Newcomer challenges north Houston GOP representative

mlee@macon.comApril 30, 2014 

  • House District 147

    Heath Clark
    Age: 33
    Occupation: Software engineer
    Political experience: First run for elected office

    Willie Talton
    Age: 70
    Occupation: Retired Houston County chief deputy sheriff
    Political experience: State House member since 2005

ATLANTA -- Electioneering newcomer and software engineer Heath Clark is challenging incumbent state Rep. Willie Talton, a retired law enforcement officer, to represent part of north Houston County under the Gold Dome.

Both men say state spending must be conservative.

The winner in the May 20 GOP primary goes to Atlanta. There is no Democrat in the race.

In a civilized challenge, Clark said Talton has served the community well and is his brother in Christ. It’s just that he disagrees with some of Talton’s votes -- especially on the budget.

Clark said it is “frustrating” that the Legislature spent about $300 million in tax receipts this year that came in above projections instead of putting the money in a rainy day fund or returning it to taxpayers. And he’s not happy with an appropriation next year for building a parking deck at a new Falcons stadium in Atlanta.

“Teachers are getting furloughed, having money taken away from them,” said Clark, but the Legislature “can find $17 million to build a deck? That doesn’t benefit Houston County at all.”

The annual budget is the only thing the state Constitution requires the Legislature to do every year, and it generally attracts much wrangling that ends in bipartisan support. In the past few years, it’s hovered around $40 billion. A little more than half of that is federal money passed through the state books. The Falcons parking deck money appeared in the budget just before a final vote.

Clark also said he wants to get rid of state income tax as well as a 2-year-old car tax shift to a one-time sales tax that he said is a net tax increase.

If cutting taxes means budget cuts, Clark said he would look for places to cut where there is waste or where the private sector could do things better. But he also said “if you cut taxes, the economy grows so more revenue is actually brought in.”

If anything brings all candidates for every Middle Georgia election together, it’s support for Robins Air Force Base. The main difference is which angle each one emphasizes.

Clark said he “would like to see ways that we can do joint services out of Robins, maybe have some commercial cargo.

“It would be a good fit for logistics in the midstate,” Clark suggested.

The base always needs “support from the federal level,” Talton said. As a state lawmaker, his responsibility “is to keep that link strong,” he said, between local governments, members of Congress and federal agencies in Washington, D.C.

If re-elected, 2015 would be Talton’s 10th year under the Gold Dome. That seniority puts him on some key committees, such as Education and the tax-writing Ways and Means.

“You don’t just go to the General Assembly and get those committees at once,” Talton said.

“I’d like to work on continuing to try to make Georgia a really attractive state as far as industry coming in,” Talton said. That could mean space, water or whatever a company needs to thrive.

As for spending, Georgia cannot borrow operating money like the federal government. It must balance its budget every year. Talton praised Georgia’s budgeting and the AAA credit rating that results, and he called himself a fiscal conservative.

“People want a representative who spends their money right and still gives them the services they need.”

Talton did say he would like to see teachers get better pay and be freed from bureaucracy. “I wish we’d give our teachers more time to teach,” he said. Part of this year’s unforeseen tax receipts were budgeted for K-12 education.

The retired chief deputy sheriff also said “the way crime is, we don’t ever get to a point where we have enough training for our law enforcement officers,” calling for spending on their training and equipment to always be a priority.

The state representative job comes with a salary of a little more than $17,000 for 40 annual days in session plus a variable number of committee days in Atlanta.

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