.

Frank in his response noted that many state residents are hurting in the current economy and maintained that Georgia should eliminate the state income tax.

Pepper said District 28 already has the infrastructure and resources to accommodate new industry and, expanding his comments to a statewide level, he said an atmosphere to create new business must be created at the state level to show industries what Georgia has to offer.

Seabolt in his response centered on the need to bring horse racing to Georgia, explaining that it is a multi-billion dollar business that will not cost state residents one-cent while bringing numerous affiliated businesses that will further stimulate the economy.

Stone insisted that government does not create jobs, adding that government should get out of the way of business. The $1.4 billion state surplus should be returned to the citizens in the form of a state income tax cut so that citizens can use those funds to stimulate the economy and create jobs, he said.

Williams in his response said the state economy could get back on its feet by taking advantage of and improving on existing industry-related entities such as the port of Savannah.

Bennett said the business tax structure should be flattened somewhat and add-on business expenses such as impact fees should be decreased.

Candidates in an associated question were asked what changes they would like to see in state taxes.

Brass was up first, saying he supports the fair tax with some exceptions such as necessities for living and some medical procedures.

Crane said he wants to simplify the tax structure, cut the size of government and return that money to the citizens.

Frank stated that he wants to eliminate the state income tax to create more jobs.

Pepper he wants to look at all options, whether a flat tax or other types of tax reduction measures that may be considered to be “out of the box.”

Seabolt said taxes should be lowered on agriculture-related businesses so that people can grow their own food and learn how to store it.

Stone in his response said taxes should be cut equal to the amount of the state surplus, adding that the state budget should stay small so that those surpluses can go back to the citizens.

Williams responded referencing recent possible tax reduction measures such as the 9-9-9 proposal but stressed that no proposal will benefit citizens unless state government is willing to act in concert on their behalf.

Bennett in her comments said Georgia has the 19th lowest personal income tax, adding that she does not support eliminating the state income tax and asking what citizens are willing to give up if the state income tax is eliminated.

Blackburn said he supports the fair tax, reducing government spending and eliminating duplicate state services.

Candidates were asked if they supported the addition of an interchange at I-85 and Poplar Road. All said they supported the project, with Brass adding that he would like to see a cost-analysis to ensure it is done efficiently.

Yet another question asked candidates if they thought the regional 10-year, 1-cent sales tax initiative for transportation going before voters in the 10-county Three Rivers Regional Commission area in July will pass and, if not, what they would suggest to meet the area’s growing transportation needs.

Frank was up first saying he did not know if the initiative would pass. He added that the region and the state need a great transportation system, noting the likely advantage that would come from dredging and improving the state’s port facilities.

Pepper in his response questioned the issues behind the tax. A penny here, a penny there, it adds up, he said. Pepper referenced hidden taxes that exist everywhere, asking the audience how many taxes they need.

Seabolt said he did not know if the regional transportation tax would pass, adding that if Georgia allows horse racing the state may not need the 1-cent tax.

Stone said he does not expect the initiative to pass, adding that it is easy to get stuck with any new tax and noting that there are other funds for transportation.

Williams said he did not know if the voters would approve the tax.

Bennett said she did not think the initiative would pass because municipal leaders are not behind it.

Blackburn said he did not know, adding that it is likely the fairest tax available.

Brass said he did not believe it would pass.

Crane in his response cited conventional wisdom which says it will not pass, adding that it is government that is supporting the initiative.

The very short campaign season will be over on Nov. 8 and a likely runoff election between the top two voter-getters will be held Dec. 6.

District 28 includes all of Coweta and Heard counties and portions of Carroll and Troup counties.

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