VALDOSTA — The Feb. 12 special election for District 176 is fast approaching and early voting is already underway.

On Election Day, all voting will be in precincts – not in the elections office. Polling places will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. election day.

Four candidates are vying for the seat vacated by Jason Shaw, who took a position with the state Public Service Commission.

District 176 is made up of portions of Lowndes, Atkinson, Lanier and Ware counties.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, the candidates are:

• James Burchett, an attorney from Waycross (Republican);

• Barbara Griffin, a social worker from Waycross (Democrat);

• Franklin Patten, a businessman from Lakeland (Republican);

• Barbara Seidman, a retiree from Waycross (Democrat).

The Valdosta Daily Times reached out to these candidates and asked them five questions. Below are their answers along with short biographies. Seidman was sent questions but had not responded by deadline.

James Burchett

“I am a Christian conservative family man and a lifetime Republican. I am pro-Trump, pro-life and pro-gun. I am a graduate of Georgia Southern University, where I received my bachelor’s degree in building construction management. I was a starting linebacker for the Georgia Southern football program and played on two national championship teams at GS.

“I have work experience in both the public and private sectors. After spending 10 years as the chief building inspector for Ware County, I enrolled in Florida Coastal School of Law, received my juris doctorate and am now a practicing attorney at J.D. Burchett Law in Waycross.

“I am married to Misty Thrift Burchett, a student/family counselor in the Ware County School System. We have two children, Brodie, 9, and Beau, 4 months.”

• Why are you running for this position?

Burchett: “I have two young sons, and I want to see them grow up in a Georgia that is aligned with solid conservative, Christian values. We need a voice in Atlanta that represents the people of the 176th District and not special interests. I am a strong believer in communicating with people, listening to their concerns and taking those concerns into consideration when making or changing laws in the legislature.”

• What are the major issues facing the state and South Georgia? What will you do to combat these issues if elected?

Burchett: “It is important to realize that Georgia has become a battleground state for elections, and the majority of that battle is centered in and around Atlanta. We saw those issues in the governor’s race. Georgia is a large state geographically, and we cannot allow metro Atlanta to dictate what happens in rural Georgia hundreds of miles away. If elected, my goal is to take our South Georgia values to Atlanta and make sure our voices are heard. It is critical that we address things that are important to South Georgia – transportation, military veteran’s issues, health care in rural Georgia, quality education where our children are taught things like history and writing and communication skills, agriculture and communication issues such as high-speed internet and broadband for our rural counties.”

• How well will you be able to work with the current legislative delegation?

Burchett: “I have met with Gov. Brian Kemp and with the Georgia House Majority Leader Jon Burns, who happens to be a lifelong friend of my family and who is also from South Georgia. We share the same conservative, Christian values and our goals for the future of the State of Georgia are the same. I have also met other Statehouse representatives and I am confident that we will be able to work together to do what is right for the state of Georgia and the 176th District.”

• What distinguishes you from your opponents?

Burchett: “I am the only candidate in this race who has never been a Democrat. My Republican opponent ran for a county office as a Democrat during the Obama administration. If the citizens of the 176th District want a true, unwavering conservative, Christian voice in Atlanta, there is only one candidate in the race that fits.”

• What is your political experience and what will you bring to this position?

Burchett: “I have never run for political office and therefore have no political experience or allegiance to any special interest group. What I do have is common sense and a deep love for South Georgia. It is my home, and it is where I want my children to grow up. I am fortunate to have experience in both the public arena with a decade of experience working in government and as a private business owner here in South Georgia.  

“Those years of experience have given me a real sense of awareness on how to make government supportive of the people of the 176th District and not for the outside interests that all too often adversely affect our lives. I will take our South Georgia morals and values to Atlanta and represent the people of this fine district in the most conservative and Christian manner possible. The voice of South Georgia will be heard if I am elected.”

Barbara Griffin

“I’m originally from New York City and during my time at Brooklyn College I was active in both civil rights and anti-war activities. In 1971, I moved to Athens, Ga., to obtain my master’s degree from the School of Social Work. Since then, my work history has included working with emotionally disturbed children, substance-abuse treatment, mental-health counseling, hospice and dialysis. 

“I have been in Ware County since 1980. I initiated the formation of a Big Brother/Big Sister program, served as chair for the Ware County Democratic Committee. Vice President with the Waycross National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, supported the local humane society and participated in productions with the Waycross Area Community Theater. In 2015, I helped create a new non-profit theater company, Purlie Productions, which has as its motto ‘To elevate, educate and inspire.’ I am a proud member of the National Association of Social Workers, and my candidacy is endorsed by the NASW Georgia.”

• Why are you running for this position?

Griffin: “The previous representative in this position ran unopposed in November. Our area has been solidly Republican for a long time and a reason that progress and growth are impeded. I’m hoping to fill the need for change in how our area is represented in the state legislature.” 

• What are the major issues facing the state and South Georgia? What will you do to combat these issues if elected?

