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State Representatives And Senator Candidates Square Off At Debate

REBECCA HAZEN/Dade County Sentinel
Community members listen to political candidates debate each other on Tuesday, April 26, at the Dade County Public Library. The Dade County Republican Party sponsored the debate.

News Editor

Candidates for State Representative and State Senator spoke about their stances on state issues on Tuesday, April 26, during a political debate, sponsored by the Dade County Republican Party.

State Representative, District 1 incumbent Mike Cameron is running against challenger Jackie Harling.

Chris Goforth moderated the debate and asked each candidate the same questions.

Question 1: North Georgia is currently experiencing low unemployment rates, the lowest that it’s seen in decades. Is the district doing enough economic development in your opinion? How will you continue to play a part in that team approach to ensure North Georgia’s economic success?

Cameron: “Something that we’re going to address in Dade County this year is we got a $6.8 million grant from the state through the COVID funding to increase internet. There are children in Dade County who go to McDonalds to do their homework. Trenton Telephone is getting ready to start working.”

Harling: “We are super close to Chattanooga. They don’t have a state income tax in Tennessee. I think we need to cut regulation, help enable businesses to grow and prosper. I would support legislation that would help lower our state income tax in areas that are close to big cities in Tennessee. We have a lower sales tax, but we don’t really use it. I think it’s a little unfair, I think we are being overtaxed.”

Question 2: Millions of dollars of taxpayer money is collected by the state through sales and income taxes. How do you feel like you will be able to continue to work with the various state and federal agencies to bring our earned tax dollars back to this area for development?

Harling: “I think we need to continue to build relationships and fight and make sure that our interests are taken care of and looked after. The only way we can do that is by speaking up and speaking to everyone in the district.”

Cameron: “In this last session, we brought $38.5 million to Dade and Walker Counties. Last year we helped Dade County when they had a deficit because of a road. We were able to go to GDOT and get $500,000 to help Dade County get past the crisis. It’s about having those relationships and talking to folks at the local level, but also in the higher levels of government.”

Question 3: Georgia became the latest state to have a constitutional carry law put in place. What are your feelings and do you think it goes far enough?

Cameron: “I was a co-sponsor of the John Meadows Act. I would like to see it go further, but we got what we could get now. We can go back later and try to improve this. I am always looking to help gun owners. The government shouldn’t intrude.”

Harling: “I was happy to see that pass. I am a little frustrated that it took as long as it did. I don’t think it went quite far enough, but it’s a step in the right direction. I would like to continue in that right direction by being careful not to also vote on bills that sneak in red flag laws.”

Question 4: Recently the general assembly passed a bill dealing directly with mental health. In recent years, a lot of those systemic mental health problems have been falling on the backs of local sheriff’s departments to house individuals experiencing issues of mental health. Do you think the recently passed bill will properly address the issue, and if not, what would you like to see added?

Harling: “I think it should be abolished. There are many alarming things in that bill that completely offset constitutional carry. HB 1013 before it was passed it had alarming things in there like deferring to the World Health Organization for the definitions of mental health and how to treat them. If I have learned anything in the last two years, it’s that they can’t be trusted. A big issue cannot be solved by a bad bill.”

Cameron: “I voted for this bill twice. I support this bill. The WHO does not control anything and will not control mental health in Georgia. The bill is not perfect, but our law enforcement is dying right now because they are overrun with mental health people. This bill was designed to get those people out and get them treated and get them back to a successful life.”

Question 5: Senate Bill 202 was passed to address many issues concerning the 2020 election. What would you like to see in addition that would further restore confidence in Georgia’s voting system?

Cameron: “We need to introduce a bill to audit elections, that includes all the processes and procedures, but also the machinery. If we don’t address people’s concerns, that’s going to be a problem for years to come.”

Harling: “That bill didn’t go near far enough. I see it as the equivalent as putting a band-aid on a gaping shotgun wound. I strongly believe we should criminally prosecute everyone in our state government who is standing in the way of properly auditing and investigating the fraudulent election. A forensic audit is needed.”

