VALDOSTA — Right before the vice presidential candidates faced off on the national stage Tuesday night, local political candidates gathered on Valdosta State University’s campus before a crowd of more than 60 people for a forum hosted by the Valdosta branch of the American Association of University Women.
Sparks flew between incumbent Democrat State Rep. Dexter Sharper and Republican challenger Deidra White at the two-hour forum as they battled to gain votes for the District 177 seat in the state House of Representatives.
Sharper stood up in the Powell Hall Auditorium and said his last four years as a representative, in addition to his decades of experience in health care and business, make him the most qualified candidate.
“I am a servant everyday,” Sharper said. “I’m all about helping people.”
White, who touted herself as a moderate, said she’s a candidate who can get things done and who would bring new jobs and developments to the area as well as improvements to public safety and veterans care. She added her experience as the fourth woman to ever serve on Valdosta’s City Council, as well as her endorsements from Georgia’s governor and speaker of the house, make her the better candidate.
“I am the only candidate in this race who has the capability of accomplishing something for us,” White said.
Sharper said White was part of a majority that had made some questionable decisions in recent years, such as voting for more guns on college campuses. White responded by saying she is focused on people, not politics.
“I didn’t get up here and introduce myself as the majority,” White said. “I introduced myself as Deidra White. That’s who I am, and that’s who I will be. I’m a moderate; I stand for what’s right for the people in this community.”
Sharper said his effectiveness as a representative can be seen in all of the committee work he does, which involves hearing from the community then generating legislation for the betterment of that community. White responded by saying almost all of Sharper’s legislation in the past four years has failed to pass, rendering his work ineffective.
Sharper countered in his final statement, saying passing bills is all about teamwork, and several of the majority bills that passed during his term contained information and items that he created.
The candidates for Lowndes County sheriff also spoke at the forum. Incumbent Sheriff Chris Prine (R) and challenger Ashley Paulk (D) both drew from their time serving as sheriff for why they should be elected for the next term.
Prine has been sheriff for the past eight years, and Paulk was sheriff for the previous 16 years.
“I do know how to control budgets, and I’d like to bring some programs back to the sheriff’s department that will generate revenue and help people get out of jail,” Paulk said. “One of the most important things is cutting the jail population and cutting the costs.”
Prine, who has worked in law enforcement for more than 40 years, said Valdosta has always been his home, and he looks forward to hopefully leading the sheriff’s program into the next four years and giving it his full attention.
Dr. Linda Pysher Jurczak, assistant professor at VSU, served as moderator for the forum, but at the end the floor was opened for audience questions.
One audience member asked how the sheriff’s candidates would promote unity in a time of racial tension that usually centers around law enforcement’s treatment of minorities.
Paulk said he always maintained racial unity during his time as sheriff and would continue working for that unity if elected, especially since he’s careful with how officers treat residents.
“I always told every officer I had, ‘You talk to a person like they have a badge and a gun on them, and you will never get in trouble,’” Paulk said.
Prine said he’s always working to bring the community together, whether young or old, black or white.
“Our racial tension in the last few years has escalated,” Prine said. “We just have to work harder and communicate with them a lot better than we have in the past.”
Solicitor general candidates Justin Cabral and Jason Cain squared off over how DUIs are prosecuted.
Cain said Cabral’s creation of a court to process DUIs could end up giving some people a pass on their DUI convictions.
“Sometimes somebody may simply need a pass on a DUI, and I can understand that,” Cain said. “But for the most part, 95 to 99 percent of the time, I think the DUI offense should be prosecuted as a criminal defense. We don’t need people driving on the streets of Lowndes County under the influence of any alcohol or drugs. That’s my interest in protecting the citizens of this community.”
Cabral, who is the incumbent, countered by saying the current DUI conviction rate is 93 percent.
“We take DUIs very, very seriously in our office,” Cabral said. “DUI court is meant to take your worst offenders and give them a chance to avoid lengthy jail sentences if they’ll complete a two-year program of rehab, which is what they need. You have to fix the problems; you can’t just lock people away.”
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter (R), who is running unopposed for another term, also spoke at the forum on the importance of being prepared for growth when it comes to infrastructure.
“We are making sure our water and sewer infrastructure is as good as we can possibly get it,” Slaughter said.
He also pointed out that he is working to keep up maintenance on all the dirt roads that are found in Lowndes County.
Teresa Moffitt (D) is running for county commissioner, District 5, and she said protecting the environment would be one of her main objectives if elected, which might involve a new recycling program.
“I want my community to be there for my grandsons and their children and their children,” Moffitt said. “If we don’t start thinking about it, it’s not going to be there for them.”
Moffitt’s opponent, incumbent Commissioner Clay Griner (R), was not present at the forum.
Coroner candidate Brad Carter (D) spoke on his abilities to do his job while also being kind to people who are experiencing the death of a loved one.
“I know about giving comfort while continuing my investigation, and that’s compassion,” Carter said.
Carter said he has “the three C’s” that qualify him to be coroner: critical experience, compassion and competency.
Carter opponent Austin Fiveash (R) was not present at the forum.
Felicia Williams (D) is running for tax commissioner, and she spoke on the importance of electing solid, experienced candidates.
“Our government is only as good as the people we elect,” Williams said. “I believe that experience matters. I have 25 years in the office (and) over 600 hours of training. I will always look for ways to better serve this community.”
Tax commissioner candidate Rodney Cain (R) was not present at the forum.
W.G. Walker (D), who is running unopposed for tax assessor, Post 1, explained a ballot issue that could change the way tax assessors are chosen.
Walker said the board of commissioners wants citizens to decide whether tax assessors should continue to be elected or should be appointed by the board.
Mike Hill (D), who is running unopposed for tax assessor, Post 2, clarified what a tax assessor actually does.
“We’re not tax assessors; we do not set the taxes,” Hill said. “Assessors set the value on your property. The county commission, school boards, industrial authority, all of those set the millage rate, and it then applies to the value of the property which we have set.”
Gregory Williams (D) is running for the seat of state senator, District 8. His opponent, incumbent Ellis Black (R), was not present at the forum.
Williams said his progressive platform would bring new jobs to the area as well as improvements in public health and transportation.
Nov. 8 is Election Day, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 11. Residents can register online at registertovote.sos.ga.gov.