District 16 State Representative candidates Rick Crawford (D) and Roger Waldrop (R) were paired off Tuesday, Oct. 24 in a debate that ran simultaneously with District 3 Polk County Commission candidates Marshelle Thaxton (D) and Larry Reynolds (R).
Questions were posed by the moderator Jeffery A. Harvey, assistant director, legislative department, Georgia Farm Bureau with many centering on legislative issues that will affect farm families.
The event continued for almost two hours. The following are highlights:
District 16 Georgia House
Crawford: Ive tried to be very clear in my beliefs, he said. I am pro-life and I am not apologetic for that. Im opposed to gay marriage in any form.
Waldrop: Promising to be a leader with courage and common sense, Waldrop identified himself as a fiscal and social conservative who still believes it is important to stand for what is good, right and decent.
Candidates were asked why they chose to run for this office, and why each thinks he is the best candidate for the job.
Crawford: Susan (his wife) and I made this an issue of prayer. I would not have done this otherwise. Crawford went on to say that his experience as an attorney and his years working with the Legislature as a law student have prepared him for the position.
Crawfords duties while working his way through law school included a period in which he assisted the speakers office. He attended the Rules Committee meetings in the speakers stead and provided a summary of the bills that were to come up in the session. He learned the inner workings of the Legislature at this time and will be in familiar territory if voters decide to send him to the Capitol, he said.
Crawford also noted that, The State Legislature writes state law and establishes state policies, and his 20 years of experience as an attorney will be an asset for this office.
Waldrop: If I go and serve I will be in the majority, Waldrop said, alluding to polls and other indicators that point to the Republican Party maintaining control of the House and Gov. Sonny Perdues expected re-election. I will be able to do more for the 16th District than you can imagine.
Waldrop said he supports the governors plans to address tax issues during Perdues second term, including possible elimination of the ad volorem taxes paid on automobiles.
Continuing, Waldrop said his election to the House would be a continuation of a life of public service. Waldrop is a former Rockmart city manager, former Rockmart city councilman, a former member of the Rockmart Development Authority, and a sitting member of the Polk County Commission.
In December, Waldrop will have completed about two years and nine months of the unfinished term of the late Don Williams.
Candidates were asked about providing relief to family farms, by reducing or eliminating property taxes.
Crawford: Its a tough business ... I understand you are getting squeezed at both ends, he said, in that expenses over which farmers have no control are increasing (such as fuel and pesticide costs) while they have to sell their commodities at low prices set by the purchasers and markets.
Crawford went on to detail his own experience growing up on his grandfathers farm in the Antioch community, 80 acres ... farmed behind a mule.
He went on to add that he has no objection to providing some relief to farmers in the form of tax exemptions.
Wadrop: It would be a bad day in our country if farmers ever gave up hope, Waldrop said. I will do everything I can ... to help farmers.
Going into more detail, Waldrop said he thinks farmers are paying an unfair share of the states tax burden. An example is the taxes paid on timber. The method of taxing growing timber needs to be changed because the system now in place is unfair, he said. Waldrop reiterated his goal of reducing or possibly eliminating property taxes as a primary source of tax revenues.
Candidates were asked to expand on their thoughts about a proposed elimination of the ad volorem tax on vehicles, and how that lost revenue would be made up by the state.
Crawford: Sure, I have no problem with the concept, but the devil is in the details, he said. If the state is going to do this, it must be accounted for out of the states general revenue. It makes no sense to eliminate the revenue from the tax on vehicles, only to add another tax somewhere else, he said. Its important that this not develop into another unfunded mandate passed on to the county governments.
Waldrop: Waldrop said the state should only do this if the bill also includes a constitutional amendment to certify that the state government would compensate the counties for the lost revenue.
Provided that is done, Yes, Im in favor of taking the ad volorem tax off of vehicles, Waldrop said. He reiterated that he favors a complete review and change in the manner in which taxes are levied in Georgia. The whole system needs to be revamped, Waldrop said.
