APN Interviews with Beskin, Bozarth, Gibeling, HD 54 Candidates, Part One
(APN) ATLANTA — With the successful effort by independent candidate Bill Bozarth to petition his way onto the ballot in State House District 54, in interesting three-way race has emerged in this District that includes much of Atlanta’s Buckhead community.
Atlanta Progressive News conducted telephone interviews with all three candidates over the last few weeks. This article is part one of two of the candidates’ answers to several public policy-related questions posed by APN.
Beskin touts herself as a small government Republican. She won out of a crowded field in the Republican Primary for an open seat, after former State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) ran for U.S. Congress.
Beskin is an attorney and former geologist. She ran in 2010 for State Sen. Horacena Tate’s (D-Atlanta) seat, and went on to serve as Gov. Nathan Deal’s liaison to the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education during its accreditation crisis.
She has served on the Board of Directors of Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, Chair of the Watershed Subcommittee; Vice President of Brandon Neighborhood Association; and Vice-Chair of Region 3 Planning Board of Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Bozarth served as Executive Director for Common Cause Georgia from 2002 to 2010.
“When I settled in Garden Hills in 1988, I started attending City Council meetings. I helped people I respected run for office. I worked to get people who had violated the public trust out of office. I took up challenges in the community. I joined my Civic Association board,” Bozarth says on his website.
“I led the effort in the early 1990s to get a good re-use plan for the closed North Fulton High School – which prevented its demolition and eventually resulted in the Atlanta International School coming to Garden Hills and preserving the campus, and restoring the beautiful Phillip Schutze buildings to their former splendor,” Bozarth wrotes.
By the late 1990s, as I watched the encroaching development around my neighborhood, it became clear to me that the moneyed interests often had a lot more clout in the process than we did. Facing what I saw as an inappropriate use of public land, I stepped up to lead the neighborhood effort to oppose the scope of the development at the MARTA Lindbergh station, and was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that eventually resulted in a settlement. We won a significant victory, in that nowhere near the 11,000 parking spaces were ever built in the so-called “transit-oriented” development,” Bozarth says.
“The MARTA property today houses a much more appropriate mix of uses than what was proposed when we went to court to fight. I eventually became our neighborhood association zoning chair and served for over five years, helping the neighborhood find good solutions to development and zoning challenges. I have served on the NPU-B board for seven years. I currently represent NPUs A through F on the Atlanta Citizen Review Board,” Bozarth said.
Gibeling worked for several years in advertising and marketing before becoming the first full-time employee for Lutherans Concerned/North America, then going to work for the Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network, t.
Gibeling’s great-grandfather, Scott Beaton, was the Democratic mayor of Waycross, Georgia, and served in the State Legislature.
In 1992, Gibeling was a closeted homosexual in the Republican Party. His wake-up call came when he heard Pat Buchanan’s “Culture Wars” speech and was horrified at the judgmental homophobic, venomous speech.
Since then, he came out of the closet and joined the Democratic Party.
The candidates’ answers to APN’s questions are as follows:
(1) WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON NUCLEAR POWER?
BESKIN: I’m not opposed to nuclear power. I think it has demonstrated that it can be safe and a cost efficient method of production of electrical power.
BOZARTH: Nuclear Energy has some advantages, the two plants we are building, I suspect will be the last plants built for a long time. I think the discovery of cheap natural gas has changed the economic equation. I think if the PSC had been able to anticipate that several years ago when they approved building two more nuclear plants in Georgia, they would have made a different decision. So now we are on a path, where those two will be built and that will give us a percentage of our baseline capacity that will be nuclear once they come on-line .
A fairly substantial part of base line energy resources we need to provide electricity is going to be nuclear. Like a lot of other people, I have concerns about it. First of all it is not economically viable unless the federal government guarantees for it. It is also very controversial in that the legislature, I thought, inappropriately pushed a bill, a number of years ago, to put all the cost up front. It’s an unnatural thing economically.
The other parts of concern are safety. If something bad happens at a nuclear plant the consequences can be much worse, as we know from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima. There is also a concern about domestic terrorism that gives them a better target when you have nuclear plants. There are also concerns about the waste, both in terms of, is there a place to put it where it won’t leak back into the environment, and nuclear proliferation in terms of weapon grade material coming out of some of the spent fuels. So there are lots of reasons to be concerned.
