Deal challenger makes case to Houston GOP

wcrenshaw@macon.comFebruary 1, 2014 

HoCoGOP

Dalton Mayor David Pennington, a Republican candidate for Georgia governor, speaks with Warner Robins City Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins and Dalton Councilman Gary Crews at a Houston County Republican Party meeting Saturday morning.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

WARNER ROBINS -- Georgians have never seemed to go much for divided government.

For decades, Democrats controlled the state, but since the election of Sonny Perdue as governor in 2002, Republicans have dominated.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington believes if the GOP doesn’t change, the state could swing back again. Touting himself as a limited-government conservative, he is waging a campaign to defeat Gov. Nathan Deal in the Republican primary May 20. State School Superintendent John Barge also is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

Pennington made his case at a meeting of the Houston County Republican Party on Saturday, claiming that Deal has not adhered to conservative principles during his first term. He said spending and taxes have increased under Deal.

“As most of Georgia continues to struggle economically, the independent vote in north Atlanta is going to decide the election,” he said. “They are going to get fed up with the Republican Party in Georgia. If we don’t settle this in the Republican Party on May 20, then the Democrats might settle it for us in November.”

He cited a “Five Way Test” for Republicans, which includes limited government, less spending, lower taxes, fewer regulations and transparent government.

“It’s not just ideology to me,” he said.

“If you don’t have limited government, then you are going to have limited freedom. We are watching that every day in this country and this state. We are losing our freedom every day.”

He said he believes the best way to improve education is to move more power to local school boards, with less control by the state and federal government.

He also said he wants to reduce the state income tax from 6 percent to 4 percent.

Earlier in the week, Pennington joined a chorus of criticism against Deal over his handling of the snow storm that snarled Atlanta, but he gave it only scant mention Saturday.

One of those in the audience was state Rep. Larry O’Neal, a Warner Robins Republican and staunch Deal supporter.

“I think he’s one of the best governors we’ve ever had,” O’Neal said after the meeting.

O’Neal questioned some of the statistics Pennington cited, and he particularly raised an issue with the proposal to cut the state income tax. O’Neal said the cut would mean a $4 billion reduction in revenue, and Pennington didn’t explain how he would make up for that.

Aaron Hufstetler, former chairman of the Houston County Republican Party, said he agreed with a lot of what Pennington said, but didn’t care much for his criticism of Deal.

“I don’t like jumping on somebody that’s in the party,” he said. “I just think you should run on your own merits.”

Hufstetler said Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, could draw some independent support in her campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Saxby Chambliss. He said he believes the party cannot afford to be complacent this year, and that includes governor’s race.

“I don’t think she’s qualified to be senator, but she’s a solid candidate,” he said. “It’s going to be tough.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 245-9725.

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