VALDOSTA -- Healthcare is a major issue on the minds of Ellis Black and G. Norman Bennett, candidates for the District 174 State House seat.

Black, a Democrat, is the incumbent for the seat, having served four years. He was born and raised in Clyattville and lived in Lowndes County for most of his life. Black attended Lowndes High School and went to college at the University of Georgia. He taught school for one year before going into the farming supply business.

As a member of the House, Black has been a member of the Agriculture Committee, the Appropriations Committee and vice-chairman of the Retirement Committee. He is also involved in community activities such as the Board of Directors Lowndes County Farm Bureau, the Southeast Agricultural Coalition, the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Development Authority.

Black is married to Aletha M. Black and has three children.

Bennett, a Republican, was born in Cook County, but spent most of his life in Lowndes County. He graduated from Valdosta High School and attended Valdosta State College. He also earned a masters in business from Florida Atlantic University. Bennett, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, has been working in the paper industry for the past 40 years, from an hourly employee to senior management.

Bennett has been heavily involved with community activities. He spent 20 years as chairman and vice chairman of the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners, is a member of the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, the Lowndes County Farm Bureau, United Way and the March of Dimes. Bennett was also named 2003's Volunteer of the Year in the Community Partner in Education Program.

Bennett is married to Robin Bennett, and has six children and four grandchildren.

Bennett said he was very concerned about health care, and tort reform must be readdressed. He said caps should be debated and agreed upon. Healthcare costs are going to "break the nation" he said, if nothing is done.

Black agreed. He said that as people are living longer due to prescriptions and better healthcare, the costs are rising. Tort reform failed last session, he said, because of a state senator who was running for U.S. Congress. In his mind, it would be one of the first issues addressed next session.

Black said if re-elected, his first priority would to work in committees. Those committees, and being a part of such groups, would help get the needs of the people heard. He also said limiting budget cuts and thinking of ways to increase revenue was an issue. Education was also a main priority.

Bennett said his first priority would be education. Bennett said the area was behind the times in education. More support for teachers and going to the national pay level were key. He also said education must be the very last budget cut.

Help for farmers after the series of severe storm systems was also at issue. Bennett said low interest loans or state programs for weather issues should be in place, while Black said he felt national programs and the Georgia Emergency Management Association was doing a great job to help storm victims.

Bringing business to the area was also important to both. Black said his work in committees, especially the Appropriations committee, would be a benefit to bringing business to the area, while Bennett felt his contacts would help bring business, plus reaching out to businesses and working with them to bring them into the area.

Voters will go the polls on Nov. 2 to decide between Black and Bennett for the State House seat.

To contact reporter Michelle Taylor, please call 229-244-3400, ext. 245.

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