Question 6: In the current budget that was recently passed, were you satisfied with the amount of money going to the various departments, and if not, which areas would you like to see get additional funding?

Harling: “I am a small business owner and a mom. I have been extremely busy and I am not well versed on that. I am not going to give you an opinion on that because I haven’t done my research.”

Cameron: “I would love to see one day were we didn’t have a state income tax, but right now I don’t think that’s possible. The biggest problem I have right now is not only inflation, but the Fed is going to raise interest rates. We’re headed into a recession. We’re going to have to look at every department, and there may have to be temporary cuts. We have to be very careful.”

Question 7: Over half of the budget goes to education. There has been a recent push to have education money that currently goes directly to public schools. The QBE funding would follow the student or parent rather than the local school system. What are your feelings on school vouchers?

Cameron: “I think we need to give parents more say so in their children’s education. Homeschooling works and it’s a great thing. I would be in favor of that money following the student, but it has to be in state. You can’t go across the border with it.”

Harling: “I support the voucher system. I would sponsor a bill to enable the money to follow the child because that’s fair. My daughter went to a public elementary school, and she loved it. But when it came to middle and high school, the options weren’t as easy to choose. But our tax dollars still went away from us to schools that we weren’t using. It would have benefited us if those tax dollars had gone to help her tuition.”

Question 8: Critical race theory and other curriculum such as sexual education have recently been hot topics across the country. The general assembly recently voted to implement laws concerning these subjects. What are your thoughts concerning the schools having control over what is taught, or should the parents have more control over what is taught? Do you think the current legislation goes far enough?

Harling: “We go a little bit in the right direction, but we don’t go far enough to make a huge difference. I can guarantee you there’s no one in my district that thinks it’s okay to ask a first grader if they are a boy or a girl.” It’s clearly grooming children to be preyed upon. It is messing with their minds and causing mental illness. There’s been a lot of people infiltrating our government to subdivision and to do bad things to our children and I would love for the opportunity to fight for them.

Cameron: “Critical race theory comes from China. They changed it from classes to race, and it’s wrong. We don’t need grooming in our schools. We’re continuing to work on bills to shore that up. We will keep fighting this stuff. If the Democrats don’t like it, tough luck.”

After the debate between Cameron and Harling, there was a debate between Colton Moore and Steven Henry. Moore and Henry are running for State Senator, District 53, the position previously held by Jeff Mullis, who recently announced his intent to retire.

While the other candidates often shared the same opinions, Moore and Henry sparred against each other during their portion of the debate.

“My opponent will probably introduce me as being totally opposite, and we are. That is one thing that he and I will agree on,” Henry said.

“I entered this race because I believe my opponent is a weak republican. He doesn’t have an understanding of what it means to be free and to have free conservative principals,” Moore said.

Moore and Henry answered the same set of questions as the prior debate.

School curriculum:
Moore: “I have always been 100 percent for public education and teachers. Unfortunately, I became aware of some things that were being taught at our local high school. I got hold of a government book. It was an issue about the second amendment. The book became more of a gun control propaganda piece. I am now an advocate for the school voucher system, allowing teachers to create their own charter schools.”

Henry: “I think parents need more say in their education. I believe the bill is good grassroots start for further change.

Economic Development:

Moore: “Georgia continues to claim that it is the number one state to do business in. But if you talk to any local merchant in Dade County, they will tell you it is a lot easier to do business in Tennessee or in Alabama. I want to focus on things that reduce regulations for our current business owners.”

Henry: “I think we need to work harder on economic development to attract good paying jobs, so our people don’t have to drive across the border to go to work. Northwest Georgia is, in my opinion, the best place to raise your children, to retire, and we lose you somewhere in between.”

School vouchers:

Henry: “I think we can all agree that our school systems need a little work. They’ve kind of drifted away. I do think the voucher system almost creates another arm of government. And that’s one thing that we say we’re trying to lessen. I’m not opposing to doing something different, but how are we going to do it? I believe there is research that needs to be done.”

