VALDOSTA – In the wake of Amy Carter resigning from her long-held position as state representative, four candidates are vying for the District 175 seat.

Carter resigned at the end of 2017 to take a position as the executive director of advancement for the Technical College System of Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal set Tuesday, Feb. 13, as the date of a special election to fill the House 175 seat. 

The first week of early voting has ended and two more weeks of early voting remain at the elections office, 2808 N. Oak St.: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Jan. 29 through Feb. 2. Early voting will also be offered 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3. The week before election day, Feb. 5-9, early voting will be 7 a.m.-7 p.m., at the elections office.

Four candidates vie for Carter's unfinished term. They are:

• Treva Gear, Democrat, Valdosta, educator.

• John LaHood, Republican, Valdosta, business owner.

• Bruce Phelps, Republican, Lowndes County, who lists his occupation as emergency medical technician.

• Coy Reaves, Republican, Quitman, self-employed.

The Valdosta Daily Times asked the candidates to introduce themselves and answer a series of questions.


Treva Gear

"I am 40 years young, and I have resided in Brooks County for 11 years. I am a native of Adel, Ga., and graduated from Cook High school. I received my doctoral degree in adult and career education from Valdosta State University. I am an Army veteran and educator. I have 13 years of experience in K-12 education with 10 years at Lowndes High School. Most of my career has been spent teaching biology and physical science. Currently, I serve as Lowndes High School’s first instructional coach, 'teaching the teachers' and providing individual instructional support.

1. What qualifies you to represent District 175?

Gear: "I am qualified to represent District 175 because I have a vested interest in seeing all people in District 175 and throughout Georgia prosper. I have had the pleasure of growing up in South Georgia, furthering my education and being an educator to my peers, colleagues and students. It is now time for me to empower District 175 with a unified voice that can create sustainable positive change in this district.

"I am ready, willing and equipped to represent District 175. I have served my country, and I currently serve the students and teachers of my school. My experiences as a soldier in the Army and as an educator of students and teachers in my school have developed my leadership skills and equipped me with effective communication skills. This has allowed me to interact with and build relationships with people of diverse demographics and communities. I am here to lead, educate and empower, which is what constituents want in a representative."

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

2. What will be your priorities if elected?

Gear: "If elected, I will fight for legislation and programs that safeguard our environment in a way that creates better opportunities for the people of Georgia, empowering them and helping them to thrive in health, education and finances. I will focus on valuing human capital by building people so that we can build Georgia. I will work to build the infrastructure necessary to support an educated people, which helps our high school and college graduates maximize their education. We often tell students to dream big and get an education, but what have we done to make sure that they gain the benefits of education after they have attained it? We cannot maintain sustainable economic growth if we undermine the efforts of those who make the difference. I will work to invest in human capital and help people maximize on the benefits that come with being educated."

3. What distinguishes you from your opponents?

Gear: "My unique life experiences as a veteran, an educator, a minority and a woman distinguishes me from my opponents. These life experiences have opened windows of understanding for me and allowed me to see people and the struggles that they face in a broad manner – past, present and future. As a veteran, I understand the importance of our democracy and the importance of preserving each individual’s rights, freedoms and pursuit of happiness. As an educator, I have seen how the burden of poverty, lack of early education, unequal access and societal issues creates barriers for students and their parents, which places prosperity far out of their reach. As a minority and a woman, I have a deep understanding of how inequality, sexism and discrimination in terms of access and opportunity act as potholes and cracks that hinder individuals before they even start to build a road to prosperity. As a result of my life experiences, I have a better understanding of how we are interconnected in a web of mutuality. Public policy and legislation is never isolated to the group that it was intended, but is far-reaching and impacts everyone in great and small places. These life experiences and understandings distinguish me from my opponents."

4. What do you see as the biggest issues plaguing South Georgia and how would you address these problems?

Gear: "The biggest issues plaguing South Georgia are related to health care, minimum wage, public transportation, education and equality.

"The biggest issues plaguing South Georgia and their resolutions are as follows:

"1) Health care: All of Georgia’s citizens should have affordable and quality health insurance that covers preventative services, unexpected illness/disease and emergencies. No one should suffer a financial hardship due to cancer or other diseases. The Medicaid expansion provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is needed in Georgia for individuals who cannot afford health care. Our rural hospitals also need to be funded, because many have been closed down or have had their emergency departments closed.

"2) Living wages: The minimum wage should be raised to a living wage. No individual should work 40 hours per week and not be able to provide the basic needs of life for themselves and/or their family. People deserve real pay for a work day.

"3) Public transportation: Geographical location should not hinder access to opportunities for better jobs or post-high school educational opportunities. Providing transportation increases the opportunity for upward social mobility, which is progress. I will work with municipalities and representatives across South Georgia to fund and create a public transit system.

"4) Education: Education is the foundation for prosperity. I will work to help minimize standardized testing in K-12 schools. Focus less on the test so teachers can give students their best. I will work to help renew a focus on career development so that schools can better prepare students for post high school job and educational opportunities.

