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Election 2018: Tech exec Tippins brings ideas to Hall in governor’s bid
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Clay Tippins, a tech executive turned candidate for governor, spoke to the Hall County Republican Party on Saturday, March 10, before a gubernatorial forum in Norcross. - photo by Nick Bowman

Clay Tippins parachuted into Gainesville on Saturday to give his gubernatorial pitch behind what he joked were the enemy lines of Casey Cagle’s territory.

The Republican entered the race to replace Gov. Nathan Deal in September. He qualified last week for the May 22 primary along with fellow GOP candidates Cagle, Eddie Hayes, Hunter Hill, Brian Kemp, Marc Urbach and Michael Williams.

It’s the first political run for the former Navy SEAL and tech industry executive. Yet his entrance into the race months after other Republicans hasn’t stopped Tippins from becoming a force in the campaign.

The Atlanta resident has raised more than $2 million in the five months since he filed to run for office, making the case that he can bring the tech industry’s penchant for “positive disruption” to Georgia state government.

But Tippins isn’t a matcha-sipping, intersectional California tech boss: He began his speech to the Hall County Republican Party on Saturday, March 10, with a rundown on his military background — he did a stint in the SEALs during the 1990s but returned to service after 9/11 to fight in Iraq — and compared Georgia’s future to a passage in Genesis detailing an exchange between Joseph and pharaoh: Seven years of plenty preceding seven years of famine.

“I think that’s where we are as a state, and I don’t think it’s such a bad picture for where we are as a country. If you look at what Gov. Deal, Gov. Perdue has left us with, there’s 49 states that would like to be Georgia: We’ve got the No. 1 place for doing business, a great balance sheet, low unemployment,” Tippins said.

“We’re in a time of unprecedented plenty. The question is, if we keep doing things the same way, will it stay that way?”

Clay Tippins, a Republican candidate for governor of Georgia, files his qualifying paperwork Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Atlanta, accompanied by his wife, Lori. The list of office seekers running for federal, state and local elections in Georgia’s May 22 primary is set. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
Tippins thinks not, seeing trillions of dollars in national debt as a coming “reckoning” for the country that will leave state leaders scrambling to come up with new ways to fund programs and projects.

“That day is coming when that debt is going to pinch us,” Tippins said, adding that government has ossified and not grown more efficient or smarter as the private sector has in the past 50 years, referring again to his own experience in the quickly changing technology sector.

Tippins walked the about two dozen people in the audience through his four-point plan for change, laying out solutions for crime, transportation, education and state spending. That began with a little-discussed issue in the 2018 race: Atlanta’s sex trafficking problem.

“It’s estimated to be at least a $300 million a year business,” Tippins said.

He advocated for bringing the methods used to fight the war on terror stateside, including internet monitoring and tracking, to fight networks of sex traffickers operating around Atlanta and the country.

“My opponents don’t know how to do that. I wouldn’t have known how to do it unless I had done it because that’s what I did overseas,” he said.

On transportation, Tippins said the state should be putting more of its own money into the Savannah harbor expansion project given the 7-to-1 economic return, as he described it, on investment into the port.

He also called for a north-south interstate bypass around Atlanta to accommodate truck traffic driving through Georgia from the port as well as the synchronization of Georgia’s traffic lights. He said Los Angeles, famous for its horrendous traffic, cut congestion by 25 percent by synchronizing the changing of its signals.

Tippins’ pitch on education tracks with many of his competitors: reducing turnover in Georgia’s workforce of teachers, improving high school graduation rates and putting a much larger focus on the third-grade reading level in the state.

He said too many Georgia children are born into broken families, and that the state needs to put more resources into ensuring more kids leave school ready for a job.

Tippins targeted third-grade reading because he said it’s the strongest predictor of economic potential and future criminal behavior.

“It’s the best way to tell how many prison beds you’re going to need in 15 years,” Tippins said. “It’s how you tell if a kid has a chance.”

Officials and experts in both prisons and education have called this line of thinking an urban myth. Fact checking on the term stretches back at least five years, and those in the industries agree it’s false: Prisons do not use third-grade reading scores to estimate future bed needs.

Tippins’ final point was on state spending. He said almost 15,000 state employees are on track to retire around 2020 because of the number baby boomers working in state government.

“It’s about 20 to 25 percent of your employee state workforce. In the history of Georgia — in the history of any state — you’ve never had a window of time where so many people retired all at one time,” Tippins said. “It is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen and transform our government.”

He said he was “uniquely well-suited to take advantage” of the phenomenon as governor to move positions around the state, consolidate positions and not fill the open spots.

He also said Republicans haven’t made enough progress fulfilling the party’s bedrock promises to voters: cutting taxes.

“Our goal ought to be to get income taxes below 4 percent and find extra monies for things like reading and roads,” Tippins.