Moore: “Mr. Henry, I think you have a lack of confidence in the folks across northwest Georgia. You ask any parent here what they would rather do. Would they rather send their kid to a public education where they are unsure of what kind of education they are going to receive? You give those parents a voucher, and they will know the right thing to do with it.”

Constitutional carry:

Moore: “Myself and Representative Matt Gurtler in Rabun County were two who put constitutional carry back up and trying to give it a breath of life. Finally, with some more pressure against Senator Mullis, he agreed and finally, we got that passed after 20 years of trying. But I don’t think that goes far enough. There is a new threat on the horizon, and that is red flag laws. Without any due process, someone can accuse another person of doing something bad, and potentially take away their firearms. We need a state senator who is going to be a hawk to look at legislation.”

Henry: “Taking credit for bills that passed three years after you’re gone does not make you a winner. Colton, I apologize, but you can’t claim the victory on something you didn’t accomplish. I think it is a good bill and I am glad they got it done.”

Moore: “I wanted nothing more than those pieces of legislation to see the light of day, and the Senator wouldn’t give me the light of day. When I decided to run for his seat, he finally took the initiative.”

The General Assembly’s mental health bill:

Henry: “I think it’s a step in the right direction, but our sheriffs should never have the job of handling mental health patients. In Catoosa County, there is an individual that has been there for 250 days because there’s only 17 beds in our region for mental health patients. I think we need to do more on the state level for mental health, before they decided it was better to dump it into local government’s laps.”

Moore: Georgia has seen two very extreme sides to mental health. There was once a dark place in Milledgeville for mental health patients. There is now a dark place for mental health patience in our local jails, a place that they shouldn’t be. We have to find something in the middle. I never want to see an issue that so many people realize is a problem and they want to find a solution to it and make a 70-page piece of legislation about it. And, put things in there like red flag laws or transgender reassignment surgeries. This is what I talk about when I say being a hawk on bad legislation.”

2020 election:

Moore: “Senate Bill 202 was pretty much lip service to the problems that we have in election integrity. No matter how many people you talk to in the state, the number one issue is election integrity, and they are not too satisfied about that piece of legislation. Why? Because it still allows drop boxes in every single county in Georgia.”

Henry: “Drop boxes are ridiculous. I think they need to go away. I am thankful we did address election laws, and I can only hope the other 49 states will catch up. Voting is privilege, it is freedom that we take for granted. I think we need to get back to a sense of pride and a sense of community, to where we enjoy the freedoms that God has given us in this country again.”

Budget, funding of departments:

Henry: “I think we need to have a place that we can put a mental health patient to get them help, to get them out of the system. Allowing them to sit in the jails, and then you wonder why they come back in a week, it really needs to stop happening. It’s not good for anybody. I think if I could have been a part of it, I would have advocated more for mental health.”

Moore: “There’s fallacy in your question. We do not have a balanced budget. You see, every year, Georgia takes out loans. To me, that’s not a balanced budget. A balanced budget is when you take in revenue from taxpayers, and you make a budget around that. I would propose that every single department of government have its own individual budget that they advocate for in the legislature.”

Bringing taxpayer money into the region:

Moore “People oftentimes say, ‘A grant is going to pay for that,’ but what they fail to say after that is that the grant was already your money. Don’t count on me, if you want a whole bunch of grant money showing up to Dade County but count on me if you want to see a reduction in government regulation, and a reduction of additional taxes.”

Henry: “I’ll be the guy that brings the grant money to you, because if we don’t get it, they’re going to give it to somebody else. Why should these counties not get their fair share? There’s $37 million come to this area in the last 12 months. I don’t want to figure out how to replace that. You cannot say you would like to lower the tax burden but not fight for grant money.”

To watch the full responses from the candidates, the debate can be watched online on Facebook on the Dade County, Georgia and KWN News Now Facebook pages.

Early voting is underway for the Georgia Primary Election. Election Day is May 24.


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