As State Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, seeks a position in the U.S. House of Representatives, his Georgia Senate District 50 seat has become an open race. Six Republicans will be on the ballot June 9.
Dee Daley, as the only Democrat in the race, will be unopposed in June and will be on the ballot in November.
The six Republicans include Andy Garrison, Dan Gasaway, Stacy Hall, Bo Hatchett, Tricia Hise and Lee Moore. In interviews with The Times, they all said they believed in limited government but also anticipated legislators facing challenges in coming months and years as the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
State agencies have been asked to prepare for 14% budget cuts as Georgia prepares for declines in revenue due to COVID-19. Many of the District 50 candidates said education and public safety would be their funding priorities if elected.
District 50 includes all of Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Rabun, Stephens and Towns and portions of Hall and Jackson counties.
Experience: Garrison is the principal managing partner of Inland Realty in Jefferson and president of The Garrison Company. He retired in 2011 as the director of the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. He teaches at Athens Technical College.
Experience: Gasaway served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018. He is a builder.
Experience: Hall was elected to the Habersham County Board of Commissioners in 2016 and is the board’s current chairman. He and his wife Ivy own a real estate development business. He is a former educator.
Experience: Hatchett is an attorney in Cornelia and owns a small real estate business.
Experience: Hise is an attorney in Habersham County, and she and her husband own a home renovations business.
Residence: Franklin Springs
Experience: Moore has been mayor of Franklin Springs for 10 years. He owns Moore Vault Company and is a former educator.
Candidates on 4 issues
State government’s role in recovering from COVID-19
Garrison: The state should prioritize supporting businesses and local communities because “communities build strong regions and strong regions build strong states, and strong states build strong nations.” “Some of these businesses, when they get started back, they’re going to need some assistance from the federal government and our state government in order to be back in the swing of things and make sure they get business going,” he said.
Gasaway: The state should focus on balancing the budget without raising taxes. “The legislature will have to look at more creative ways to raise revenue without raising taxes. We’re going to have to go back through to look at our business regulations and see what business regulations we can relax that will take pressure off our small businesses.”
Hall: While state government can work with citizens and businesses to help Georgia recover from the pandemic, he does not “believe that the answer to everything is more government.” “We have to be very careful in the legislature not to overstep our role. There are certainly things that we can do to help ramp up businesses. There are certainly things we can do to help our hospitals during this time,” he said. “We can certainly communicate to folks what they should be doing. But I want to be careful not to put the full responsibility on government because I don’t think that’s its role.”
Hatchett: Legislators should communicate with people on the local level about challenges they are facing. “Listen to the people, and make sure we’re getting the ideas of the people and we’re representing our constituents best,” he said. “You have to have a senator and representative that listens to the people and knows what is going on in the local economies.” He said he views the budget as the legislature’s biggest challenge. “There will be tough decisions that will have to be made in June for those who are in office right now. I think when we get in office in January, we’ll look at amending that budget, but that’s the first priority,” he said.
Hise: State officials should communicate with local leaders and constituents and advocate for their needs on the state level. “The biggest part of restarting the economy is listening to the needs of our people, listening to the challenges that our small businesses are facing, and working together to bridge the gap between the state government and the county and municipal governments in order to provide our small businesses, our hospitals, our first responders, our teachers, our educators, the tools that are necessary to get back on the ground and hit the ground running,” she said.
Moore: State legislators should listen to their local communities’ concerns and advocate for them. “We as a legislature are going to be the voice for them, but we need to listen,” he said. “We need to let them tell us what their needs are and take those needs and fix them under the Gold Dome.” Economic recovery should be the state government’s priority, he said. “Hard decisions are going to have to be made. The budget is the biggest issue, because that affects everybody,” he said. “We have to get people back to work.”
Garrison: State employees and education should be priorities in the budget. “The most important thing in our state budget is people. We need to make sure we concentrate on our people, and that includes our workers. It also includes our teachers,” he said. Garrison said he supports the zero-based budgeting system. “Every year every organization has to justify why they need the funds they have and then decide whether they need more funds, or can they get by with lesser funds?” he said. “I think we all need to go back and justify what is important and what is actually necessary to carry on our mission.”
Gasaway: Education should be a budget priority. Raising taxes is not the best option for making up for lost revenue, he said. “We won’t recover if we think that raising taxes is the solution to this economic problem. We won’t recover as rapidly,” he said. “We will recover more rapidly by maintaining the lower taxes where we are now.”
Hall: “There’s certainly going to be some very difficult decisions that lie ahead in the budgeting process next year, and I think there most likely will have to be cuts made in certain areas,” Hall said. He said public safety and education should be funding priorities in the state budget. And supporting businesses can help the state’s economy and the government’s budget, Hall said. “In government, we think so many times, if we need more revenue let’s either cut services or tax more. How about we help businesses thrive?” he said. “Let’s focus on ramping up businesses, which will then in turn increase tax revenue.”
