APN Interviews with Elena Parent, Kyle Williams, Candidates for SD 42
(APN) ATLANTA — One of the hottest Democratic Primary races this election season in the Metro Atlanta area is the race to fill State Sen. Jason Carter’s (D-Decatur) seat, as Carter is running for Governor of Georgia. Seeking the Senate District 42 seat are former State Rep. Elena Parent (D-Chamblee) and Kyle Williams.
Parent was one of only about a dozen Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent in a state assembly race in the entire country in 2010, when she unseated former State Rep. Jill Chambers (R-Chamblee), in what was then House District 81.
Parent served for two years, but then was forced to run against State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta)–her friend and former law firm co-worker–because of redistricting. Instead of running against Holcomb, Parent decided not to run for reelection, and she took a job as Executive Director of Georgia Watch, where she has worked since 2012.
Kyle Williams ran unsuccessfully for the Decatur City Commission District 2 (Southside seat) in 2009. Williams has lived in Decatur since 2003, with his partner, Larry; and Williams runs a small law firm also in Decatur, that handles real estate issues.
Williams has served on the City of Decatur Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Zoning Rewrite Task Force; DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’s Transition Team; and on the board of the Decatur Education Foundation.
In an effort to distinguish between the two candidates, APN sought to identify areas of policy differences, looking at Parent’s voting record and platform, and at Williams’s platform.
On the one hand, Parent–drawing upon her expertise in working at Georgia Watch–is critical of nuclear power and has a firm grasp of policy solutions to expand solar power in Georgia. Energy policy was an area that Williams did not seem to know too much about, and he would not take a position on nuclear power.
On the other hand, Williams said he would not have supported HR 1162, authorizing a ballot referendum for the controversial constitutional amendment in 2012 that re-created a state commission to override local school board and state board decisions in possibly creating new charter schools; Parent voted for the amendment.
Williams also said he would not have supported HB 92, reducing the early voting period from 45 days to 21 days, as occurred in 2011. Parent voted for HB 92.
Thus far, endorsements have been rolling in for both candidates, including many big name Democrats and legislators endorsing Parent.
Endorsements for Parent include former Gov. Roy Barnes; Ambassador and former District 42 State Senator David Adelman; Sens. Nan Orrock and Valencia Seay; Reps. Karla Drenner, Stacey Evans, Michele Henson, Scott Holcomb, Dar’shun Kendrick, Billy Mitchell, Howard Mosby, Rahn Mayo, and Coach Williams; Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May; DeKalb Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader; Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry; and Atlanta School Board member Jason Esteves.
Endorsements for Williams include Decatur City Mayor Jim Baskett; Decatur City Commissioners Fred Boykin, Scott Drake, and Patti Garrett; Atlanta City Councilmembers Kwanza Hall (District 2) and Alex Wan (District 6); DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown; Decatur Mayor Pro Temp Kecia Cunningham; and former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard.
“I think she’s got some big names backing her. How I’m gonna win this, is meet one-on-one with voters in the district,” Williams said.
“I’m not sure why people outside this district are concerned–outside money and outside endorsements,” he said.
Williams asserts that he is the more progressive Democrat in the race.
“Not all Democrats are created equal. This is a progressive District that has a tradition of and expectation of, being more than just a vote, but a progressive voice and an advocate, and that’s why I’m running,” he said.
APN asked numerous public policy questions to each candidate in telephone interviews, and their answers were as follows:
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON NUCLEAR POWER?
PARENT: I think there are much less riskier forms of energy that should be getting our investment above nuclear power. We do not know how to safely store the waste. I like that it’s better than fossil fuels, but it’s still an incredibly risky form.
While I see some positives as far as our climate goes, in [nuclear] not being fossil fuel plants, it’s very risky, I’d rather see some of that investment go towards carbon neutral renewable energy.
As Georgia Power ratepayers, we are heavily subsidizing Vogtle construction and pre-paying the interest rate on it. Not only was that a raw deal for Georgia ratepayers, it’s also money that could be used in energy investments that are more forward-looking.
WILLIAMS: I would need more information on that. To say, I’m against or for that takes out the nuance of what those evaluations have to be. We’ve got to have renewable power and sustainable power.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS, IF ANY, TO INCREASE SOLAR AND WIND POWER IN GEORGIA?
PARENT: The first thing, I supported in Legislature, is third-party financing for solar panels in homes. We believe we third party financing can be accomplished through a simple fix that clarifies that property owners and consumers that have the right to engage in third party leasing arrangements to have solar panels installed on their homes. We believe there is no need to get into a broad discussion about the Territorial Act.
Georgia Power on the other hand likes to say it’s disrupting the Territorial Act, they use that as a roadblock
I supported some of the solar tax incentives we’ve had in Georgia.
Obviously, we have one of the most favorable conditions to solar power. We have excellent installers, lots of jobs already here and waiting to be created if we can unleash the power of the sun on our economy. It’s propping up dinosaur business models through these old forms of energy.
Wind, I’m completely supportive, but I believe solar today is the precipice of having real big successes.
WILLIAMS: I think it’s got to be a combination of creativity, innovation, and tax abatement or tax credits.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT REDUCING PETITION REQUIREMENTS FOR INDEPENDENT AND POLITICAL BODY (MINOR PARTY) CANDIDATES FROM THE CURRENT ONE PERCENT STATEWIDE, FIVE PERCENT NON-STATEWIDE REQUIREMENT?