"5) Equality: All individuals should have equal rights and opportunities regardless of their gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age or disability. I will write and support legislation that values and protects the diversity of individuals that make up the great State of Georgia."

5. Georgia is predominantly Republican leaning; what are the disadvantages of running as a Democrat?

Gear: "It’s always an advantage to have an opportunity to represent my state and more importantly, my community. This seat was originally held by a Democrat and I would like to continue the legacy by working across the aisles for our wonderful state and its people."  


Bruce Phelps

"My name is Bruce Phelps. I'm a 56-year-old male who is a candidate for Georgia House Of Representatives District 175. I'm a lifelong resident of South Georgia, having grown up in Moultrie, Colquitt County, where I graduated high school before attending Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College. My younger brother and I were adopted at an early age by my parents who were small business owners. My father had a Gulf Oil Station, while my mother ran our grocery store and motel for many years before their retirement. Growing up we learned the value of a good work ethic and giving back to our community. I'm currently a Mason and a Shriner, member of the Georgia Sheriff's Association, past president of the Jaycees and past vice president of the Moultrie Optimist Club. In 2010 the Cook County, Ga., Exchange Club awarded me their Law Enforcement of the Year Award. I have over 36 years of public-safety experience in local and state government and have worked on numerous political campaigns over the past 30 years."

1. What qualifies you to represent HD 175? 

Phelps: "My strong sense of community and wanting to serve, along with my 36 years of experience I have gained through public safety in working in different areas of state and local government. Having the privilege of working on several political campaigns qualifies me. This includes Govs. Nathan Deal, Sonny Perdue and Zell Miller, former Secretary Of State and current U.S. Congresswoman Karen Handel, as well as my time with the Georgia Public Service Commission, enforcement division."

2. What will be your priorities if elected?

Phelps: "My priorities if elected is to advance our rural economic development, to work with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to promote our farmers and other agribusiness industries, to make sure our schools and teachers have the necessary resources available to them, to protect our rural hospitals and emergency centers that are currently struggling to stay open, to work with our sheriffs and other public-safety officials to make sure they have the tools and equipment to keep us safe. Mental health is a big issue that also has to be addressed, along with the abuse of the Medicaid system that costs Georgia taxpayers millions of dollars a year in revenue. We further have an opioid crisis in our state that is causing hundreds of deaths a year that we must deal with. My agenda, if elected, will be the citizens of District 175, who entrust me with their office."

3. What distinguishes you from the other candidates? 

Phelps: "I'm not a politician, just a regular working-class person who has served others for many years in public safety. I would like to continue my service as your new representative for House District 175."

4. What do you see as the biggest issues plaguing South Georgia and how would you address those problems?

Phelps: "The biggest issues I see in South Georgia is our rural economic development and health care. If elected, I plan to work with our city, county and state leadership to ensure we don't miss an opportunity for growth. I plan to also work closely with the chamber of commerce and economic development authorities, along with our local hospital administrators and governing boards to make sure we're not missing any type of state or federal funding that will ensure these facilities remain open."

5. Georgia is predominantly Republican leaning; what are the advantages of running as a Republican?

Phelps: "Georgia is predominantly Republican, but we're all Georgians who live, work and worship in communities across our great state. I will serve all Georgians. Georgia has been recognized as the best state in which to do business, and we have achieved that by our past and present leadership. If elected, I'll work tirelessly to keep Georgia on this path and advance District 175, along with the rest of our state."


John LaHood

Political Experience: First-time candidate. Education: Lowndes High School; Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. President and CEO of Fellowship Senior Living. He lives in Brooks County with his wife, Crystal, of 22 years. They have four children: George (wife Haley), Anna, Jackson and Brown.

"I am actively involved in my children’s activities and in numerous civic and business organizations, such as Leadership Georgia (Class of 2015), the Boys & Girls Club of Brooks County and the Assisted Living Association of Georgia. I am also a past board member of the Valdosta Rotary Club, the Quitman/Brooks Chamber of Commerce, Highland Christian Academy and the Wiregrass Technical College certified nurse aide program.

"I enjoy spending time outdoors on my family farm, flying and being with family and friends."

1. What qualifies you to be represent District 175?

LaHood: "I’m the fourth generation to live and work right here. My entire life has revolved around faith, family, work and stewardship. Raised by entrepreneurs, I was taught to trust God, work hard, commit to family and seek purpose.

"In 1978, my grandfather started Fellowship Home on our family farm, a senior-living community, as a ministry to serve the seniors of our community, and I have continued that tradition as a third-generation owner and operator of Fellowship Senior Living with five locations and 200-plus employees.

"I firmly believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. That’s why I have a strong sense of duty and a desire to serve our community.

"With my business experience, deep roots, understanding and tradition of serving in this community and my conservative principles, I am prepared to serve and get the job done for our families, farmers and businesses."

