Joe Hunt says he can remember when he first started thinking about challenging incumbent Jody Hice for the Republican nomination to represent Georgia District 10 in the United States House of Representatives.
Hunt said he didn’t vote for Hice in either of Hice’s two previous elections in 2014 and 2016 and wrote his own name on the ballot in 2016, when Hice had no opposition.
“When I walked out of the booth in November of 2016,” Hunt said. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘That cannot happen again.’ If no one else is going to do it, then it is my responsibility to do it.”
Hunt has taken stands on issues that differ from those of Hice, and in an interview last week Hunt said he brings a skill set from his business experience Hice does not have, that he sees compromise as a strength, and that he views the world in complex rather than simple terms.
He also said he has gained from his roots in Elberton and his experiences living in Oconee County, where he is vice president of Franchise Relations at Zaxby’s.
“I know that my neighbors are not that polarized, even if they lean slight left of center or slight right of center,” Hunt said. “They are not polarized and they don’t dislike each other.”
Busy Week Politically
Hunt will be one of the speakers at the Oconee County Republican Party meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday (March 22) at the Oconee County Health Campus of Piedmont Health Care at the corner of Virgil Langford Road and Jennings Mill Road. Entrance is from the rear of the building.
Hunt also will be a guest at the Oconee County Area Republicans, which will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday (March 24) at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.
The Oconee County Democratic Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (March 20) at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce.
Oconee Progressives is sponsoring a National Issues Forum, “Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?” from 3 to 5 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday) at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.
The Kettering Foundation from Dayton, Ohio, will share results from the deliberative forums on immigration, including the one in Oconee County, with policymakers in Washington.
Hunt said he thinks it is possible the 24-hour-news cycle, with its focus on ratings, has contributed to polarization in the country.
|"I'm An Everyday Guy," Hunt Said.|
“The most outlandish things that get said get covered,” he said.
Hunt also criticized Hice for focusing on social issues that divide people.
“I think that social issues should be viewed as conversation starters in order to educate yourself about why your opinion is different from someone else’s,” Hunt said. “What is it that makes that person’s opinion that differs from yours tick?
“I don’t think it is wise to take a hard line stance on social issues,” Hunt said.
Hice, a pastor from Monroe, also will have opposition in the Republican primary from Bradley Griffin, CEO of Optimized, a digital marketing services company. Griffin is from Jasper County.
Three Democrats have qualified for the May 22 Democratic primary for the 10th Congressional District: Chalis Montgomery, a teacher from Bethlehem in Barrow County, Richard Dien Winfield, a University of Georgia professor of philosophy from Athens, and Tabitha Johnson-Greene, a registered nurse, who has not given an address.
“It troubles me when a party--or a candidate for that party--is such a hard line advocate on certain things that there leaves no room for conversation or compromise,” Hunt said in the half-hour interview I did with him on March 9. We met at Jittery Joe’s on Epps Bridge Parkway.
“The current representation views compromise as a weakness,” Hunt said, “and I view compromise politically as a country as one of our greatest strengths.
“We’ve just gotten so far away from that in the last 10 to 12 years it seems--further away from the ability to compromise. I’d like to bring a little bit of that back to the table.”
Hunt, 42, grew up in Elberton and graduated from Elberton High School in 1993.
He earned a degree in public relations from Georgia Southern University in 1999 and a Master’s of Business Administration from Mercer University in 2015.
He has been with Zaxby’s Franchising Inc., 1040 Founders Boulevard, off Daniells Bridge Road, since 2002.
Hunt said his focus is on economics and economic solutions to problems, and he is opposed to bringing what he called “religious philosophy” into the political arena.
“There is more than one homosexual who lives in this district,” Hunt said. “I am friends with more than one.”
“They deserve the exact same civil rights as any other human being,” Hunt said. “What makes them different is none of my business. And I don’t know why that is such a big issue for certain people.
“Let’s harness the greatness of the humans that are perhaps different from us and see what kind of greatness we can achieve together,” he said.
Hunt said he wouldn’t expect support from President Donald Trump in the primary.
