Reps. Bell, Long Responses to APN HD58 Questionnaire (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — In our coverage of State House races this year, Atlanta Progressive News recently sent questionnaires to nine candidates in four different races.

One of those races, House District 58 involves two Democratic incumbents, State Reps. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) and Rep. Ralph Long (D-Atlanta), who were paired to run against each other in the same district.

So far, APN has run articles regarding candidate responses to questionnaires for HD53, including Jason Esteves and Robert Patillo, and HD 57, including State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta).

[To date, former State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta) and Ken Britt have provided their responses.  Only State Reps. Sheila Jones (D-Atlanta) and Rashad Taylor (D-Atlanta) have failed to respond.]

State Rep. Bell has served in the State House since she won a Special Election in 2009, and is the first out, Black female homosexual legislator in any State House in the entire US.

Previously, Bell worked as a health care administrator at Emory University and in private practice; she also worked for the Health Initiative and for Lambda Legal.

In addition to serving in the State House, Rep. Long is also a real estate broker, and owns two companies, Distinctive Realty and Mindsweat Properties.

In 2009, Long was one of the only legislators to endorse Mary Norwood for Mayor of Atlanta, although he recently wrote in a comment on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website that he now supports Mayor Kasim Reed out of sympathy.  He sympathizes with Reed who has been criticized for not supporting same-sex marriage; Long claims he too was the victim of so-called gay bigotry when Georgia Equality endorsed Bell without even interviewing him, presumably because Long is heterosexual.

In terms of voting records, there are some very clear differences between Bell and Long.  Bell opposed every single version of the charter school legislation in the House this year, which sought to allow the State of Georgia to override decisions of local school boards to create state-chartered charter schools.

Rep. Long, on the other hand, supported every version of the legislation.  Along with State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, Long has been one of the staunchest supporters of charter schools among the Democratic delegation.

Bell and Long, however, both supported the controversial HOPE Scholarship reforms of 2011.

The following are Bell and Long’s responses to APN’s questionnaire:

(1) DO YOU SUPPORT OR OPPOSE NUCLEAR POWER?

BELL: Oppose.

LONG: I support safe, environmentally responsible nuclear power.

(2) BALLOT ACCESS MEANS MAKING IT EASIER FOR INDEPENDENT AND MINOR PARTY CANDIDATES TO GET ON THE BALLOT IN GEORGIA.  THE CURRENT PETITIONING REQUIREMENTS ARE ONE PERCENT STATEWIDE, FIVE PERCENT FOR JURISDICTIONS (IE- COUNTY, STATE HOUSE DISTRICT, US HOUSE DISTRICT).  WOULD YOU SUPPORT LOWERING THE PETITION REQUIREMENTS AND IF SO, TO WHAT LEVEL?

BELL: I support lowering the petition requirements and would base it on the number of voters in the last Presidential Election.  I am in favor of the Secretary of State determining the percentages as approved by the State Elections Board.

LONG: I support measures to make it easier for independents and third parties to get on the ballot in Georgia. I believe that our government would be more successful at addressing issues if elected officials were not as constrained by partisan labels.  Unfortunately, it often seems like Georgia is only a one-party state. The Republican majority in the Legislature, which is dangerously close to becoming a Constitutional supermajority, does not allow for rational negotiation or deliberation over important policy issues.  Honestly, I have not given any thought to where the petition requirements should be set. However, I know that ballot access is an important part of a healthy democracy and having independent and minor party candidates would make us all better.

(3) DO YOU SUPPORT ADDING A VOTER-VERIFIABLE PAPER AUDIT TRAIL TO ELECTRONIC VOTING IN GEORGIA?

BELL: I support a paper ballot over adding VVPAT.

LONG: Yes. The right to vote is too precious to leave anything up to chance.

(4) WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON CHARTER SCHOOLS?  SHOULD THE GEORGIA CONSTITUTION BE AMENDED TO ALLOW THE STATE TO OVERRIDE LOCALLY-ELECTED SCHOOL BOARDS’ DECISIONS WHEN IT COMES TO THE CREATION OF CHARTER SCHOOLS?  WHY OR WHY NOT?

