Lieutenant Governor Hopefuls Debate in Atlanta

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(APN) ATLANTA — All five Democratic Candidates for Lieutenant Governor spoke at a recent forum at the Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, on June 6, 2006, on topics such as education, transportation, immigration, and faith-based government programs. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Georgia and moderated by Tom Regan of WSB-TV.

Neither of the Republicans decided to show up. Casey Cagle was a surprising no-show after criticizing his fellow Republican opponent, lobbyist Ralph Reed, for ducking “public scrutiny, meeting only with carefully selected audiences.”

The Lieutenant Governor position is very important. Besides the obvious role of assuming the duties of Governor in the event of his or her death or incapacitation, the Lieutenant Governor is President of the State Senate. He or she helps determine Legislative Committee Chairmanships and Memberships. While he or she cannot vote or sponsor legislation, the Lieutenant Governor works with advocates in the Senate to introduce legislation. As the second highest elected official in the state, he or she has a great deal of influence on state policy and the establishment of spending priorities.

Each attendee gave a brief opening statement followed by questions from Mr. Regan. Their responses were limited to two minutes.

By evening’s end, it was clear there are three viable Democratic candidates: Hecht, Martin, and Miles (in alphabetical order).

Greg Hecht, currently a Jonesboro businessman, has served as a State Senator, State Representative and Assistant District Attorney.

Hecht’s delivery was practiced and his answers were polished. His platform statements were well-researched and politically savvy. Hecht gives the impression of an indefatigably hard worker.

Atlanta Progressive News has learned Hecht’s campaign is heavy in DC-based consultants, some who make decisions about the campaign.

Jim Martin is the most experienced candidate having served 18 years in the Georgia legislature and as a leader in the Democratic Party. Confident and laid-back, he warned against the danger posed by current Republican leadership. Martin comes across as knowledgeable, concerned, and capable.

Steen Miles is the most fiery. Her honesty and frankness are a refreshing change from more typically restrained political-speak. Miles said she has the best chance of defeating Reed. As a former TV news reporter, she has the better name recognition.

As previously reported in the Atlanta Progressive News, Ralph Reed’s campaign is heavily funded by corporate executives of one of the most usurious credit card companies in the nation, Columbus Bank and Trust’s Compucredit, which runs Aspire Visa. The potential of Reed becoming Lt. Governor has alarmed numerous Democrats, who see Reed as aligned with the religious Right and the Abramoff corruption scandal.

The other two candidates are less likely to garner many votes in July’s primary.

Griffin Lotson, from Darien, is heavily involved in President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative Program. He works as a consultant instructing others how to establish non-profits. Many are formed with the purpose of jumping on the gravy train of federal faith based initiative dollars. The best response he could offer to several questions was that a committee should be formed to study the problem.

Rufus Terrill is an Atlanta businessman and a well-intentioned, but inexperienced, candidate. When asked if he supported an amendment to the Georgia constitution allowing state funds to be given to religious organizations, Terrill lauded the work done by the city’s churches in caring for the poor but naively sees no problem with the concept as long as religious organizations don’t use tax-payer dollars to proselytize.

Faith Based Government Programs

Hecht began his reply to the same question by denouncing politicians who use their religion to garner votes. He cautioned government funding of religious institutions will eventually lead to government vouchers for private schools. Also, religious organizations may insidiously subject those receiving their assistance to having to participate in some kind of religious service or receiving religious materials.

Martin pointed out that, in addition, charitable organizations have always done good works without government interference or support. He agreed with Hecht that vouchers are the ultimate goal of faith-based funds, but the immediate purpose is to buy votes, he said.

Miles denounced the “crowd of religious zealots” who are currently running our state and federal governments but whose actions are anything but holy. She said faith-based funding is another “Republican smoke-screen for their back-door approach to eroding our public schools.”

“Republicans speak with forked tongues. When it comes to serious problems such as creating jobs, elder care, education, caring for veterans, they have done nothing,” she continued.

Education

The first question put to the candidates referred to Georgia’s abysmal high school drop-out rate.

Hecht wants vocational and technical instruction beefed-up so kids not headed for college have a better chance for success. Adults must become involved as mentors; parents should take an active interest. In addition to smaller class sizes and economic incentives to draw teachers to low-performing schools, Hecht wants School Safety Officers where there is the threat of violence to provide a safe environment in which children can learn.

Teachers would be able to solve educational problems if given enough support, Martin said. The State can help by reducing administrative costs that are eating up available dollars. Georgia has a surplus of a billion and a half dollars that could have been used to increase funding for education, Martin noted.

Voting for Democrats was Miles’s first solution for improving our state’s educational systems. Miles stated parents, not teachers, had to solve those education problems which begin in the home. Parents need to be held responsible for their disruptive children. She agreed with Hecht more vocational and technical classes were needed so students not bound for college would not be stigmatized.

Immigration

The next question was about SB 529, the anti-immigration bill recently signed by Gov. Perdue.

Martin, having some experience with immigration issues from his many years as a Legal Aid lawyer, said this is a federal issue. He favors an approach which tracks with the McCain-Kennedy bill: increased border security, hold employers responsible for hiring legal employees, and provide a process by which immigrants can become legal residents.

Miles called SB 529 an ill-conceived and ill-advised wedge issue which has instilled fear in our Hispanic community. She received the forum’s only laugh when she compared our treatment of the undocumented Latinos we brought here to build the 1996 Olympics with a man who pretends he doesn’t know his mistress after he’s slept with her. Miles pointed out the more pressing threat of terrorism is along our northern border. SB 529 was a waste of time when we should be designing a guest-worker program, Miles concluded.

Broadening the scope of the problem to include all Georgians, Hecht said employers should not be allowed to take advantage of any workers, all children should receive adequate education and health care, and more jobs need to be created for all Georgians. Hecht suggested using the latest advances in bio-technology to bring more employment and investments to the state.

Transportation

On the question about improving transportation, Martin said solutions vary by area. Some additional major arteries and surface roads are needed. A Regional Transportation Authority should oversee Metro Atlanta, incorporating more light-rail transit into the solution.

Miles said Metro Atlanta needs more commuter rails north on GA 400 and along the I-20 corridor both east and west of the city. Downstate needs new roads but not at the expense of Atlanta. The state government should get federal funding and oversee a state-wide process.

Hecht agreed commuter rails are part of the answer, including inter-city rail lines. Truck-only toll lanes would create a stream of revenue. Zoning to maintain density close to the cities would reduce commuting distances and prevent ex-urban sprawl, he said.

Medicare Drug Benefit

On the subject of prescription medicine, all faulted the Bush administration for creating an abominable mess and blamed the recent Medicare Part-B fiasco on lobbying by the pharmaceutical giants. There was also agreement that the state government should form some kind group plan, buy drugs in bulk and pass on the savings to our citizens, including the uninsured.

The primary election is only weeks away. Voters will soon get to vote on who they want to represent their party in the upcoming November elections.

About the author:

Betty Clermont is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at betty@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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