Fight for state Senate District 18 seat centers on rural health, economics

mlee@macon.comJune 30, 2012 

This year’s contest for the state Senate District 18 seat differs from the past few election cycles.

Not only is it a much-expanded district that now reaches from Forsyth to Thomaston to Fort Valley. But more than one person wants the job this time. Thomaston’s Spencer Price is challenging incumbent state Sen. Cecil Staton of Macon in the July 31 Republican primary.

Price, an emergency room physician at Memorial Hospital in Adel, also is a cattle rancher and pecan farmer. The Georgia Army National Guard lieutenant colonel has also deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Staton is a book publisher and owner of Georgia Eagle Media, which owns several radio stations as well as the Warner Robins Patriot newspaper and television stations. He was first elected in 2004 and since then has become majority whip. He sits on the powerful Assignments Committee, which assigns senators to committees, and is a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee.

Price said he offers a “unique” background to voters as a physician, a veteran and a farmer.

“All three of those issues are of particular relevance to central Georgia,” he said.

Yet he also said his top priority is ethics reform, and he pledges to support a proposed $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to legislators, explaining that “certain gratuities are inappropriate for the legislator and for the lobbyist.”

Price received his medical degree from a Mercer School of Medicine program that gives extra weight to applicants who pledge to practice in under-served rural communities, where the number of general practitioners and specialists for miles around can be counted on one hand.

“I will be a personal advocate,” Price pledged, “for the personal value and the attractiveness of practicing in rural an under-served areas.” He also said would be able to provide professional advice to the Senate on medical policy.

Both Price and Staton agree that rural residents need better access to well-staffed trauma care. Among other efforts, Staton pushed a plan to finance that with a $10 fee on all Georgia licence plates, though voters rejected that. Price suggested getting funds through a fee on traffic violations.

Staton said a significant priority for him “is protecting Georgia’s interests relative to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. It is potentially a significant blow to the rights of states and it comes with a hefty price tag for Georgia taxpayers.”

He said the state Legislature will continue to work with Georgia’s delegation in Washington “and hopefully a new president in January” to push back against the current president’s law and seek “more permanent solutions to our health care crisis in the country.”

Staton also emphasized the need to cut red tape that “might prevent businesses from locating in Georgia.” The newly-drawn state Senate district is more rural and geographically larger than the 18th that Staton has served. In transportation and infrastructure, he said in an e-mail, “I think we have to begin to think more regionally. If a business locates in any one of those counties, it really helps the economy of the entire district.”

The two men also are strong pro-life politicians, though Price touted his endorsement from Georgia Right to Life.

A new 2011 law cuts a few weeks from the time that women can have an elective abortion, but it makes an exception for pregnancies where the fetus is “medically fragile” due to chromosomal or congenital conditions. Such abortions can still be performed up to 24 weeks. Staton voted for that bill, which overall tightens access to abortions. But Price, father of an infant who died from a congenital heart defect, said he does not agree with the philosophy of different treatment for fetuses with those conditions.

The race has a nasty edge online, with at least one blogger attacking Staton’s character and business dealings and a handful of anonymous sites attacking Price on the same charges. In the fund-raising race, Staton has collected about five dollars for every one of Price’s from last September through this March. In that period, Staton raised $51,125 to Price’s $11,060. Price’s cash comes from a handful of mostly local donors. Staton has many more local donors, plus the political action committee and lobbyist money that regularly flows toward powerful incumbents. Second quarter 2012 campaign disclosures are due July 9.

The winner of the July 31 Republican primary will go to the Capitol in Atlanta next January. There is no Democrat in the race.

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