Valdosta Daily Times

October 19, 2012

Political hopefuls answer public’s questions at forum

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — There was no time for heated debate, but candidates to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot did line up for a second opportunity to speak against one another to a live audience in a political forum held at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center Thursday night.

Early voting will continue until 5 p.m. Friday and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After Saturday, the last day to vote will be Nov. 6. There will be two more forums next week, Monday at Serenity Church and Wednesday at Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center.

Moderator Chris Beckham of NewsTalk 105.9, WVGA, sat at the left of the stage and posed questions. The candidates, seated beside one another, were each offered a three-minute introduction and a one-minute closing, and one minute each to respond to questions.

The audience was allowed to offer up their own questions, but in the interest of time they were asked to write them down and submit them silently. Those with questions held up their hands and an usher took the questions to the moderator.

The ceremony opened with a performance of the National Anthem by the Sharper Five, a youth choral group all related to Dexter Sharper (D), running for the State Representative seat for District 177.

Sharper squared off against Republican Glenn Gregory. Sharper told the audience he was “proactive, not reactive and not inactive,” and shared his

 20-year career as a

paramedic. “I want to work hard for you,” he told the audience.

A question about the legalization of marijuana in South Georgia came from the audience, and both Gregory and Sharper answered they would not support such a bill.

“I would say no to legalizing marijuana unless it’s in a controlled environment,” Gregory said.

Challengers for State Representative seats for Districts 174 and 175—Teresa Lawrence (D) and J.C. Cunningham (D), respectively—and the District 8 seat for State Senate—Bikram Mohanty (D)—presented their platforms alone. Incumbents Ellis Black (R), Amy Carter (R) and Tim Golden (R) were not present.

Lawrence and Mohanty presented themselves as champions of education and immigration reform.

Mohanty argued that the Hope Scholarship Fund could be serviced with funds from “responsible casino gambling” and that he strongly opposes illegal immigration, but “punishing farmers is not the solution.”

Cunningham and Mohanty seemed to agree that Lowndes County and South Georgia needed better representation “in Atlanta,” to help promote growth of the area.

“The only thing one man can do is inspire,” Cunningham said. “I’m not scared of anything but God.”

Solicitor General candidates Justin Cabral (R), incumbent, and Jason Cain (D), squared off on what experience was necessary to most successfully fulfill the duties of the position. Cabral argued for his experience as a career prosecutor while Cain argued that his time practicing law in a variety of capacities made him “more well-rounded.”

For Lowndes County Commission, Super District 4, a new district, John Gates (R) and Demarcus A. Marshall (D), presented their qualifications without butting heads. Both cited military service, Gates in Vietnam with the Army and Marshall in the Marines, but they slightly disagreed on the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum.

Gates believes there are a few too many things on the referendum, he said, and that Valdosta doesn’t need a new library and municipal auditorium because those buildings are underused already and infrastructure is a higher priority.

Marshall said he believed SPLOST was a good way to gain revenue for city projects, in spite of whether there were a few items on the project list under contention.

The candidates for the Lowndes County Commissioner Chair, Gretchen Quarterman (D) and Bill Slaughter (R), had very different opinions on their priorities. Quarterman promised to work for greater transparency in county government, while Slaughter listed his membership in a variety of public service capacities.

Both believed that bringing growth to Lowndes County was a priority, and that it is a major role of county government to make the process of bringing business to South Georgia easier for business owners.

Both Slaughter and Quarterman agreed that the SPLOST was necessary for the execution of municipal projects in Lowndes County, but Quarterman remarked she does not believe sales tax is a fair tax because it targets the poor.

For the Lowndes County Sheriff seat, the final presentation of the night, challenger J.D. Yeager (R) butted heads with Chris Prine (D), incumbent, saying he believes Prine has done a poor job as sheriff, and that the crime rate has tripled since he took office. Prine argued that crime has remained low, and that the rate in Valdosta is not an accurate measurement of Lowndes County at large.

Additional speakers included Libertarian David Staples for Public Service Commissioner, District 5, and Lowndes County Commissioner-elect, Super District 5, John Page.