ATLANTA -- Political veteran Buddy Harden faces a challenge from newcomer Randy Head in the race to represent south Houston, Pulaski, Wilcox and Crisp counties in state House District 148 for the next two-year term.
The winner in the May 20 GOP primary goes to Atlanta. There is no Democrat in the race.
“I think my record does prove why people should vote for me,” said Harden, a retired pharmacist from Cordele.
First elected in 2008, Harden now vice-chairs two key committees: the Agriculture Committee and the Natural Resources and Environment Committee. That gives him a good bit of pull in House policy on issues from agribusiness to state wildlife management areas.
His most visible action over the past two years was shepherding edits to the moribund Flint River Drought Protection Act through the House.
The rewrite sparked a fight among environmentalists, agribusiness and rural lawmakers irrespective of party.
After uncounted hours of wrangling about water rights, the House and Senate agreed on a version of Senate Bill 213 that sets modest irrigation efficiencies on lower Flint farmers and allows the state to fund limited pumping of water up from aquifers under four south Georgia Flint tributaries to keep them wet and nurture federally-protected species in times of drought.
“It is a way to manage those aquifers in times of drought to ensure that we’ve got enough there for the farming community, and at the same time we have an option in the bill to protect aquatic life,” Harden said.
He does not predict making any more changes to the code.
Harden also sits on the Small Business Development Committee and pointed to the new inland port deal for Cordele, signed last summer, as a major accomplishment. It made Cordele something like a satellite yard for the port of Savannah, where trucks can drop off and pick up cargo instead of driving all the way to the coast.
The inland port, he said, “increased our ability to have agricultural exports ... that’s going to mean a lot for the farmers in the whole district.”
For the past few years, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Legislature have written their budgets in a time of shrinking state revenue, meaning lots of cuts. That’s started to change, with a modest uptick in the tax take this winter compared with last winter. The Legislature directed some of that $300 million in unforeseen revenue to the K-12 state budget.
“I’ve been pleased with what we’ve been able to do this year with respect to education,” Harden said.
If re-elected, Harden said he has some good ideas on how to reduce the cost of prescription medications.
“I think the system under which we’re operating ... has allowed a lot of middle persons. I think we have too many people in the middle,” he said.
Randy Head, of Hawkinsville and owner of Grillmaster BBQ in Perry, begins discussion of his platform with education.
“I believe the state needs to restore funding for 180 days of instruction. There should be no furlough days,” he said. “We need to look at educators as professionals to make it as attractive as any other profession, to make sure we can recruit the very best people to educate our students.”
State budget cuts hit Wilcox County schools hard, for example.
They are just clawing their way out of a furlough day hole, thanks in part to a partial restoration of state austerity cuts. Next year, Wilcox will continue a four-day school week, but instructional hours will be a 180-school day equivalent.
Head is also looking at two key places that are not in the district but that will impact what happens inside.
“We must make sure that Savannah port expansion is funded and completed” for the sake of a projected expansion of agriculture exports, he said.
And second is Robins Air Force Base.
“We must be involved to support the efforts that Houston County is going through with the encroachment issues. ... BRAC will be here again,” said Head, and state lawmakers have to support the base.
The state of Georgia, plus Houston and surrounding counties have pooled money to buy out homes adjacent to a Robins runway in an area deemed at-risk for crashes. Reducing the number of residents in the area will look favorable in the event of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Head is also looking at health care, the provision of doctors in rural counties and some potential outcomes to changes in state and federal law that he does not like.
“I believe that some patients may be forced to go to drug stores for services,” he said, denouncing the idea. “It’s all right to go (to a pharmacy) for a flu shot ... (but) I firmly believe that services should be administered by Georgia board-certified physicians.”
As for the Flint River, Head said, “I’m against regulating any farmers. ... What we need to do is regulate the Atlanta area, the metro area’s use” of water. The upper Flint provides water to mainly cities, counties and industries; agricultural use begins in earnest below about Macon County.
The House seat comes with a salary of just over $17,000 for 40 annual days in session plus a variable number of Atlanta committee days.