Hatchett: Education, public safety and agriculture should be priorities in a fiscally conservative budget. “Our priority should be to be as fiscally conservative as possible and to maintain our AAA bond rating, use our rainy day fund as we need it, and make sure our teachers, our farmers, and our public service areas are protected and well-funded,” he said.
Hise: Supporting businesses, health care, first responders and educators should be budget priorities. “We have to make sure that our food production, our poultry farms, our agriculture is open for business and we are full force and ready to go,” Hise said. “We have to make sure that our health care providers, our first responders, our law enforcement are protected and provided for, as well as our teachers and educators.”
Moore: Education and first responders should be funding priorities in the budget. He said he would want to minimize the impact of budget cuts on state residents and employees. “With my personal budget, my business budget, the city of Franklin Springs budget, there’s always fat in that budget, and that’s where you start trimming first,” he said. “I’m not in favor of raising taxes. I’m not in favor of furloughing people. I’m not in favor of disrupting people’s lives and livelihoods, because their lives and livelihoods have been disrupted enough here in the last several months.”
Garrison: Increasing competition can help patients save. “Competition is going to help us drive down the cost, particularly with prescription drugs. … These prices need to be affordable, and I think to do that, we need to get some competition in here to drive down our prices,” he said.
Gasaway: “Every state in the country has had health care challenges since the dislocation that was created by the Affordable Care Act. … Georgia is not exempt from that,” he said. He said he has also seen the trend of consolidation of health systems as hospitals merge or systems acquire facilities. “Health care is facing consolidation. … As a legislature, we need to see that trend and find out how we can manage that trend that’s in the best interest of the taxpayer,” he said.
Hall: He has served as chairman of the Habersham County Hospital Authority, an experience he said has given him firsthand experience dealing with the unique issues rural hospitals face. “I believe that Georgia needs rural hospitals. They provide an exceptional level of care to folks in these rural areas, and we can’t let them go under,” he said. “They are facing enormous financial pressures in this day and age.” Promoting and stabilizing rural hospitals would be a priority in the Senate, Hall said.
Hatchett: He supports President Donald Trump’s health care initiatives, particularly reversing the Affordable Care Act, and would promote those ideas on the state level. He said he also supports increasing competition in health care and allowing insurers to sell across state lines.
Hise: Some areas of District 50 do not have access to a nearby hospital, and supporting rural health care would be a priority. “We have to make sure our rural hospitals have the resources they need in order to succeed. That doesn’t mean just money,” she said. “It also means that as a state senator, what I will be doing is working with our rural hospitals to make sure that they have the information, the education and the background necessary in order to utilize any and all federal and state funds that are out there.” She said working with health systems to find funding through the CARES Act or other sources could shift the burden off of local hospital authorities or governments.
Moore: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for quality health care. “We need to be more patient-centered, patient-driven. I oppose Medicare for all. I do support market-based reforms that empower individuals to control their own health care decisions,” Moore said. “I support employee-based health care, and we should examine health insurance so any employee can take that coverage with them from job to job and in and out of the labor force.”
Garrison: He supports increasing access to vocational education and promoting trade professions to students. He said he also wants to support local businesses as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Small businesses are what’s going to get us out of this economy dive that we’re in right now,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have our mom and pops, our local businesses, give them the opportunities to grow because that’s going to build our tax base.”
Gasaway: He said he has heard from employers who struggle to find qualified workers, an issue he said state government should address. “We were having a workforce shortage statewide, and the No. 1 thing the government can do is help businesses with the workforce shortage."
Hall: Streamlining processes and making hiring easier would be his approach to supporting businesses. “I believe in the ingenuity and grit of the American people. Usually, they can figure it out. That doesn’t mean I’m saying the government should never help,” Hall said. “... But I don’t think the government should dictate and steer everything.” He said supporting vocational training can help both students and businesses. Hall said he also supports tort reform, which would protect businesses against some lawsuits.
Hatchett: He said he supports a payroll tax cut for small businesses. State government should also cut regulations, he said. “I know how important jobs and small businesses are to this area. Helping small businesses bounce back from this coronavirus is obviously a huge priority,” he said. “Protecting agriculture and decreasing regulation in agriculture would be another huge priority.”
Hise: She would work with technical colleges and high schools to expand access to vocational training. Increasing access to high-speed internet is another goal of hers. “As a mom of a second grader, it has been such a challenge for my son to be able to do his homework because we don’t have access to high-speed internet,” Hise said. Broadband access also attracts businesses, she said. “It is a major factor that causes industry to look elsewhere. We have to address this issue and work together. I think there should be some private-public partnerships in place,” she said.
Moore: He supports tax incentives for businesses. “Those things can be done to help attract and keep and build back up businesses we already have,” he said. He said he would also promote agriculture. “Georgia grows best because Georgia knows best. We need to continue to do that,” Moore said. “We need to continue to buy Georgia grown.”