Candidates were asked about the state governments role in funding education.
Crawford: While emphasizing it is the responsibility of the local elected school board to decide where and how money will be spent in local schools, Crawford said as a state legislator he would fight to ensure that the state pays its fair share.
Local taxes have gone up because the state is passing regulations but not providing the funding to pay for them.
The state is not funding its full formula for public schools, Crawford said, referring to the No Child Left Behind program.
While total dollars spent per child in Georgia have gone up under Republican control of the Legislature, he noted, In terms of inflation ... adjusted dollars per student, it is going down.
In addition, Crawford said the state should change the formula by which school districts pay for new schools. A small rural county like Polk cant raise the same kind of money with a five-year sales tax as larger, more prosperous counties, he said.
Some counties raise more SPLOST money in six months than we can in five years, Crawford said. Our kids are getting left out.
Waldrop: The local school systems are not receiving enough state revenue, Waldrop agreed.
He gave as an example an issue with the states requirement that schools must spend 65 percent of the money sent by the state on students, in the classroom.
Waldrop said he checked into this in detail, and while Polk Schools are in compliance, around the 67 percent level, he was informed by Schools Superintendent Darrell Sorrells that the states accounting does not include some things that the school system has to provide locally.
Honestly, they left some things out of the formula, Waldrop said.
If elected, he promised to work to rectify the funding situation and help provide relief to local taxpayers who are being forced to pay for unfunded state mandates.
Candidates were asked their opinion on what the state should do to promote development of a stronger alternative/biofuel industry.
Both candidates were pretty much on the same page as far as the state offering tax incentives to encourage development of alternative fuels in the state of Georgia. Both noted that development of fuels based on biological sources, such as ethanol and soy-based diesel, would be good for the states agricultural sectors.
Candidates were asked about water management issues, particularly relating to demands on Northwest Georgias water resources.
Crawford: My main concern is to make sure we dont allow some other part of the state to take away our water resources, he said. Crawford went on to specifically state that he opposes allowing the Metro Atlanta area to siphon off water from this area to serve industrial and residential expansion in those counties.
We need to keep our water here, Crawford said. We need it here. Were going to grow.
Waldrop: We can do without a lot of things, but we cannot do without water, Waldrop said. We have to conserve our resources.
As a county commissioner, Waldrop said he has already dealt with this issue. Industrial prospects are ranked in part by how much water they would use, and the condition in which treated or processed water would be returned to the environment. Waldrop said he has been a good steward of the countys water resources and would continue to protect his constitutents interests if elected to the Georgia House.
Its a golden resource that weve got to protect, Waldrop said.
Waldrop: I am a real social and fiscal conservative, he said. I have served faithfully in public service.
Waldrop went on to reiterate his interest in addressing the tax burden of local residents, particularly property taxes.
He closed by encouraging people to remind their neighbors and friends to vote.
Crawford: If elected, Crawford promised to work hard for the citizens of Polk County and will not get caught up in partisanship, Crawford promised. He encouraged voters to decide based on the candidate, not the party. He said there has been too much rancor in politics.
I dont care, Republican or Democrat, my job will be the same, he said.
He closed the forum, stating that he would always be faithful and honest, and I will never send you one of these, he said, referencing a recent pro-Waldrop flier distributed by the Georgia Republican Party.
Crawford declined to show a reporter the flier after the meeting, responding, Let Roger give you one.
The Rockmart Journal obtained a copy of the flier the next day.
The flier, a mass mailing that went out to Polk County households, has a photo of Crawford grouped with former Democratic candidates Cynthia McKinney, Denise Majette and John Kerry. The caption reads, Two years ago, Rick Crawford ran for Congress on the same ticket as Cynthia McKinney, Denise Majette and John Kerry. Continuing on the back, the flier reads, Now Rick wants us to believe he is a conservative. But we know better.