BELL: I believe in ALL public schools, including Charter Schools. I do not believe the State should have the ability to override the local School Board that is elected by the voters. Voters would no longer have a say in the creation, management and funding of Charter Schools. Furthermore, the House Republican leader stated from the Well that HB 1162 was not about Charter Schools, but about taking power away from “Activist Judges.”

LONG: I support public charter schools that work. Our public school systems should work with public charters in the way they were intended – they should study what a public charter may be doing correctly and adopt those practices for students at traditional public schools. I was proud to vote for HR 1162 and believe that the State of Georgia should have the ability to create charter schools, especially when the public school districts have no good reason for rejecting a public charter application. There are some public school systems that enjoy having a monopoly in public education and are too reluctant to adopt reforms that work for their students.

(5) WOULD YOU SUPPORT LEGALIZING MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN THE STATE OF GEORGIA?

BELL: I would have to fully read legislation that applies to this issue before denying or issuing my support.

LONG: Yes. The criminalization of marijuana has led to inequitable and unnecessary incarceration for too long.

(6) DO YOU SUPPORT ENDING THE CURRENT PRACTICE PERMITTING UNLIMITED GIFTS FROM LOBBYISTS TO STATE LEGISLATORS?

BELL: I support comprehensive ethics reform.

LONG: Yes.

(6b) HAVE YOU SIGNED THE COMMON CAUSE GIFT CAP PLEDGE?  IF NOT, WHY NOT?

BELL: No.  I am elected by the people to be a thinking, strategic leader. While I support Common Cause and the work it does, I will not sign a pledge in conjunction with the Georgia Tea Party Patriots and Georgia Conservatives in Action.  I will not sign a pledge that traps me into supporting legislation that no doubt will change multiple times before it comes to the floor for a vote.  As with all legislation, I reserve the right to add and remove my signature as the language in the bill changes.

LONG: I have not signed the Common Cause pledge because I believe that it would be a meaningless gesture. If the elected Republican leadership in Georgia was truly concerned with ethics reform, they have the political muscle to get it done. It is up to the Republicans to decide if they care about ethics or not. Honestly, I don’t believe that they have the will to reform a system that works to their benefit.

(7) DO YOU SUPPORT A MORE PROGRESSIVE TAX STRUCTURE?  IF SO, WHAT SPECIFIC TAX REFORMS WOULD YOU PROPOSE?

BELL: There is definitely a need to update Georgia’s Tax structure. I oppose returning to regressive taxes and support raising the Corporate Tax Rate.

LONG: Yes, I believe that we should move to a more progressive tax structure.  Individuals and corporations that have the most resources should carry a larger portion of society’s burdens than those who do not.  Georgia needs to close the numerous corporate tax loopholes in this state such as the fuel tax breaks enjoyed by Delta.  We should not be funding government on the backs of poor and working families.

(8) WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WOULD YOU DO TO SUPPORT AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN GEORGIA?

BELL: Prior to running for office, I advocated for affordable housing throughout East Atlanta. We must set the formula for “affordable” based on a living wage analysis of the median income for the area, not based on the market value of the surrounding housing.

LONG: My zip code, 30310, has the dubious distinction of leading the state of Georgia in
foreclosures.  At any given time, there are at least five vacant houses on my street, which is only two blocks long.  With this significant stock of available houses, we need to think creatively about finding ways to put the poor and working families into these homes.  One important first step is a new law that requires banks and other owners of vacant and foreclosed properties to register them with the county or municipality.  I am glad that this law goes into effect in July.  Before a home forecloses though, we should create incentives for the mortgage company to keep the current family in the house (as tenants) and paying an affordable rental rate.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated Bell is the first elected openly homosexual Black legislator in any State House in the US; the article has been corrected to note she is the first elected openly homosexual female Black legislator in any State House in the US.

(END/2012)

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