Griffin: “Health care: Medicaid expansion would provide coverage for many more Georgians and also greatly help with the current struggle for rural hospitals to continue to exist and provide a high quality of care. 

“Education: There is a movement towards subsidies for private education and magnet schools, which potentially detracts from adequate funding for public education. I also support the STEM education program and would like to see it continued and expanded. Our students need a variety of options, both academic and technical and access to the tools for adequate training and employment. 

“Environment: Proposed drilling on the Georgia coast presents a real danger to coastal ecology; in addition to inherent disruption of the ecosystem, there is risk of oil spills which causes long-lasting damage.”

• How well will you be able to work with the current legislative delegation?

Griffin: “If I am elected, I will endeavor to be as informed as possible on legislative issues and be able to enter into discussions with all members of the legislature. I have considerable experience in dealing with a wide variety of individuals both professionally and personally.”

• What distinguishes you from your opponents?

Griffin: “My opponents have said very little about dealing with the acute economic, social and environmental issues in our state. I am passionate about the need for improvement in health-care delivery and access, and believe there is much that can be done within our current government structure. Medicaid expansion and state-earned income tax credit both would do much to improve the economic picture of both individuals and the state as a whole. I recognize the need for increased employment opportunities, but strongly believe that there is no long-term benefit in negatively impacting our natural resources in order to accomplish this. There are unused opportunities in expanding the use of alternative energy resources.”

• What is your political experience and what will you bring to this position? 

Griffin: “I have served in and administered several community organizations, including as a past chair of the Ware County Democratic Committee. In that capacity, I worked to promote candidates for various offices, including gubernatorial and presidential elections. I was also a past vice president of the Waycross NAACP and participated in associated community initiatives. I previously initiated a Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, have both served on the board and as a chair of other organizations (Waycross Area Community Theater, Purlie Productions) and helped create by-laws and organizational structures.”

Franklin Patten

Franklin Patten grew up in Lakeland and chose to start his family there after graduating from Valdosta State University and University of Georgia Banking School. He and his wife, Michelle Pacetti Patten, have five children – Lane, Andrew, Maggie, Frankie and Katie. They are active members of Unity Methodist Church.

Patten is a businessman with an extensive business background in the banking and data-processing industries as the owner of Southern Financial Systems, computer design. Franklin and his wife are co-owners of Patten Blackberry Farms. He’s an active community leader, previously serving as chairman of the Lanier County Board of Education and the Lakeland City Council. He’s served on the Lakeland/Lanier County Development Authority and was a board member of the Wiregrass Technical College. He also served on the local Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, the Cancer Society and the Oak Lawn Foundation.”

• Why are you running for this position?

Patten: “South Georgia has always been home for me. This is where I built my businesses and raised my family. Our community has given me a lifetime full of opportunity. That’s why I’m dedicated to serving South Georgia – giving back to ensure today’s and future generations can find that same opportunity I did. 

“My deep roots here will allow me to fight for the issues that matter most: great schools, enhanced rural infrastructure, more jobs and protecting our conservative values. I would be honored to earn your trust and receive your vote so I can fight for South Georgia.”

• What do you see as the major issues facing the state and South Georgia? What will you do to combat these issues if elected?

Patten: “Here in South Georgia we are blessed with good people, strong values, an abundance of resources, military bases like Moody, Valdosta State and so much more. But we also face many challenges – the need for good jobs, continuing to grow our ag industry through international trade and technology, opportunities for future generations to stay in our community, rural health care and the need for access to high-speed internet. With more and more power coming from Atlanta and North Georgia, we must have real leadership with the experience to address our challenges and get the job done. That’s the leadership I will provide.”

• How well will you be able to work with the current legislative delegation?

Patten: “Together, we would be a team for South Georgia, not just individual voices. I will be able to hit the ground running with our legislative delegation as well as legislators from around the state. I know or have relationships with our leaders at the state and local level and look forward to getting to work with them to champion our interests here in South Georgia.”

• What distinguishes you from your opponents?

Patten: “My experience and deep roots. I was born and raised in this community, and I have deep understanding of our people, our values and our needs. My roots here drive my passion to serve to ensure we have a bright future for generations to come. My experiences in life uniquely prepares me to accomplish this mission. 

“I have raised a family, built businesses here, created jobs, made tough decisions and served in volunteer and elected positions of trust. These experiences provide me with the knowledge and judgment to effectively serve to grow jobs and a skilled workforce, improve rural health care, protect our conservative values, expand high-speed internet and to make sure our brightest days are ahead.”

• What is your political experience and what will you bring to this position?

Patten: “I have had the honor to serve on the Lakeland City Council and on the Lanier County school board. In those positions I learned to set vision, work with others, listen to concerns and lead on tough issues important to our families. In both positions, I strived to listen and do what I felt was right for our community. These experiences uniquely prepare me to work hard on behalf of the people of District 176 and get the job done for our community.”

Compiled by Valdosta Daily Times reporter Thomas Lynn.

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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