House District 149 candidates offer job plans

ATLANTA -- The two Republicans running for the state House of Representatives District 149 seat both say jobs and economic development are top priorities, though they are pushing different strategies.

Eastman horse rancher and exporter John Clements is making his first run for elected office in the district centered on McRae. He’s talking about economic development in part for the sake of rural young people.

“I have a year-old grandson that I hope doesn’t have to do what I had to do,” Clements said. “I had to leave. I had to go to Atlanta to make a living. ... We need to get industry into this area.”

Three-term incumbent Jimmy Pruett’s air-conditioning business is the largest among several companies he operates.

“Particularly in rural Georgia,” he said, “more employment is in small businesses not big businesses.”

Yet those small businesses need help, like inexpensive loans and a work force trained in schools and apprenticeships, he said.

Clements sees a lot of the aviation industry as vice chairman of the Heart of Georgia Regional Airport Authority and worldwide when he delivers horses. The aviation campus at Middle Georgia College teaches everyone from mechanics to pilots and is one of the best schools in the country for air traffic controllers, he said.

“We have such an asset with our kids and our teaching programs, we need to cultivate it,” he said.

He’s also in favor of horse-race betting, if it’s approved in a statewide referendum in a variant of what’s been proposed in several bills in the state Legislature over the past three years. The industry could be worth millions to people like hay farmers, horse trainers and track owners. Clements himself raises racehorses and runs them. But if Georgia does it, he recommends skipping the combination of casinos and horse tracks called racinos.

“Instead of bringing in big-dollar people, make it more like hobby racing,” he said. Maybe limit racing to a few days as some states do and tie it to the county fair as it was done decades and decades ago.

In June, Pruett organized a seminar in Little Ocmulgee State Park, where Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs told about 45 people about a state program that helps underwrite small business loans. It’s meant to get money flowing at a time when Pruett says banks are sometimes reluctant to lend, even to people with sound business plans.

“For the survival of these small rural communities, we have to have some help,” he said. As for big companies, they “are not coming down to rural Georgia. We have to have something to entice them to come further south.”

For that reason, he’s proud of the film industry tax credits he has helped pass as vice chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. And he also defends a decision the Legislature made this spring: spending $99 million received in a federal fraud settlement with mortgage lenders on economic development rather than housing aid or counseling. The economic development spend, he predicted, will be more beneficial in the long term.

Pruett supported the 2010 Move On When Ready Act, which allows 11th- and 12th-graders to attend college classes full time.

“We need to continue to do those kinds of things,” he said. He extols apprenticeships and what he called “balanced” education that offers students choices about the jobs that are out there and what they can do to train for them, even while still in high school.

District 149 covers Dodge, Telfair and Wheeler counties as well as parts of Laurens and Jeff Davis counties.

In fundraising, Pruett collected $3,700 in the first quarter of 2012. Clements had not started the race at that time and did not have to file a disclosure. Second quarter disclosures are due Monday.

The winner of the July 31 GOP primary will go to Atlanta for the legislative session this January. There is no Democrat in the race.