APN Q&A: Brian Westlake, challenging Rep. Oliver, HD 82
(APN) ATLANTA — Brian Westlake, a high school teacher who ran in 2010 for the Democratic nomination for Georgia School Superintendent, is challenging State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) for the House District 82 seat.
Westlake, who is an advocate for public education, takes issue with State Rep. Oliver’s support of Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District (OSD), a statewide takeover of so-called “struggling schools” that will be the subject of a November 2016 referendum.
Rep. Oliver is prohibited from participating in campaign activities during the Legislative Session, which is ending in about one week, but we have full confidence she will respond to the APN questionnaire at that time.
Rep. Oliver received a D in the Atlanta Progressive News Combined Legislative Scorecard for 2014 and 2015, with a score of 64.7 out of 100.
In addition to supporting the OSD legislation (SR 287 and SB 133), Rep. Oliver supported the disbandment of the Soil & Water Conservation Agency (HB 397); the LaVista Hills cityhood referendum (HB 520) [despite her complaints that Committee rules were not followed]; and a proposed further reduction to early voting for smaller municipalities (HB 891).
DO YOU BELIEVE ALL HOUSE AND SENATE COMMITTEES SHOULD KEEP MINUTES INCLUDING A RECORD OF ALL VOTES, YEAS, NAYS, AND ABSTENTIONS; AND THAT THOSE MINUTES SHOULD BE MADE PUBLIC? DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL IDEAS FOR TRANSPARENCY AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS?
Transparency in government is necessary in order for citizens be engaged and perceive their government as legitimate. All legislative committees should keep and post minutes of their proceedings, and we should expand opportunities for citizen input and participation.
In its 2015 report on integrity in state governments, The Center for Public Integrity gave Georgia an overall grade of a D-. The state received an F in the areas of Public Access to Information, Political Financing, Executive Accountability (i.e., Governor’s Office), and Lobbying Disclosure.
I will work hard with grassroots groups like Common Cause of Georgia to pass common sense political reforms in order to breathe new life into our democracy and clean up the corruption that produces bad public policies.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON NUCLEAR POWER?
Climate change is one of the most significant challenges of our time. We must explore all alternatives to fossil fuels that have the potential to reduce our carbon footprint. That being said, I still have serious concerns about the safety and true costs of nuclear power. We need to honestly assess the risks of nuclear power and weigh them against other clean alternatives.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS, IF ANY, TO EXPAND WIND AND SOLAR IN GEORGIA?
I would support legislation that expands renewable energy options for Georgians. I am encouraged by the work of grassroots coalitions of citizens from across the political spectrum to address this issue. For example, the passage of the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act of 2015, which allows for third party financing of solar panel installation and the purchasing of electricity by local power companies, was the result of the combined efforts of the state’s tea party and the Sierra Club. I look forward to working with such coalitions to further expand the use of cleaner renewable energy in our state.
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? IF SO, WHAT SHOULD THE NEW REQUIREMENT BE, IF ANY?
Many electoral reform activists believe that Georgia has the worst ballot access laws in the nation. For our democracy to truly be representative, we must reform these laws. It is reasonable to require a candidate or party to show some support in order to appear on the ballot. However, this requirement should not be so onerous as to exclude independent and third party candidates.
I do believe that any Georgian (or party) who can gain the support of 1,000 of his or her neighbors should be allowed on a statewide ballot. I suggest the requirement for non-state candidates should be no more than half that amount. However, I am also open to hearing a case made for different requirements.
In addition, I support ranked choice voting, which encourages the development of minor parties and increased voter participation.
WOULD YOU SUPPORT ADDING A VOTER VERIFIABLE PAPER AUDIT TRAIL TO ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEMS IN GEORGIA?
Yes, Georgia voters need to have confidence that their votes are counted accurately.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON THE REFERENDUM TO CREATE A STATEWIDE OPPORTUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT TO TAKE OVER SO-CALLED “FAILING” SCHOOLS?
This approach has already been tried and failed in other states. Rather than asking the legislature to adequately fund our public schools, Gov. Deal promoted an ALEC inspired idea that values profit making ahead of our children’s future. It should be seen for what it is: a strategy to concentrate more power in the Governor’s office and reward campaign contributors by turning over control of our public schools to for-profit education management companies. I will continue to speak out against this legislation and will fight hard to defeat any similar attempts to harm our public schools.
DO YOU SUPPORT AN EXPANDED MEDICAL CANNABIS PROGRAM (IN-STATE CULTIVATION, FULL PLANT MEDICINE, EXPANDED LIST OF CONDITIONS)? DO YOU SUPPORT DECRIMINALIZATION (NON-MEDICAL)? DO YOU SUPPORT LEGALIZATION (NON-MEDICAL)?
While more scientific studies are needed regarding the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana, I believe there is no convincing argument for criminalizing responsible use by adults. Marijuana should be legalized and treated like any other substance that may be harmful if used inappropriately.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON CITYHOOD AND ANNEXATION IN GENERAL? DO YOU BELIEVE GEORGIA’S CITYHOOD AND ANNEXATION LAWS SHOULD BE CHANGED? IF SO, HOW?
I am concerned about the balkanization of DeKalb County and the loss of tax revenue from the county to newly formed cities. The creation of any new cities must be pursued in a comprehensive and equitable manner that looks at countywide effects of city formation. Allowing small, self-interested groups to grab land and pit neighborhoods against one another will do nothing to address the larger challenges that face the county and the metro area at large. I also remain unconvinced that the creation of yet another layer of government will solve the problems our communities face.
Whether it is education, transportation, or any other issue, we have to widen our view. None of the challenges that confront us will be addressed as long as we continue to erect walls around cities and ignore what is happening outside. We need to work together for the betterment of the entire metro area and, ultimately, the state of Georgia.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON THE PROPOSALS FOR NEW CITIES IN DEKALB COUNTY, SUCH AS STONECREST AND GREENHAVEN?
Please see answer above.
WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON THE PROPOSED CITY OF SOUTH FULTON?
Please see answer above.
DO YOU SUPPORT GMO LABELING?
Consumers have a right to information about what is in their food. I will support any legislation that helps consumers make informed choices about the food they feed their families.
DO YOU SUPPORT ANY OF THE RECENT PROPOSALS REDUCING THE EARLY VOTING PERIOD, OR ALLOWING LOCAL JURISDICTIONS FLEXIBILITY TO REDUCE EARLY VOTING?
I oppose any effort to limit or reduce early voting periods. Our government works better when more voters participate. We should make every reasonable attempt to support citizen engagement, and early voting is one such measure of support. I also favor same day voter registration.
DO YOU SUPPORT A U.S. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE CITIZENS UNITED RULING, CLARIFYING THE ABILITY OF CONGRESS TO REGULATE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS? (THE STATE COULD EITHER CALL FOR SUCH AN AMENDMENT BY RESOLUTION OR CALL FOR A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.)
Yes, and I will work tirelessly with others on any effort to end the corrupting influence of money on our political system.