“Generally what we have seen is that the president has gone with folks who are in line to get a vote his way,” Hunt said. “I’m sure he would put his endorsement behind the current representation.”
From a policy standpoint, Hunt said, he is not so far from the positions Trump took in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 30.
Hunt gave as examples shared support for apprenticeship programs and vocational education and immigration.
“Except for the wall, which I’m not necessarily in favor of,” Hunt said, he and Trump mostly are in agreement on immigration.
“Chain migration, funding the border agencies to do their job to, at a very minimal, slow the flow across the southern border specifically as best as possible, to end the visa lottery program. All of those things I’m completely in line with.”
Differences On Immigrants
Hunt said he differs with “a lot of Republicans, unfortunately,” on what to do with “the immigrants who have made it across the border and are here.”
“I see the power of harnessing that economic force as a real benefit,” Hunt said.
“There are jobs every single day that get left by American workers because they don’t want them,” Hunt said. “Well, these folks do want them.”
“If we can put those folks to work and get it documented that they are here and they are here to work, it can really help, especially again in this district,” Hunt said.
Hunt said there are many people in District 10 who own small businesses who depend on migrant, seasonable labor.
Hunt said he agrees with many of the economic decisions that Trump has made, except for the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum.
“So far the economy has been incredibly strong under this president,” Hunt said. “The tax cuts have, at least to this point--not even a full quarter into the tax cuts--they have generated what he anticipated they would.”
“We have to see what it does for an entire year and beyond that,” Hunt said. “But so far his policies have been effective.”
“Personality wise is a completely different ball game,” Hunt said. “I find it troubling that the pettiness with which he pursues his public fights."
Hunt said he acknowledges Trump is trying to control the media attention, but “It doesn’t have to be so petty. It doesn’t have to be playground childishlike.
“And there is certainly an expectation--at least from my point of view--an expectation of behavior of the president of the United States. And from a personality standpoint, he’s not lived up to that expectation.”
The 10th Congressional stretches from Gwinnett County to the Savannah River and from Athens-Clarke County to Johnson County, incorporating all of 19 counties and parts of six others.
All of Oconee County is in the 10th District, and about half of Athens-Clarke County is in the district.
Hunt describes the district as “a split between very rural, suburban and some urban, so it has really every kind of person and voter and opinion and every type of constituent you can imagine.”
“There is no candidate that is ever going to be a perfect fit, ever, for especially that diverse a group of people,” Hunt said.
“But I certainly believe I can be more representative of opinions and ideas and types of people than what we currently have,” he added.
Hunt said he is upset that he has to use the label of “moderate Republican” to describe himself.
|Hunt Stressed Value Of Vocation And Technical Education|
“There used to just be Republican,” he said. “Then came the Tea Party. Then came the Freedom Caucus. And it just keeps going further right.
“I would like to get back to a point where you’re just a Republican.
“To even have to say that its moderate Republican is disturbing,” he said. “But if that’s the term, then I will embrace it.”
Hunt, who lives at 1011 Westminster Terrace off Rocky Branch Road with his wife, Stephanie Boyd Hunt, and two sons, said he thinks Oconee County also reflects a diversity of perspectives.
“Something is broken,” he said, “and if no one else is going to step up and do it, then it becomes our responsibility.
“I know I feel like it is my responsibility to do something about it. The voters may think differently, and that’s ok.”
Zaxby’s founders Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley are boyhood friends, and Townley lives in and owns large amounts of farm acreage in the county.
Hunt said “I think they support the idea” of his candidacy, but “I don’t know that they are necessarily going to be vocal advocates.”
It isn’t a good idea for business leaders to support a particular candidate, Hunt said.
The Zaxby connection is an advantage even without endorsements from the founders, Hunt said.
Georgia is the home state for Zaxby’s, and “there is such a presence of operations and employees across this district,” Hunt said.
Hunt’s work with franchisees and other in the state “has allowed me to make a ton of connections with lots of folks, all of whom would like to be involved in their communities,” he said.
