DUBLIN — Longtime state Rep. DuBose Porter’s run for governor has left the House District 143 post, which represents Laurens and part of Johnson counties, up for grabs for the first time since 1982.
His departure has spawned a political free-for-all, at least for his Democratic party’s nomination, complete with catchy campaign slogans and even some public verbal sparring among candidates.
The field of Democrats includes two lawyers, a doctor and a political consultant. The winner will face Republican Matt Hatchett, a businessman and Dublin city councilman.
All four Democrats — attorneys Dan King and Mitch Warnock, Dr. Pablo Santamaria and Claudia Graham — identify themselves as “conservative.” And all agree on the top issues facing whomever is elected.
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“The top two priorities statewide are the same for everybody — employment and education,” said Graham, a businesswoman who for the past six years has served as consultant and campaign adviser to several state lawmakers.
Warnock said if elected he would try to bring some “common sense” to what he called “big mule spending” by the Legislature despite a budget crunch.
“Our tax dollars are being wasted, and it’s costing us jobs,” he said. “The cuts that we’ve made in education, public safety and transportation were unnecessary. And our government has been spending millions of dollars on fish ponds and horse barns and Jekyll Island renovations, just absolutely throwing our money away on wants rather than needs.”
Santamaria, a Dublin urologist, noted that if elected he would be the only physician in the Legislature, which would put him in a unique position to get things done.
“My hope would be that I could use that to help the state deal with all the medical issues, which are coming pretty significantly and in a pretty rapid pace with the federal health care bill,” he said. “And if I can help them on that side, then that will put me in the right meeting rooms to do what I need to do down here for job growth, economic growth and being a ambassador for the community to help us grow.”
King, an attorney and restaurant owner, said the challenge facing lawmakers is maintaining essential state services, including infrastructure, so that when the economy does turn around, the community and state will be better positioned to attract new industry. He has proposed abolishing Georgia’s income tax, raising its sales tax by 4 percent and privatizing the collection of sales tax.
“It spreads the tax burden across to more people,” King said. “Doing away with the income tax will help attract industry and small business to Georgia, and that will help put people back to work.”
Warnock said his experience as a trial lawyer would make him an effective lawmaker.
“The hard part is going up there and getting things done, passing legislation that needs passing, opposing legislation that doesn’t need passing. The way you do that is very similar to what I do in my job,” he said. “You’re going to have evidence presented on both sides. You’re going to have to be persuasive. You going to have to formulate what the law should be. And who better qualified to do that than somebody who does it every day?”
Graham said her work at the state Capitol as constituent liaison for Sens. J.B. Powell, D-Blythe, and Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, and other lawmakers gives her experience the other candidates can’t offer. She’s promised to be a “full-time representative” and “consensus builder.”
“You don’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer to do this job. You just have to have common sense and the ability to work hard and get along with other people to be effective. While they’ve been training to be doctors and lawyers, I’ve been training for this job,” said Graham.
“It’s mathematics. They have young families to raise. They have law practices. They have medical practices. They have restaurants, rental properties and other investments. They don’t have the time or the energies to devote to this job to serve the people on the level I am going to do.”
King said his experience as both an attorney and owner of seven Huddle House restaurants makes him better qualified.
“I understand the impact laws have on businesses, and I think we ought to make it easier for small business to operate in Georgia,” he said. “That will be good for the economy.”
On the heels of federal health care reform, Santamaria said he thinks timing would be on his side.
“Right now, for this time, I’m the one that can probably be the most significant the quickest. Whoever gets elected, Republican or Democrat, is going to go to the back row,” he said. “I really think I can deal easier with the Republican leadership, which makes me very useful for my party, because the Democrats will be the only party with a physician speaking on the health care issues, which is a third of the budget. ... It’s a win-win across the board, and hopefully a win-win for the patients of Georgia.”
Warnock, Santamaria and King all described themselves as pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and gun-rights supporters.
“I’m the only candidate in either race endorsed by Georgia Right to Life,” said King.
The candidates have pitched some clever sayings to try to stand out from the field. Warnock, who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 20 in a swimming accident, adopted a slogan of “Stand Up for Mitch.”
“I don’t know that I really like the thing because I don’t want to draw a lot of attention to it,” Warnock said of the slogan. “It is what it is. Somebody came up with that. A bunch of people liked it and it was catchy, so we kept it. Like I tell folks, I’m paralyzed in my legs and not my brain.”
At the suggestion of his 15-year-old son, Santamaria printed up 600 T-shirts that played off the “Vote for Pedro” campaign in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.” The shirts, the backs of which read “We Need a Doctor in the House,” created a buzz at this year’s St. Patrick’s Festival parade in Dublin.
“I can laugh at myself,” said Santamaria. “A lot of times people think doctors are a bit stuffy, but with my roots and background I don’t take myself too seriously. I take what I do seriously.”
Graham’s campaign signs have featured a bright pair of pink lips with the phrase “Read My Lipstick,” a nod to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards’ rebuke of then-President George H.W. Bush at the 1992 Democratic convention.
“I’m the only woman in the race, and who better to look after the House than a woman?” Graham laughed.
King, a Desert Storm Army veteran and West Point graduate, took a more serious tone with his slogan: “Faith. Family. Service.”
“God is first in my life,” he said. “My wife and my children are second. Service to my community and my country come after that.”
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.