Former commissioner vying to unseat incumbent in House 143 race

mlee@macon.comMay 11, 2014 

  • HOUSE DISTRICT 143

    James Beverly

    Age: 45
    Occupation: Optometrist
    Political experience: Joined state House in 2011

    Lonzy Edwards

    Age: 65
    Occupation: Attorney
    Political experience:
    Bibb County Commission member, 2007-2012

ATLANTA -- Former Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards is challenging state Rep. James Beverly for the seat under the Gold Dome that represents some of east Macon’s poorest communities, as well as fancier neighborhoods farther north.

The winner of the May 20 primary gets the House District 143 seat. There is no Republican in the race.

Beverly joined the state House in 2011 and has since been named a deputy party whip and treasurer of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

“I have a plan for economic development which starts with the Community Enhancement Authority,” he said. That authority will offer economic incentives to businesses that invest in Macon-Bibb’s poorest urban neighborhoods.

That is, once it’s operational. Beverly wrote the law that created the authority two years ago, and he made a few tweaks to its footprint this year. In the coming weeks, its members will be named and will start work. It will seek money for those incentives, mostly through grants.

Beverly’s plan also includes the new office of Small Business Affairs in the new consolidated government.

That hasn’t cranked up yet either, but it’s something he championed for the new government’s charter. Part of its job is to stimulate economic growth by recruiting local, small and minority-owned businesses to learn how to bid for public contracts.

In a related issue, he also wants performance audits of Macon-Bibb’s quasi-governmental authorities and boards, even the one he is creating. This year, he briefly looked into an overhaul of the Fort Hawkins Commission, which is chaired by a former City Council member. The volunteer nonprofit curates the historic site on a shoestring of donations. But when it got some one-time tax money to pay for a visitors center, it failed to offer much of the work for competitive bidding, instead simply choosing a main builder.

Beverly is concerned that such informal procurement could be happening in other areas.

He also pledges to return to a pair of failed bills.

One, his House Bill 893, would have cut property taxes for Macon’s poorest homeowner-occupiers in neighborhoods where gentrification is driving up those taxes. It passed the House but got no Senate activity.

The other, HB 546, carried with Savannah Republican Rep. Ben Watson, would have set up a system for medical data entry workers to monitor patients on home visits, meant as a way to track ailing folks and perhaps prevent ER visits. It got no hearing.

Macon attorney and former Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said his pitch for the Gold Dome seat is “jobs, jobs, jobs and everything to make that happen.”

Macon-Bibb has been beset by “doldrums” for some time, Edwards said.

“We have sat here with all the potential in the world and we have not done nearly as much as I think we’re capable of doing,” he said. “I would focus on trying to improve the quality of education our children receive and focus on trying to entice industry to come into our area.”

Edwards said Georgia has to spend an appropriate amount of money on education, but he also knows education spending is tough just now. Even though Georgia’s economy is improving and Georgia is sending more money to K-12 school systems, that spending is not keeping up with the state’s own funding formula.

But “there are some things we can do that don’t necessarily cost any more money,” he said.

He wants to promote parent accountability and do something about truancy, calling it a “huge” problem.

“Far too many of our kids don’t go to school,” he said, and some of them end up costing the state even more in juvenile justice spending.

“We can’t afford enough policemen to do everything we want policemen to do,” he said.

Edwards also said “we somehow have to take away the stigma associated with vocational (and) technical educational programs.”

That’s part of making sure “our children get the kind of education that will make opportunities available,” he said.

He’s not impressed by Beverly’s Community Enhancement Authority, calling it just “another bureaucracy.”

And it would be doing something similar, he said, to what the now-defunct Bibb County Commission did when he was a member.

“We were able to incentivize Tractor Supply. We worked with Bombardier. ... We led the effort to save jobs at the base dealing with the encroachment problem.”

The first two are major employers. The last is a reference to a regional effort to buy out properties in an “encroachment zone” near Robins Air Force Base that the federal government wanted clear of homes.

As far as campaign dollars, this year, Edwards reports raising $36,200. Beverly raised a little less at $26,400, though incumbents like him were barred from fund-raising while at work in Atlanta this year.

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

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