The Valdosta Daily Times
For the third and final time, incumbents for the District 174 and 175 seats in the Georgia House of Representatives and the District 8 seat for the Georgia Senate have been no-shows.
Incumbents Ellis Black (R) for District 174, Amy Carter (R) for District 175 and Tim Golden (R) for District 8 were not present at the Home Builders Association forum Oct. 18, the Serenity Church forum Monday or the Association of American University Women forum Wednesday evening.
Other candidates lined up Wednesday at the Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center to share ideas and trade a few barbs for the last time before voters went to the polls.
Numbering less than 60, the audience was small, and when District 8 challenger Bikram Mohanty (D) asked how many in the audience had already voted, about 15 raised their hands.
The format for the forum was similar to that of Oct. 18, but with a few changes. Candidates were asked to come on stage in pairs to make two minutes of initial remarks, to answer questions for a total of six minutes and to deliver closing statements for an additional minute.
Dr. Jim Peterson, head of the Valdosta State University Political Science Department, served as moderator.
The candidates were asked to sit behind a table, but had the option to come out to the front of the stage to move around and
address the audience. There were also two stations at either side of the table from which candidates could speak.
All would have gone smoothly, were it not for technical problems with the wireless microphones offered to the candidates. Mohanty and District 174 challenger Teresa Lawrence (D), who had no opponent with them on stage, opted to remain at the station to the left of the table.
District 175 challenger J.C. Cunningham (D), however, took the option to move around the stage for his questions, though his opponent was also absent.
Solicitor General incumbent Justin Cabral (R) claimed that the seat of elected prosecutor should go to a career prosecutor, while challenger Jason Cain (D) argued that the “more well-rounded” candidate, himself, should win the seat.
Challenger for Lowndes County Sheriff J.D. Yeager (R) again remarked on his dissatisfaction with the level of service the county receives under incumbent Sheriff Chris Prine (D).
Peterson posed a question regarding African-Americans in command and supervisory positions in the Sheriff’s Office.
“We do have African-Americans supervisors in the Sheriff’s Office,” Prine said. “If you’re qualified, I have no problem with you. We’re all the same color.”
Yeager was quick to argue that there are no African-Americans in supervisory positions, nor are there any women, and promised that he would change that.
Lowndes County Commission Chair candidates Bill Slaughter (R) and Gretchen Quarterman (D) presented themselves as they have in past forums: Slaughter as a pro-business candidate and Quarterman as pro-transparency in local government.
For the new County Commission Super District 4 seat, John Gates (R) and Demarcus A. Marshall (D), both campaigned on platforms of education and jobs, but had different ideas on how to get there.
Gates has made the promotion of literacy and steady tourism his priorities, while Marshall promised to “do something big” for Lowndes County, regarding infrastructure projects or holding a national conference.
U.S. Representatives for District 1, incumbent Jack Kingston (R) and challenger Leslie Messinger (D) were invited, but did not attend.
Mohanty presented himself as pro-education, a proponent of preservation of the Hope Scholarship with “responsible” casino gambling, of term limits and of declining gifts from lobbyists.
Lawrence campaigned for migrant workers, women’s health issues and education, and promised she was “stubborn” and wouldn’t “be swayed by lobbyists.”
Cunningham spoke on the importance of listening to constituents, of true representation through picking up the phone, sharing ideas with other law-makers in Atlanta and remaining loyal to personal principles and the district he will represent if elected.
Candidates for State Representative, District 177 Glenn Gregory (R) and Dexter Sharper (D) both pledged loyalty to their campaign district and to South Georgia, but the question, “What is the first thing you would do in office?” showed a marked division.
“The first thing I would do is get with the governor and show him that I’m for the good of South Georgia,” Sharper said.
Gregory remarked that he has already started contacting leadership in Atlanta, doing research for his campaign seat in the event he is elected.
In his final statements, Sharper remarked “my opponent may be sitting at the table with representatives in Atlanta, but I’ve been sitting at the table of the unemployed, at the table of those in poverty,” etc.
To which, Gregory responded, “There’s your table, Dexter; have a seat,” indicating the table in the center of the stage.
Following the forum, Cunningham approached The Valdosta Daily Times to share that he felt the incumbents who had not made a showing had “dodged the people” voting for them.
“You can’t abuse people like that,” Cunningham said. “We have the right to ask them questions.”
Mohanty said he respects his opponent, but that “people have to make a choice.” He added he had been up since 5 a.m., had seen patients and spent time with his children before coming to the forum.
“He’s been guided by a strategist who told him that if you don’t go, the chances are higher that you will get the vote,” Mohanty said. “I wish he’d been more forthcoming.”
Lawrence said she believes their absence is “a disservice to the voters.”
“We want to be informed,” Lawrence said. “And I don’t think it’s fair that he just expects votes based on who he is. I think it shows that he’s not interested, and that he doesn’t have anything to say to them.”