New lawmaker will take over District 18 Senate seat

mlee@macon.comMay 16, 2014 

  • SENATE DISTRICT 18

    John F. Kennedy
    Age: 48
    Occupation: Lawyer
    Political experience: First run for office

    Spencer Price Age: 49
    Occupation: Physician
    Political experience: Third run for state Legislature

ATLANTA -- A rare midstate open seat in the state Senate has Macon attorney John F. Kennedy and Upson County physician Spencer Price, both Republicans, clamoring for the job under the Gold Dome.

The District 18 seat that covers all of Monroe, Upson and Crawford and Peach counties, plus parts of Macon-Bibb and Houston, is wide open after state Sen. Cecil Staton announced his retirement earlier this year.

The winner of the May 20 primary goes to Atlanta, since there is no Democrat in the race.

Kennedy said one his first legislative priorities would be “making sure that we have good pro-job policies coming out of Atlanta.”

By that, he said he means lower taxes on individual businesses “any way we can,” whether it be through income tax, sales tax or state fees.

“We’ve also got to make sure that we reduce unnecessary regulation on businesses,” he said.

He mentioned, for example, environmental regulation and farmers getting access to irrigation water.

“We’ve got a lot of problems with the federal government,” he said, but the Georgia Environmental Protection Division “needs to also do its job but understand that it is there to serve the citizens.”

The Flint River and use of its water was one of the most contentious issues over the last two-year legislative term. After much debate, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 213 by state Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, to mandate modest agricultural water efficiencies and more studies on the Flint’s health.

Kennedy said he was glad to see a bump in the state’s K-12 education budget announced earlier this year when Georgia’s tax take turned out a little higher than expected.

“I think we’ve got to make sure our teachers and schools have the necessary funding to make sure our children are properly educated for tomorrow.”

Kennedy is managing attorney at his firm, James-Bates-Brannan-Groover LLP, and is often a court-appointed receiver, a sort of unbiased custodian of property that is in legal or financial trouble. Those two aspects of his work, he said, mean that he can bring to Atlanta the experience of someone who has to make a payroll every two weeks and who understands complex financial issues.

Price, a Monroe County Hospital emergency room physician, narrowly lost to Staton in the 2012 primary. He said “health care is the issue of the day, without question.” Dealing with it, he said, would be his initial priority.

Among the problems, Price said, are access to care and affordable insurance for those who have pre-existing conditions.

One of the most important things lawmakers did this year, he said, was to pass a bill meant to end the Affordable Care Act in Georgia, commonly known as Obamacare.

“The last thing our state needs is a federal program created in Washington, D.C., and forced upon the state of Georgia. The state of Georgia can solve its own health care issues,” he said.

In tandem with the ACA, the Obama administration has encouraged states to expand eligibility for Medicaid by offering to pay a bigger share of the bill for insurance for low-income people.

But Price said he sees “waste, fraud and abuse” in the program every day, which is something he wants to fight if elected.

“Medicaid is a good program for those who truly need Medicaid,” he said. “The problem is too many people are on Medicaid rolls who have other options. They just choose not to exercise those options.”

In schooling, he’s skeptical of Common Core standards, a list widely used nationwide of benchmarks for what children should learn in each grade, and the kind of directives he said hamstring teachers and administrators.

“I don’t think we need Common Core. I think we need common sense,” he said.

The Georgia Army National Guardsman said his military experience will help him represent veterans in Atlanta as well as help him fight to protect Robins Air Force Base, a continual concern for midstate politicians.

Price’s personal financial decisions, complicated by deployment and the illness of his late son, have landed him in some trouble.

The Medical Center of Central Georgia took him to court for failing to meet the terms of a Taylor County practice that it bankrolled. Also, at one time, Price had some $30,000 in federal tax liens.

Both of those obligations have since been satisfied.

Kennedy was ahead in donations, though not spending, at the beginning of April, according to the latest required state disclosures.

Kennedy reported spending just over $35,000 against donations just approaching $100,000. Price reported having spent nearly $52,000 against nearly $34,000 in donations, a gap that can be made up with further donations or his own funds.

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

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