ATLANTA -- Legislative veteran David Lucas wants to return to the Gold Dome in Atlanta, but first the Macon Democrat and Irwinton Republican Bobby Gale meet at the polls, battling to represent a state Senate district that runs from densely populated Macon to the pastures and pines of Hancock County.
Lucas says his priority is education funding. Gale is looking at economic issues.
Both men are appealing to a big District 26 that covers all of Hancock, Washington, Wilkinson and Twiggs counties, plus parts of Jones, Houston and Bibb counties, including most of the city of Macon. The city precincts are familiar to Lucas, who represented the city in the state House for 37 years, until losing a bid for the state Senate in 2011. Gale has never held elected office. He lost to former state Sen. Miriam Paris after she defeated Lucas in a special election in 2011.
My priority is to get money for education, Lucas said. He pointed out that under the Democrats in the 1990s, class sizes were kept smaller. Since then, class sizes have been allowed to drift upward. It costs less, Lucas said, but they take the money and do other things with it. So that has affected education.
Gale agrees education is an area that needs attention. He wants the Legislature to scour the budget, find programs that arent working and stop them. Gale also supports charter schools, saying one-size school doesnt fit all children. Critics of the privately run, publicly funded schools fear that more schools will translate to more education costs. But, Gale said what bothers me more is the cost of sending a child to a system thats failing.
Georgias economy and spending may be recovering, but the unemployment rate is, at 9 percent, above the national average.
If your infrastructure is not strong, then youre not going to be able to attract the kind of businesses you want to come in, Gale said.
He pledged to push for railroad bypasses or spurs on the line through the 26th District, the only direct rail connection between Atlanta and Savannah, where the port may expand in the coming years. He argued that it would help farmers as well as encourage commerce, and it would encourage jobs and it would free up freight time.
The state authorized bonds for just such a project in McIntyre this year, which, with another in Cordele, cost $6 million.
Lucas thinks Robins Air Force Base should take on more missions, both because it would create new jobs and defend the midstates major economic engine against any future cutting by the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
For example, there is no more space for them to park more airplanes, he said. He wants the newly revived Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership board to come up with a way to expand onto a suitable piece of property on the north side of the base. If theres expansion, youll get other missions, he predicted.
Any business that grows up around the rail or the base must pay taxes. Earlier this year, the state Legislature voted to remove sales taxes that companies pay on energy used in manufacturing.
Like other tax incentives in tough times, Lucas denounced it.
So thats depleted from the treasury. So what do you do when you dont have money coming in? he asked.
And he answered his own question with an example tied to this years cuts to HOPE grants and scholarships: If you dont put the money in to keep universities going, youre going to affect who goes to school, who can get money to go to school.
Spending, he said, seems out of balance, as though what has happened is corporate Georgia has gotten everything and Georgia citizens have got left out.
Gale said Georgia needs to look through its whole budget for cuts.
I believe in limited government, he said. It doesnt mean we dont have a government. It simply means we believe in a limited government. We need make it as small and efficient as we can make it, giving relief to the taxpayers the best we can.
The Republican ventured that people dont mind paying taxes, but what they mind is when theyre not seeing results for their money, such as in Georgias high school graduation rate. In 2102, the rate was below 68 percent, by federal calculations.
Lucas says his knowledge of the complicated, messy, negotiated processes of state government would make him a more productive representative for District 26. He suggested entrenched, comfortable business interests dont want people like him, folks who have an understanding of how it works, to be up there asking them about what theyre doing.
Gale said he will look at every proposed piece of legislation to see how it lines up constitutionally -- and biblically. Besides that, he countered hes a shake-up that the 26th needs.
Id like to thank Mr. Lucas for his years of service, he said, but if you like what you see in (the district), then vote for my opposition.