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Rare Democratic challengers square off in state House debate
Two vying to face Dunahoo in fall
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Alana Watkins, front, speaks during the House District 30 Democratic primary debate on Monday, April 16, between herself and Patrick Anderson, listening to Watkins, in Flowery Branch. The two are vying for the chance to face Rep. Emory Dunahoo in the November general election. - photo by Nick Bowman

For the first time in more than 10 years, two Democrats faced each other in a Monday night primary debate in Flowery Branch vying for the chance to run for the Georgia House District 30 seat.

Alana Watkins and Patrick Anderson took questions from moderator Wendy Glasbrenner, a Gainesville lawyer, and the public in an 80-minute debate at the Spout Springs Library in Flowery Branch.

The two are running for the chance to unseat Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, in the Nov. 6 general election for House District 30, which runs from Lake Lanier Islands in the southwest to the North Oconee River near Gillsville in the northeast.

It’s the first contested primary for a state House seat Hall County Democrats have seen in more than 10 years, said Leigh Miller, second vice chair of the party and head of candidate recruitment.

The primary comes as the party is seeing a recent record for the number of candidates fielded across all 2018 elections. And it’s not the only primary for the Hall County party this month: In the coming days Josh McCall and Dave Cooper, the two Democrats running to challenge U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, will debate at the Gainesville Civic Center.

Watkins is a graduate of Brenau University with a background working with Gannett Publishing and now works as a teacher at Athens Technical College. Anderson is an accountant who currently works with American Home Products and has experience with several Hall County manufacturers.

The two candidates addressed a wide range of issues currently facing the country: Abortion, immigration, taxes, health care, education and LGBT rights.

The pair didn’t channel Nancy Pelosi before the audience of about 33 people in South Hall, but rather took took moderate positions on a few issues relative to the national line from the Democratic Party.

Both were cool to abortion, saying it was protected by law but something to be avoided.

“I’m not a fan of abortion as a form of birth control. We need a viable plan for birth control,” Watkins said. 

Both candidates said abortion was protected by law and that they would support it remaining available if elected.

Anderson, meanwhile, said the income tax structure was regressive in that it penalized low-income earners (a position shared by Watkins) but also noted Georgia had relatively high tax rates.

“I think there’s things we can do for corporations more and individuals,” Anderson said. “We’re one of the higher rate states, versus Tennessee which has none and Florida has no income tax, so it would be good to bring it down.”

Where Watkins runs most against the grain of national Democratic politics is guns: The technical school teacher said she qualified to run for office this year with her Georgia concealed carry license as her identification.

“I want people to know that Democrats aren’t here to take away your guns,” Watkins said.

But on each of these issues, the pair shared a message with their party: Watkins also believes people should have to secure a license to own firearms and opposed the sale of “assault weapons” to 18-year-old buyers. 

“I understand it’s easier to conceal carry a small handgun, but it’s easier to kill more people with an assault rifle,” she said.

While Anderson said he believes the state income tax could make more room for business and individuals, he also supports Medicaid expansion and green jobs and green power plans.

And each made passionate cases for their areas of interest: Anderson talked at length about education in Georgia and the simple changes schools could make to help students get ready for real life — buying car insurance, negotiating rent and maintaining a credit rating — to avoid being saddled with debt and a cost of living they can’t maintain.

Watkins said the state of Georgia’s nursing homes is “deplorable” and that more Georgians deserve equal access to medical care.

She told the audience about her mother, who died in February, and her poor care in a nursing home.

“The reason being is because she had a tracheotomy, and there were only three nursing homes anywhere near us who would take a vent-dependent patient. One was in Macon, the other one is in Rome and she was pushed into the one in Atlanta. They had six people to a room. Medicare, Humana, forced my mother out of the hospital. They did this without me even being able to control this,” Watkins said. The worst part about it is the funeral home director told me, ‘That place was deplorable when I went to pick up her body.’ That broke my heart. We have to do something about health care, and we have to do something about nursing homes.”

Georgia primary elections are set for May 22.

Election 2018

Registration deadline: April 24, close of business

Primary date: May 22, polls open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Last day to mail an absentee primary ballot: May 18

General election date: Nov. 6

More info: Hall County Elections Office

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