2. What will be your priorities if elected?

LaHood: "Make sure our community and South Georgia is given the same priority as the rest of the state.

"Preserve our conservative South Georgia values. As a Christian, I will not apologize for my faith, and I will never back down from protecting our values.

"Protect taxpayers by using my business experience to bring a results-driven approach to state government.

"Improve rural health care and health-care outcomes by pushing Georgia-focused, conservative reforms based in the private sector and protect and support Georgia’s aging population with more choices and a stronger workforce of qualified caregivers.

"Stand strong for our farmers.

"Grow our economy through less government, common-sense business principles and workforce developments to ensure our families can find good jobs and that future generations can stay right here in our community and succeed.

"Safeguard our right to bear arms.

3. What distinguishes you from your opponents?

LaHood: "As fourth generation to live and work here, I know this community. I understand our interests and share our values, and I will be a voice for them at the state capitol.

"Service isn’t new to me. I have a long history of serving this community, whether it is caring for the members of the greatest generation at Fellowship or as a community leader in numerous organizations in the district. Running for office isn’t about recognition or a title for me. I am running out of a desire to continue my family’s commitment to serving others.

"Coming from a family of entrepreneurs with interests in health care, hospitality and agriculture, I understand how to grow our economy and create a prosperous future for South Georgia through conservative, business-minded reforms to get government out of the way, promote education and workforce development and lower taxes.

"As a business owner, I am required to solve complex problems every single day. This is a skill I will take to the state capitol to champion our interests.

"As a husband, father and a Christian, I share the traditional South Georgia values we hold dear. It isn’t a talking point. It’s a way of life that, along with your voice, will guide my decisions as your representative.

"My deep roots, understanding and tradition of serving in this community, commitment to faith and family, conservative principles and business experience uniquely prepare me for this job."


4. What do you see as the biggest issues plaguing South Georgia and how would you address those problems?

LaHood: "While we have challenges, I believe we have tremendous potential. South Georgia is blessed with tremendous people and resources, but we also face challenges — from future economic growth and health care to attacks on our values. Often times, we feel voiceless, like Atlanta takes priority over us. We need the right leader in the Statehouse to advocate for us — to make sure that our community doesn’t take a backseat to Atlanta, and we are given the same opportunities to grow and thrive as the rest of the state.

"That is exactly what I intend to do as your representative. I will use the skills I have learned in business and in serving this community to advance our interests, protect our values and secure a bright and prosperous future for our families and future generations."


5. Georgia is predominantly Republican leaning; what are the advantages of running as a Republican?

LaHood: "I am not running as a Republican because of any advantage. I am running as a Republican because I am one. I am a conservative that supports freedom, less government, lower taxes, the Second Amendment and believe our values of faith and family are worth fighting for. With that said, it is a fact that Republicans control both chambers of the Georgia Legislature as well as the governor’s office, so electing a representative who is a member of the majority party will give our community a strong voice at the state capitol. Our district and South Georgia, with a limited number of seats in the Legislature when compared to Atlanta, cannot afford a representative who will be ineffective on day one. There is too much at stake." 


Coy Reaves

 "I'm a resident of Quitman, Ga., and attended Brooks County High School. I am the owner of several successful businesses: Reaves Offroad Powersports and Accessories, CR's Seafood and Fish Market, as well as several 40 Below ice-vending machines. I'm a hard-working citizen and have roots instilled deep within me to want to make a change to this district." 

1. What qualifies you to be represent District 175?

Reaves: "I am a successful business owner and have struggled and bounced back to understand where small businesses, families and jobs are being affected in our community. My grandfather, Henry L. Reaves, was a state representative for 38 years before retiring in 2001. He instilled so much knowledge in me, and I want a positive change for this district."

2. What will be your priorities if elected?

Reaves: "Helping families that are being hit from every direction, there are many struggling for jobs every day.

"Treatment for our veterans and elderly and the benefits they need to receive. 

"I want to continue to focus on agriculture, since it's the backbone of Georgia, but we can't forget about small businesses, new business growth and jobs for our community. This plays a huge factor in being able to continue to support the materials our farmers make."

3. What distinguishes you from your opponents? 

Reaves: "I am not a yes man. I can't be bought. I have lost everything and bounced back from nothing. I took a stand in what I believed in and didn't back down. I intend to do the same for this district."

4. What do you see as the biggest issues plaguing South Georgia and how would you address those problems? 

Reaves: "Families struggling for work and growth of new businesses, affordable health care needs for our citizens, salary increases of our first responders, firemen, officers and EMTs: these issues and many more need to be addressed and I plan to do my best to make this a great district."

5. Georgia is predominantly Republican leaning; what are the advantages of running as a Republican?

Reaves: "I am a Republican because of my beliefs and those are the same as the people that I have grown up with and believed in. These beliefs I have are based on lowering taxes, less government regulations, following immigration laws and private health-care services instead of government-run programs. I want to keep it in District 175."


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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