We have a situation in Georgia where at least part of our energy is going to come from nuclear. We need to depart from that and figure out more clearly what the energy mix needs to be in the next 50 years. I think one of the problems we have had in setting policy is that we don’t look out far enough. There will be a day when fossil fuels will not be affordable or no longer available because there are emerging markets around the world that are going to consume fossil fuels oil, gas, and coal.
Nuclear is here with us and we probably will not get any more of it because of economic reasons. We need to be aware of all of the negatives down the line and manage that well but we probably don’t want to add any more to the baseline in Georgia or anyplace else for that matter.
GIBELING: Nuclear power has developed into something that is costly because of the waste products and that is a major concern . It is a part of what we have to do to create adequate power. The waste products are something I would monitor closely to see how we dispose of the nuclear waste.
(2) WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS, IF ANY, TO EXPAND WIND AND SOLAR IN GEORGIA?
BESKIN: I don’t have any specific plans to expand solar or wind power generation in Georgia, but I’m not opposed to either of those. I have always advocated an all of the above approach to meeting our energy needs.
BOZARTH: I’m a big fan of finding ways to let businesses and individuals install it and make it part of the grid. I get a sense that there is a broad enough support for solar that it is likely to happen and I’m please about that. I believe part of the legislation that is being contemplated is the ability to have that paid for up-front by private entities… and then have it leased back over time so more people can afford to do that.
You need Georgia Power’s cooperation to make sure individual solar homes and businesses get integrated into the grid in a fair way that’s equitable to everyone. I think that is the long term answer which is more viable as I see it today, than fields full of solar panels that’s another alternative.
Georgia is fortunate that we do have a lot of sun. I know we have lagged behind but we seem to have a sort of general agreement now that solar can be sold economically. I think there is more support from the conservative side than the more liberal sources which have always thought we should be looking at solar. I’m encouraged that we are going to have a larger percentage of our electricity supplied by solar in the future. There is not enough of it to lessen our dependency on other things. We still need to look at ways to create energy for our electrical consumption that don’t pollute and don’t depend on fossil fuels indefinitely.
So I don’t know how long it is going to take but I would love to see us moving forward during the time I’m in office to increase the use of solar as part of the mix for providing electricity. I’m very supportive of what we have been doing and extending it into some of the areas I have mentioned.
GIBELING: I am a very strong advocate for expanding solar power and also wind power if feasible. Georgia has so much sunshine that solar power is a real natural for us to expand, so I would support measures in the legislator that encourage develop of solar power.
(3) 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?
BESKIN: I’m in a race with an independent candidate who went through that process and collected enough signatures to get on the ballot and I know it’s a very difficult process. I think that the Georgia Legislature may reconsider that and I know there are other models that other states embrace including a General Primary where everyone runs together.
I know with the current system that we have, it’s a party primary system and sometimes people cross party lines to vote against certain candidates of another party rather than for someone in their own party. An open primary system could address some of those type issues. I’m aware its a difficult process and I’m all for ballot access. It’s an issue I’m open to studying as a member of the Legislature and don’t know the conclusion I would reach after looking at all sides of it and taking input from everybody.
BOZARTH: Yes, I definitely would. I think there needs to be some threshold of proven legitimately. You don’t want to fill the ballots with dilettante candidates. Having just gone through a petition drive I realize just how challenging that is. We were fortunate we had good organization around it and were able to do it successfully but I believe most people who were trying to do it in this cycle, failed to meet that objective and it’s hard.
The voter list is not as accurate as people might think it is. It’s hard to find people. District 54 is a lot easier than in other places, but the more multi-family units that we build, the less easy access you have to people to sign the petition because you can’t go knock on the door of gated communities and apartments. I had some of that challenge in District 54. There are different challenges in other parts of the state. Obviously if it’s a widespread area, the time traveled required to reach voters is great.
So the five percent threshold, I would think one of the first improvements would be five percent of the number of people who voted in the last election as opposed to the number of registered voters, which we discovered is an inflated number.
There are all sorts of people on the roles who don’t live in the location anymore but they don’t take them off the roles. So in my district there were 35 thousand plus people I could draw from but that number was at least 10 or 20 percent less than that.
