ATLANTA -- Former Macon City Councilman Gerald Harvey is angling for a return to politics with a primary challenge against state Rep. Nikki Randall for the state House seat that covers much of central and south Macon-Bibb County.
The winner of the May 20 Democratic primary will go to the state Capitol. There is no GOP challenger in the general election for the District 142 post.
Both candidates call for increased education funding, at least to restore spending to prerecession levels. Indeed, that’s already the direction taken by Gov. Nathan Deal and GOP leadership in the Legislature, and it’s difficult for any Democrat to speed that any further or, for that matter, make major changes to any marquee GOP policies. Both Harvey and Randall know that’s the reality of being in the minority party.
Harvey said the way to start being effective begins with getting on the right committees and building coalitions.
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Once that’s underway, “My main concerns are pretty much the same as everybody else,” he said. “We all realize this community needs jobs ... economic opportunities.”
He wants to look at ways to make higher education more affordable and to do a better job with worker education.
“That starts with public education,” he said.
Harvey criticized charter schools as turning out to be “private public schools.” Such schools get public money, but they are exempt from some local school board oversight and rules.
“We need to fund what we have,” he said.
Harvey also dinged Deal for refusing to expand Medicaid in Georgia. That program of insurance for low-income people is funded by federal as well as state dollars. Deal isn’t expanding Georgia eligibility, saying it’s too costly, despite federal incentives.
“We’ve allowed the governor to play games with the Medicaid money. ... It’s our money, but he refuses to use it,” Harvey said. “You got people in District 142 worried about how they’re going to pay their medical bills. (They say) ‘Do I buy food or do I buy medicine?’ ’’
One of the most “ludicrous” things the Legislature did this year, Harvey said, was spend time debating -- and finally passing -- a bill to open bars and houses of worship to guns, given more important issues like education and health care.
Macon-Bibb’s eight-member delegation in the state Legislature sets a lot of the rules that the city-county government itself must follow. Though that’s a GOP-majority group too, it’s less regimented and a place where a single lawmaker can make a difference when they are drafting laws that apply to the Macon-Bibb consolidated government.
Harvey has been studying the Macon-Bibb consolidation charter that voters passed in 2012.
“I don’t see how it’s really feasible to mandate that we have to reduce (spending) 20 percent in five years. ... I think we need to go back and look at that,” he said.
The charter mandates that Macon-Bibb spend 20 percent less in 2017 than the two separate governments did in 2012.
There’s no obvious penalty if they don’t, though it could open Macon-Bibb to some litigation risk.
Randall, Macon-Bibb’s senior lawmaker, chairs the delegation and is running on what she calls a platform of “regionalism,” especially when it comes to transportation. It’s also a topic well in the range of a minority-party politician.
“I’m working on another try at T-SPLOST,” she said, referring to 2012’s failed special purpose transportation sales tax initiative.
She said it was a “lost opportunity for Middle Georgia” when 11 counties, including Bibb, voted against banding together for a 10-year penny sales tax for major road, rail and bridge projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
This list of works included a speedier fix for the Interstates 16 and 75 intersection. It was a state attempt to fund projects that cross county lines or are regionally significant.
Some other regions did pass the tax and “they are doing projects that they wanted in their communities -- some for 30, 40 years -- and the T-SPLOST is making that happen,” Randall said.
Now, she said, Macon-Bibb’s solo SPLOST is paying for road improvements, bridges and street lights. “All of that (local) money could be spent on recreation centers, things to enhance the quality of life in our community. But because we didn’t pass (the regional) T-SPLOST, we don’t have extra money to do that.”
If re-elected, she plans to draft a bill to be ready by the first day of the legislative session in January to set up some kind of regional T-SPLOST vote.
In the meantime, she would need to figure out who’s in.
“I’m going to convene a regional delegation meeting to see who wants to be involved” among neighboring counties, she said.
Randall was one of the framers of the Macon-Bibb consolidation proposal that voters approved in 2012, which she names as one of her main accomplishments.
Returning to Macon-Bibb, she wants to comb through the rules around some three dozen appointed boards and authorities that have a hand in things from economic development to transit.
She wants to see “if they’re viable, see if they’re still needed and see if the appointment process is in the best interest of the community.”
For example, she said, some board rules still split appointments between the mayor and the county commission chair, an office that no longer exists.
Working as a state lawmaker comes with a salary of just over $17,000 for 40 days’ work in session plus a variable number of Atlanta committee days.