“It has given me the opportunity to establish friendships, long term relationships all over.”
Hunt said his work with Zaxby’s with responsibility for Franchise Relations has given him skills and experiences that set him apart from Hice.
“The role is to sit between the executive team and the franchise owners and interpret what their wants and needs and desires are, to make sure that there is a partnership and a viable partnership that benefits both sides, and be able to interpret that understanding and be able to filter and send it back to the other group.”
“While I have no political background,” Hunt said. “I have sat in a political atmosphere from a business standpoint for many years.”
Hunt criticized Hice for his unwillingness to meet with constituents who disagree with him.
“I get the impression--I don’t know Jody very well personally, I’ve only met his once–but I get the impression that he’s very black and white, and it is one way or the other way,” Hunt said.
“I find there to be, just in every day living, a tremendous amount of gray matter that needs to be explored before reaching a conclusion.”
Reactions To Campaign
Hunt said he has gotten mostly supportive responses to his campaign.
“I have run into people who are very pleased with current representation that were curious to know what my end game was and why would I run against someone who’s so popular,” Hunt said. “But that has not been the majority.”
“In the very informal conversations, the reaction that I get most commonly is it’s nice to have someone running who believes in starting a conversation,” Hunt said.
“And that’s been really the real takeaway for me is that folks are surprised to hear that sort of mentality and--I guess--desire to serve from that angle of things.
“I’m an everyday guy just like you are. I go to work. I come home. I have family. I coach baseball and basketball and do all of the same things that you do. I’m nobody different.
“And if we were going to sit on my back deck and grill burgers, we’d have the same conversation. The same thing.
“You’re all my neighbors and friends. Let’s understand each other as best as possible and then make the choice on what benefits the greater good.”
Vocation And Technical Education
Hunt mentioned vocation and technical education early in the interview, and he came back to it at the end when I asked him if there was something he wanted to talk about that I had not addressed in my questions.
“I want to promote that apprenticeship and technical school education as best as is possible because I think that is a way to prosperity for a lot of folks,” he said.
Hunt said the lack of technical and vocational educational is a national issue, and he called for federal funding to address the problem.
The goal would be to give “kids who do not know what their opportunities are going to be a chance to look at electrical, those types of trades, and give them a direct path” to those trades.
“I mean we have one of the finest technical schools I think in the country sitting right here in our backyard,” Hunt said, referring to Athens Technical College in Athens-Clarke County.
“We could so harness and leverage the power that school has and schools just like it,” Hunt said.
“I would love to see Athens Tech have the opportunity to expand with satellite campuses in other parts of this district to give kids an idea that they’ve got an opportunity, something real exists for them beyond whatever industry does or does not exist in their back yard.”
For Hunt, the importance of vocational education is personal.
“I think it’s a shame that we’ve let vocational education go by the wayside,” he said. “I was part of a vocational program when I was in high school and I learned some of the greatest lessons of my life as far as clocking in, clocking out, being on time.
“Financial literacy became a part of my life at a very early age of 15 and 16,” he said.
“I was on the path to apprenticeship. I was learning how to solder motherboards in a television repair shop.
“Nobody repairs a tv any more. But I was part of that program. And I knew that even if I didn’t go to a four-year school I had an opportunity and I was going to get an opportunity somewhere because I had learned a trade.”
I set up the interview with Hunt because of his Oconee County connection. He chose the time and location.
I video recorded the entire session, which lasted a half hour.
The camera was on a table-mounted tripod off my right shoulder, pointed to Hunt to avoid the glare from the front of the store.
Unfortunately, the tripod slipped off the table half-way through the interview, and the video file closed incorrectly.
I can view that first video file from the interview on the camera but I cannot edit it.
For that reason, I transcribed the entire interview to create the notes used for this post.
I also edited the second half of the video into four clips, dealing with Hunt’s experiences at Zaxby’s, how Hunt differentiates his skill set from those of Hice, his assessment of reactions to his campaign, and his views on vocational and technical education.
The video runs just more than 9 minutes, and covers the four topics in the order listed.