ATLANTA -- In a Middle Georgia state House district that spans more than 70 miles, seven school systems and beats the state average in unemployment, incumbent state Rep. Bubber Epps and Democratic challenger Mary Ann Whipple-Lue are trying to woo voters -- one on a platform of jobs, the other on schools.
I think my No. 1 priority is jobs, said Epps, R-Dry Branch.
One thing hes looking to is the Columbus-Macon-Augusta Fall Line Freeway. Thats going to be a major corridor, he said. With other connections including a new rail spur at McIntyre he championed, Epps said that makes the district suitable for distribution jobs.
District 144 includes all of Twiggs, Wilkinson and Bleckley counties, plus parts of Laurens, Houston, Bibb and Jones.
Id like to re-establish their (businesses) confidence in our economic base and on the fact that our state is going to be pro-business, Epps said. He praised a set of state tax changes earlier this year that, among other things, imposed an Internet sales tax and cut taxes on energy used in manufacturing.
He also wants to use complaints gathered from small businesses this year by the Legislatures so-called Red Tape committee to craft -- or cut -- laws next year.
Some of the regulation has a negative impact, Epps said. I think some of it may be unintended, but some things still need to go.
His House Bill 131 from last year would have eased state fines for erosion and sediment pollution on road builds, though it failed to appear for a floor vote.
Whipple-Lue, a former Wilkinson County Board of Education member, is standing on a platform of schools, schools and schools, said her campaign manager and husband, Basil Lue.
We have to make sure every penny is spent wisely, he said.
Not only do better schools do justice by students and families, they amount to a rising tide that lifts all boats, improving the economy and government, he suggested.
When people want to relocate, the first thing they think of (is) what kind of school is found in the area? Lue said. If your school system is good, you are going to attract good citizens. ... If you attract good people, theres a domino effect.
Lue said, we expect to make the school system(s) the best in the state.
Whatever their expectations, however, the November election may end in a two-thirds supermajority for Republicans in the state Legislature, further diminishing the influence of Democrats.
Lue knows thats a weak position from which to promise major change.
Its not going to happen overnight, he admitted, but he insisted the district needs to have a mindset that it can be better than it is.
Twiggs County is one of only a handful in Georgia that has no ambulance or doctor. It has one of the most acute cases of the health care deficit that plagues much of rural Georgia.
We really need to address health care facilities and health care quality for rural Georgia, said Epps. He pledged to work on anything that might help, suggesting that the Mercer University School of Medicine would be an excellent partner for us, maybe to help run a clinic.
Lue said his candidate has not studied the rural health issue.
Whipple-Lue and the Wilkinson County Democratic Party were among those stung after Epps election in 2010. He won the race as a Democrat, then switched to the GOP.
She questioned his credibility. You get the voting confidence of the people, she said, and then you show them otherwise? That speaks for itself.
Epps said he switched both on policy grounds and in order to get a seat at the GOP table where decisions are made.
He is also one of eight Bibb legislators who drafted the Macon-Bibb consolidation proposal approved by voters earlier this year.
Like other legislators, he expects small tweaks this year as the consolidation process gets started, but overall Macon and Bibb joining hands will be nothing but positive.
It will reduce overlapping double expenditures. ... You are going to see a tax reduction come, Epps said.