Three Democrats vie for state House seat

ATLANTA -- After this summer’s vote, one of three Democrats will be the new state House of Representative member for District 139, replacing Lynmore James, who retired after 20 years.

The district covers Taylor, Macon and Dooly counties plus south Peach County.

Self-styled “conservative Democrat” Tom Coogle of Montezuma says his jobs plan focuses on small manufacturing first.

“I don’t have delusions of grandeur, but I do think we can get some plants that have 20, 30, 40 jobs,” said Coogle, adding that the region can offer raw materials like water and cotton.

As for tax incentives, “we can give those as good as anybody else can, but it’s more about going out and finding companies that make a good fit for your area.”

He thinks the 139th District can attract companies that he says will scout the midstate for new facilities if and when the Port of Savannah expands.

Coogle said he looks at education fixes in a way that’s a bit different.

“We’ve got to focus on families before we can expect to get our education system back on track,” he said.

That means fostering “a family-friendly environment” by revitalizing existing recreational centers and setting up youth programs, perhaps something on a Boys and Girls Clubs-type model.

“We have those resources (locally),” he said. “We just have to get someone out there to pull that out of the ground.”

Peach County Commissioner Michael Dinkins thinks the area should “capitalize on the growth of Robins (Air Force Base)” and try to woo more high-tech industry.

He proposes creating a small business development roundtable, a meeting of politicians, business people and other stakeholders from all four counties in the district to work on economic planning.

But “we need more students graduating from high school to get college degrees or technical college degrees,” he said.

Dinkins said the easiest way to do that is educate parents so they understand the importance of degrees, diplomas and qualifications.

“The challenge is getting more parental involvement in K-12 schools,” he said.

Dinkins said he also wants to look at legislation to help veterans with “not just jobs but also psychological issues.”

Dinkins said when he worked for former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, constituents who returned from Vietnam were poorly served.

“I don’t want that to happen again,” he said. “What I’ve seen did not work.”

Taylor County Commission Chairwoman Patty James-Bentley calls herself a “progressive Democrat.”

She said her economic plan for the district starts with meetings among state and area government economic development project managers, business people, educators, the faith-based community and everyone, “to make sure we have a sound economic development strategy in place.”

That includes infrastructure, an educated work force, a “pro-business climate” and incentives.

For example, said James-Bentley, companies are not interested in land on Ga. 96 in Taylor County because there’s no public water and sewage.

“Companies don’t want to be on well water,” she said. “That’s what I mean when I say we have to make our counties more attractive.”

She freely points out that her plan is a district-sized version of Gov. Nathan Deal’s statewide Georgia Competitiveness Initiative.

“He’s a Republican, I’m a Democrat, it doesn’t matter,” said James-Bentley, because she thinks it’s a good model.

James-Bentley pledges to get on “Facebook, newspapers, whatever it takes,” to tell constituents what the Legislature is doing. She thinks that kind of education may have prevented some of the long lines at Department of Driver Services offices when new laws requiring more identification went into effect this month.

If no candidate wins a majority in the July 31 primary, an Aug. 21 runoff decides the winner. There is no Republican in the race.