Amrey Harden said he is motivated to seek Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners in the special election in November because of his love for the county and his desire to do public service.
In a meeting with Oconee County Republicans, Harden said he will focus on four issues in his campaign: farmland preservation and historical preservation, infrastructure with a focus on broadband, county finances during the current fiscal crisis, and growth.
“What it takes is just a calm conversation,” Harden said. “What I call a level-headed, steady hand. And I think we can come together.”
Harden made his comments at the June meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party, an in-person gathering at the Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville, where U.S. Senate Candidate Wayne Johnson also was a speaker.
The Republican Party is holding its July meeting at 7 p.m. tonight (Monday) at the newly opened party campaign headquarters, 1050 Barber Creek Drive, Building 100, off Mars Hill Road just south of the Daniells Bridge Road intersection.
State Sen. Bill Cowsert is scheduled to give an update on the just-completed session of the General Assembly, and participants will have a chance to meet other elected officials and candidates in the November elections.
Post 3 Opening
Harden is one of two declared candidates for the special election in November to replace William “Bubber” Wilkes, who passed away in March.
Philip Ashford, the other announced candidate, introduced himself at the Republican Party meeting on June 22 but did not speak.
The special election does not have a primary, and both Harden and Ashford have said they will run as Republicans.
So far, no Democrat has announced for the election to fill out Wilkes’ term, which expires in 2022. Wilkes also was a Republican, as are all of the other four members of the Commission.
About 25 people turned out for the meeting on June 22.
State Sen. Cowsert was supposed to speak at that meeting as well, but he withdrew at the last minute because the legislature was still in session and he was involved in negotiations over legislation in Atlanta.
Harden And Career
Harden said he was born and raised in Watkinsville and has spent his entire professional career in Oconee County.
“The reason I’m running is my love for Oconee County and my passion for community service,” Harden said. “I also have--now--time and what I call life and work experience that I can bring–that skill set that I think this important job needs.”
Harden said he ran for mayor of Watkinsville when he was a 21-year-old student at the University of Georgia and served in that capacity for three terms, or six years.
Harden said his first job was pumping gas at a station at the intersection of SR 15 and U.S. 441 in Watkinsville where Jittery Joe’s now is located.
He said he started working at Oconee State Bank in 1973 as a part-time teller and ended his career 43 years later at that bank. The last 22 years Harden was president and CEO of the Bank.
“I was fortunate, folks, to have spent my entire working career here in Oconee County,” Harden said.
Harden said he has served on numerous organizations, including as the private sector representative of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, on the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, and on the Board of the Oconee County Cultural Arts Foundation.
Harden said the county has provided funding for farmland preservation and for historical and scenic preservation and has these programs in the referendum for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax, which also will be on the Ballot in November.
The referendum lists $750,000 for farmland preservation and $125,000 for historic and scenic facilities, and Harden said the farmland money was sufficient but the historic and scenic preservation funding was not.
“What’s important about both farmland and historic preservation is once its gone its gone,” Harden said. “We’re going to need strong, groundswell support from our citizens for us to do more in this county.”
In the past, infrastructure meant roads, water and sewer, but now it means Internet as well, Harden said.
The SPLOST referendum lists $6,109.780 for Broadband, but Harden said he wants someone in county government waking up every morning working to improve Internet services in the county.
Harden said the county has done a good job of planning for the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, but he will bring his banking experience to the Board as it goes forward with managing the crisis.
“I look at growth as a two-edged sword,” Harden said. “Growth is important to our county’s economy,” he explained. “But the other side of that sword--the other side--growth must not outstrip the county’s ability to support it.”
In response to a question, Harden said “it may take some meetings, which I think is important for this community, for the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners to at least give an attempt to getting along. That’s very important.”
Johnson On Education
Johnson, from Macon, who spoke before Harden at the June meeting, also spent his career in banking but he then earned a doctorate specializing in higher education finance and served in the U.S. Department of Education in the Trump administration.
Johnson is one of 21 declared candidates seeking to fill the term of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who stepped down at the end of last year for health reasons.
Kelly Loeffler, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace Isakson and one of those 21 candidates in the non-primaried election in November, spoke to Oconee County Republicans at their May meeting.
Kandiss Taylor, another of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat, spoke before the May candidate forum organized by the Republican Party in early May.
Johnson said he was in charge of the federal student loan program while working in the U.S. Department of Education and that fixing the student loan debt problem is a key focus of his campaign.
The debt is $1.7 trillion, Johnson said, and 80 percent of it will never be repaid.
He proposed 1 percent tax on corporate America to raise the money “to give every high school graduate a $50,000 opportunity plus scholarship grant” to replace the federal loan program.
The second issue Johnson said he will focus on is senior care. He proposes a tax credit for people who are taking care of seniors in their homes.
I did not attend the Republican Party meeting on June 22, but Sarah Bell did attend and produced the video below.
Johnson made his comments starting at 6:30 in the video.
Harden began speaking at 28:17.
The estimate of the crowd size comes from Oconee County Party Chair Steven Strickland.