If you compare it to other states you would have to come down further than that to be sort of in the norm. Georgia is one of the most difficult states to get on the ballot, both on the statewide and in the district. There needs to be some threshold but not as high as it is now.
GIBELING: I have been aware of that policy for a while and I do think that is really excessive. It discourages some people from participating in the process that might have a good voice to bring to the discussion.
Bill Bozarth has inspired me by his ability to get involved in this race and his getting the petitions to qualify indicates that there is a dissatisfaction with the Georgia legislature and the leadership that is in power now.
(4) WOULD YOU SUPPORT ADDING A VOTER VERIFIABLE PAPER AUDIT TRAIL TO ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEMS IN GEORGIA?
BESKIN: I agree with that in theory and principle, but probably in actuality I don’t know. As a candidate, I really wanted to be able to make sure all the votes were counted. Currently if you vote on an electronic machine there is no independent record of that, so none of us can be absolutely sure that our vote was counted and cast correctly. I’m not aware of any vendor that offers that kind of equipment. I don’t know how much that would cost. We have to do it in a cost effective manner. As a candidate and a voter, I would like for everyone to make sure their vote is cast and counted correctly.
BOZARTH: It’s not practical today. We likely will swap out our electronic voting system, which we instituted in 2002, sometime after the 2016 election. When we bring in new technology, we can look at that. I believe Secretary of State Handel tried… putting some equipment together with our current DRI to create that parallel item to see if we can go back and check things later.
There is a feeling that without that you are vulnerable to some sort of cyber mischief. I’m not sure that can happen without detection. I have had a part-time contract for the last several years helping ES&S, who is the company that supports our electronic voting equipment. They ask contractors, that they train, to go out and help in the small counties . When there is an election they usually don’t have the technical support, so I have done the work of actually taking the cards that come out of the DRI units and accumulating the votes that the county server. I’m very familiar with all cross checks and balances of that process. I’m very familiar with how difficult it would be for someone to go in and game the system. All the counties… have good security procedures.
I can go forth with a good comfort level that there has been no mischief in terms of electronic vote rigging in Georgia and I don’t believe it can happen without detection. But having said that, I understand the public’s concern about things going on inside a black box that they can’t understand.
I don’t think there is a practical way to do it today on the equipment we have, nor do I believe that we have a problem to solve. It’s just a potential problem in a lot of people’s minds and I understand that reality.
The voting equipment we have works quite well in small counties. One of the reasons Fulton County is continually challenged is it does not scale up very well for a large county… I know Fulton County catches a lot of flack for having things go amiss but I understand how it can happen in a bigger county when I have seen how the system works in smaller counties.
We need to look at that in the next generation of voting equipment but I don’t believe it is practical today and I don’t believe we have a security problem that will cause any votes to be counted improperly
GIBELING: Yes, I would. I think that is important to build confidence in the voting system that we have now.
(5) 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?
BESKIN: I’ve been very involved with educational issues. In 2011, Governor Deal appointed me as one of his two liaisons to Atlanta Public School when it was put on an accredited probation. I have attended about every school board meeting for a year and half in that capacity.
Last August, in my personal capability as a private citizen, I went down before the Atlanta Board of Education… because interim superintendent Davis was recommending that the Board deny two start-up charter petitions because he wanted to tie those petitions to unfunded pension liability. In essence, APS would approve no new petitions until it resolved the issue of unfunded pension.
I spoke before the school board as a private citizen and… advocated for charter schools because I believe in charter schools. They are public schools that have different regulations or fewer regulations and give families more choices which is what I think all of our families want.
I reminded the school board that they were obligated by law to consider those start up charter petitions and they are also obligated to figure out what to do with the unfunded pension liability. I am all for local control decisions at the local school board level of charter schools, but [am for] the ability for the state to grant charters, if the families want a charter school, and the local school board will not approve it.
BOZARTH: I don’t believe charter schools are a cure all for the challenges we have in public education. I think we need to embrace them carefully. I’m more a traditionalist, let’s go slow with charter schools and make sure we are allowing them the flexibility and we are getting the results we want, before we embrace it .
I’m not comfortable with that [constitutional amendment] because that basically takes away from local control. Most people speak for legal control. I don’t think I voted for that one when it was on the ballot.
GIBELING: I would not favor overruling the local school board decisions. I think that is where the power needs to rest with the local school boards and local school educators.