Incumbent faces familiar rival in state Senate District 15 race

mlee@macon.comJuly 11, 2012 

  • State Senate District 15 candidates

    Ed Harbison
    Age: 70
    Party: Democrat
    Occupation: Businessman
    Political experience: State senator since 1992

    Reginald Pugh
    Age: 58
    Party: Democrat
    Occupation: Licensed clinical social worker
    Political experience: Two unsuccessful bids for state Senate

ATLANTA -- Two-time challenger Reginald Pugh will again face incumbent state Sen. Ed Harbison in the Democratic primary this month. The men are running in a new District 15 that’s expanded from their homes in Columbus all the way to Macon County.

Since 1992, Harbison has represented the Columbus area in the state Senate. He said one of his priorities will be economic development.

“You have to take care of the constituents, (but) at the same time remember businesses are your constituents also,” he noted. Harbison praised the Legislature’s vote this year to erase local taxes on energy used in manufacturing.

He said he’s hearing talk in Macon County of a prospective new road connection from Fort Benning to Interstate 75 “to ease traffic among the bases,” which could also spur economic development. The work opportunities that something like a new road provides, he believes, would give young people a reason to stay in their home counties and stop “brain drain.”

Those brains need access to traditional public schools that turn out graduates “ready to compete on a global scale,” said Harbison. He thinks charter schools are appropriate only in certain cases, such as a special needs population.

“I think if you take all of the money out of public schools and put it in charter schools, that’s a disservice,” said Harbison, adding, “the profit margin becomes the master of that.”

If re-elected, Harbison expects that he and fellow Democrats will return to pushing bills aimed at spreading HOPE scholarship money differently.

In a particular county, “Say we spend $1 million on the lottery, but only five kids in the county qualify (for HOPE). That’s not fair,” he said.

Yet it’s hard to prove exactly where the feared discrepancies may be. A bill that would have required a state audit of lottery sales by geography failed this year.

Challenger Pugh is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Columbus and calls himself “the people’s candidate.”

The Urban League runs programs for youths, for job hunters and others, but Pugh emphasized his work with people seeking mortgage modification. He estimated the agency has helped hundreds of homeowners get modifications.

If elected, he said he wants to “rescind any wrongfully foreclosed property.” Home-owners are not protected as much as they should be against fallout from ruses such as bank-falsified documents, Pugh said.

He’s also calling to cut the state’s prison population.

“People are finding out we can’t lock up everybody. It’s too costly,” Pugh said, pointing out that the state spends more annually per inmate than per K-12 student.

Numbers from the past few years are about $20,000 per inmate and between $4,000 and $5,000 per student, though there is wide variation in both figures.

For Pugh, corrections relief should start with clearing out people who have mental illness or a drug addiction.

“They need to be in a halfway house or treatment,” he said. And deadbeat dads sentenced for missing child support payments “need to be out working.”

Pugh also said he offers integrity, which he finds in short supply at the state Capitol. A 2012 nationwide study found Georgia leading the nation in corruption risk, he pointed out.

Too often, government “is run by a bunch of crooks. The citizens, we have to put a stop to that.”

Harbison beat Pugh in Democratic primaries for the seat in 2006 and 2008. The winner of this year’s July 31 primary meets Republican David Brown during the Nov. 6 general election.

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