WOULD YOU SUPPORT ADDING A VOTER VERIFIABLE PAPER AUDIT TRAIL TO ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEMS IN GEORGIA?
PARENT: I think our elections should be as transparent as possible, so the public has faith in them. That being said, I would want to look at ramifications of such a bill, an expense, would there be a backdoor way to deny the right to vote caught up in that. When you make changes to voting my suspicions go up, but I think elections need to be as transparent as possible. It’s probably important for the public to think the election results can be verified. They need to know they [officials] were elected and have the majority of the people legitimizing them.
WHAT WAS YOUR POSITION ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO RE-CREATE THE CHARTER SCHOOL COMMISSION TO OVERRIDE LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD AND STATE SCHOOL BOARD DECISIONS REGARDING CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATIONS?
PARENT: (Voted for the legislation to allow the referendum.)
That one is such a tough issue. I voted no the first time it came up. I really was dissatisfied with the legislation as initially proposed. I was in the position of being able to influence the legislation when it was coming back around again.
The reason I voted for it, is my fear, there are instances when even though a School Board knows the right thing to do is to charter a school, there will be the occasion where politics prevent that. I thought there needed to be a second check on that decision. I’ve seen how the wrong decision can be made for political reasons.
[Editor’s note: The State Board of Education already provided a first check; the Commission became a second check. Also, making politically-motivated decisions is part of what local control allows; voters are supposed to be the most important check. So if the Commission overrides a local board decision, that necessarily goes against the wishes of the local voters.]
I was worried about funding. I did not think we needed to create all these new schools that we fund when not funding our existing public schools. Originally, the legislation had a significant portion forcing local school systems to pay, which is what our Supreme Court said we couldn’t do. I was like if the State wants to do that, the State needs to pay for it.
Charter schools are a little bit of a mixed bag. There are some that are good, some that aren’t good. I don’t believe you implement broad sweeping measures in our public school system that we have. Studies have come up showing them [many charter schools] to be performing the same or worse.
At the same time, I know we’re dissatisfied. So I don’t believe you should not try different things. If we’re not trying different things, then we don’t know what will work. I believe in innovation, and charter schools are part of that.
WILLIAMS: I was against the charter amendment. I campaigned against it. I thought it added a layer of bureaucracy and took local control away from local School Boards. I thought it would create a system of haves and have nots… taking resources out of school systems.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT HB 885, THE MEDICAL CANNABIS BILL CURRENTLY BEFORE THE LEGISLATURE? WOULD YOU SUPPORT A STRONGER MEDICAL BILL? WOULD YOU SUPPORT DECRIMINALIZATION OR FULL LEGALIZATION?
PARENT: I’m supportive. (As for full legalization:) It is highly likely. Before I cast a vote, I would want to have conversations. I think we spend a lot of time and money on keeping it criminal, it’s just a drain on society that could be spent on better things.
WILLIAMS: Yes to both of those [HB 885 and stronger medical]. I support the current bill. I support broadening that too. I believe, and I think the research shows, marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol and tobacco; license and tax it.
DO YOU SUPPORT THE CITY OF LAKESIDE PROPOSAL CURRENTLY IN THE LEGISLATURE?
PARENT: No. I’m not opposed to creation of new cities in DeKalb County necessarily. It needs to be done in a process and manner that’s fair. This grabbing of office towers, I’m totally against it. That’s why when I was in the legislature, I wrote a bill that would start a discussion of a more rational process for incorporation.
WILLIAMS: The way it has been presented, the way the map has changed, and taken in areas other communities have been working to incorporate themselves, I would vote against it.
DID YOU SUPPORT THE INCORPORATION OF THE CITY OF BROOKHAVEN IN 2012?
PARENT: I was always against it because my constituents didn’t want it. I did a forum. State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) was running around with all kind of pro-cityhood town halls. I did one to educate the public and not be a propaganda machine. I did the pros and cons.
Because of the manner of cherry-picking out certain areas, while completely disenfranchising other affected areas, I have a problem with it.
WILLIAMS: (No.) We cannot create cities as the solution, there has to be a plan. The community has to support that, there [has to be] a comprehensive plan for what happens the next day.
Even though City of Decatur has been here for two hundred years, it still has to rely on the county.
DO YOU SUPPORT GMO (GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS) LABELING?
WILLIAMS: Yes. We have to know what we are putting in our bodies, what we are eating. We are doing ourselves a disservice by not knowing.
DO YOU SUPPORT THE CURRENT PROPOSAL IN THE LEGISLATURE, HB 891, TO REDUCE EARLY VOTING FROM 21 DAYS TO SIX DAYS?
PARENT: That’s not even a week. I feel like that’s too short. I have real issues about that.
WILLIAMS: No, I don’t support any restrictions, any limits that are being placed on early voting. It gives access and opportunities for voters to fit in their schedule. Makes the voting process more efficient.
DID YOU SUPPORT THE PREVIOUS REDUCTION OF EARLY VOTING FROM 45 DAYS TO 21 DAYS?
PARENT: [Voted for it because in the 2010 Governor’s race…] you were finding out about [ethical issues involving] Nathan Deal after early voting started. Tons of people were going to vote without information. If you’re Roy Barnes, you have to roll out information; journalists digging, and stuff coming out… At a certain point, you have to be nervous there’s a lack of complete information in voters’ hands.