***Similar Stands Voiced***
The four Republican candidates for Georgia House District 117 and District 119 used the opportunity presented them at the Oconee County Republican Party meeting last week to introduce themselves and take similar stands on a number of issues.
All spoke about the need for improvements to roads, in support of education, and in favor of campus carry, though some were open to changes in the campus carry law passed by the legislature last year–without the support of then 117 Rep. Regina Quick or then 119 Rep. Chuck Williams, both Republicans.
Three of those candidates–Tom Lord, Steven Strickland and Marcus Wiedower--are running against each other as well as against a Democrat in a Special Election on Nov. 7 for House District 119. The district is split roughly equally between Oconee County and Clarke County.
The fourth–Houston Gaines--has only one opponent–a Democrat–in the Special Election for House District 117–consisting of three of Oconee County’s 13 precincts as well as parts of Barrow, Clarke and Jackson counties.
Democrats Deborah Gonzalez in the 117th and Jonathan Wallace in the 119th were not invited to the GOP meeting, but they have been invited to three other candidate forums, including one scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. on Monday at the Community Center in Veterans Park.
All six have indicated they will attend the Monday evening forum.
Party Chair Tammy Gilland afforded each of the four Republican candidates the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes at the regular meeting of the county Republican Party, held last Thursday at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
|Wiedower, Strickland, Lord, Gaines, Gilland|
Gaines talked about his family background, including that he is the grandson of the late Superior Court Judge Joseph Gaines and that he was president of the University of Georgia Student Government last year.
Lord explained how he had built his local business, Lord and Stephens Funeral Home, after having worked in the funeral business for others for many years.
Stevens spoke about his experience in the communication technology industry, saying that he would bring skills to the legislature that would help it navigate issues upcoming and seize opportunities presented.
Wiedower spoke about family, his service to the county Republican Party, for which he has been Second Vice Chair, his commitment to the community, and his work as a custom home builder.
Gaines On Issues
“You can probably tell by looking at me I’m not your typical candidate in a lot of different ways,” Gaines said, “but I think people are looking for different types of candidates. They’re excited about the next generation getting involved.”
Gaines said he was in favor of cutting regulations, supports economic development, and wants “to make sure folks have real skills coming out of school.”
“I’m going to do what I can to support our northeast Georgia values, whether’s that defending the second amendment, whether that’s protecting innocent, unborn children, doing what we can to continue those important efforts to insure that we’re not overspending what we’ve got in the state coffers,” Gaines said.
He said SR 316 needs to be upgraded to a limited access roadway.
Lord On Issues
“I’ve started and built a small business, so I know what it takes,” Lord told those at the meeting. “I have done everything in my power to make the company continue to grow.”
Lord said he wants to make sure jobs are plentiful, wants to maintain the quality of schools in Oconee County, and supports local control of schools.
“I want to make sure that we maintain the quality of life in our community that we are accustomed to,” Lord said.
Lord said he wants SR 316 improved and “I’ll fight to make sure the transportation dollars return to our county.”
“I want to protect the constitutional rights and our conservative values,” he said. “I want us to be able to stand and be proud of our flag and our national anthem.”
Strickland On Issues
“We are two counties,” Strickland said, reminding the audience of the balance between Oconee and Clarke counties in the district. “Each county has its own attributes that makes it special and unique. And those perspectives need to be taken into account.”
Strickland said “I think I can do what it takes at the legislative level to continue to make what’s great about these communities tick.”
Strickland said the state is going to be focusing on issues of transportation infrastructure, intelligent highway systems, autonomous vehicles and smart cities.
“This web of interconnected things has an impact on our lives,” Strickland said, and he said his experience would allow him to contribute to discussion in the legislature about these issues.
Strickland said the two counties have great school districts, but he is concerned about the performance of schools elsewhere.
“We need to do more for our rural communities,” he said.
Wiedower On Issues
Wiedower said his top issue “when I go down to Atlanta...is going to be education.”
He said it is important that the University of Georgia gets the state support it needs to continue to contribute to the state and region.
“Our district has great, amazing schools,” Wiedower said. “Clarke County, in the last five years, they have raised their graduation rate 30 points. Here in Oconee County, annually, obviously we’re in the top--top in the state on all levels.
“But we need to make sure no kids are dropping through the cracks,” he said.
Wiedower called for more local control over state transportation spending and said that SR 316 should have been a limited access roadway when it was built.
“Taxes, we’ve got to trim the waste,” Wiedower said.
“If I’m honored enough to represent you in Atlanta, I’m not going to cave to special interest groups,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Gilland allowed five minutes of questions from the audience, and the first was from Bill Mayberry, an active member of the party.
Mayberry noted that the legislature passed House Bill 280 allowing guns on campus in the last session but that there is discussion about changes to the law.
“What is your opinion on campus carry?” he asked.
I’ve transcribed the entire responses of the four candidates, in the order in which the candidates answered Mayberry’s question.
Candidates On Campus Carry
Wiedower: “I believe campus carry should pass. However I do believe there might need to be some reworking of the way it was written so it is very clear on exactly what those regulations are.”
Strickland: “I support campus carry. Twenty states have enacted it. There’s been no repercussions as a result of that.”
Lord: “I definitely support campus carry. I’ve got a 20-year-old daughter at the University of Georgia. I feel good knowing she has the right to protect herself if she needs to. I know when campus carry was passed, the opponents predicted mass carnage. Knock on wood, none of that’s happened.”
Gaines: “I do think, and we’ve actually talked about this before, there were problems with the legislation, no matter which way you looked at it. If you’re like me and supported the second amendment, you know, folks would say there are too many exemptions in the law and that will be something that they’ll consider. And also, you know, for students and faculty and staff, obviously, there was concerns on the other side. Just having it in general. So, what I would like to see is, after this fall, we have a semester under the belt where we’ve had campus carry. At that point, when we’re in session we would have had a semester to actually see how it played out.”
Sarah Bell, Russ Page and I have organized the candidate forum from 6 to 9 p.m. on Monday night at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road.
The four candidates for the 119th House District will be featured from 6 to 7:40.
The two candidates for the 117th will be featured from 7:40 to 8:40.
The University of North Georgia Student Government and the Oconee and Athens GOP will host a forum for all six candidates for the two House districts from 6 to 7:20 p.m. on Oct. 17 in Room 522 of the UNG Oconee County campus off Experiment Station Road outside Watkinsville.
Gilland told me that the four Republican candidates have committed to attend and that Gonzalez has agreed to send a representative because of a prior commitment. Wallace also has a commitment, Gilland said, and is being asked to send a representative.
The Federation of Neighborhoods, a volunteer community organization in Athens-Clarke County, is hosting a forum for all six candidates from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 23 in the auditorium of the Athens-Clarke County Library, 2025 Baxter Street, Athens.
I was not able to attend the meeting Sept. 28, but Bell, who is active in the Republican Party, did attend and recorded the video below.
Bell said she counted 33 persons in the audience at the meeting.
The initial comments from Gaines start at 3:40 in the video.
Lord started speaking at 12:32.
Strickland spoke at 19:25.
Wiedower started his comments at 36:35.
The first question posed from the audience–on campus carry–was at 46:09.