At the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce’s Fannin County Political Forum last night, 18 candidates for six different contested local elections including the District 7 House of Representatives’ race.
Out of all the races, the starkest contrast between between defining the function of the office was in the District 7 House of Representatives’ race between Sam Snider from Gilmer county and incumbent House Speaker David Ralston. Mr. Snider’s platform was more about personal beliefs and the political philosophy he would use to shape his decisions. Speaker Ralston’s answers mainly focused on economic drivers and infrastructure development that he has been able to arrange for District 7.
Speaker Ralston said that he was running to be a representative for District 7 and did not emphasize that being Speaker brought greater access to political perks for the District. From his examples, though, it was clear that if District 7 was no longer the home district of the Speaker of the House, projects and funds would slow to a trickle. Some examples of home district projects Speaker Ralston cited was ending 30 years of state inaction on improving Hwy. 5 and bringing a top-tier public university education option to a central location in District 7 with University of North Georgia’s new campus in Blue Ridge.
Mr. Snider, on the other hand, made it clear that if elected, his focus would be lower taxes, reducing government size, less top-down regulations, and use of sales taxes rather than income tax to fund the state. Mr. Snider did not comment on how he would bring Georgia tax dollars to work in District 7.
Speaker Ralston picked up on Mr. Snider’s brushstroke comments about how he, Mr. Snider, would vote in office. Speaker Ralston said that it is easy to use bumper sticker slogans, but a representative needs to look at innovative ways to solve problems.
Mr. Snider’s statements caused Speaker Ralston to justify his statewide actions on supporting a gas tax to increase Georgia Department of Transportation budget. The tax is based on the volume of gas that a person buys, not the end total cost of the gas. Speaker Ralston said, “People know that we don’t have a transportation fairy up there dropping money out of the sky.” He continued that GDOT’s revenue streams had not been recalculated in 40 years and the lack of adequate funds were showing in poor road conditions all over the state. Also, Speaker Ralston saw increasing GDOT’s budget as a way to move the state out of federal control over Georgia’s roads and bridges.
Speaker Ralston continued on this theme to show the weakness of Mr. Sniders’ fair tax platform. Speaker Ralston stated that taxing gas on volume, not total cost, was the fairest tax possible. He also brought up that funding government solely through sales tax revenue would cause segments of Georgia’s population greater financial stress because they would feel the tax in the everyday items that they must buy, like food. His example was that a lower sales tax on groceries means that seniors on fixed incomes don’t have to pay an extra 4% tax on food, which is the state’s portion of sales tax on goods.
Mr. Snider questioned Speaker Ralston’s power of influence over the religious liberties’ bills. Mr. Snider wanted to know why Speaker Ralston couldn’t find the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Gov. Deal’s veto when 86% of the House is Republican. Mr. Snider insinuated that Speaker Ralston voted in support of the religious liberties bill while knowing all along that Governor Deal would veto it. Speaker Ralston’s answer was that he will continue to work on a solution for the religious liberties bill so that the issue won’t continue floating around and try to reach a consensus that is acceptable to many parties.
In perhaps a nod to the recovering some of the political capital Speaker Ralston had to spend with the veto of the religious liberties bill, Speaker Ralston said that he will strengthen the campus carry gun bill which at this point Gov. Deal is lukewarm about signing into law. Mr. Snider did not speak about gun legislation.
Their closing remarks again highlighted the political ideology platform which Snider is running on and district improvement projects that Speaker Ralston is running on. Mr. Snider talked about reducing government size by diminishing the top layer of state government but keeping those on the lower layers that are putting in full days’ work. Mr. Snider reminded everyone that he is not a career, establishment politician like Speaker Ralston. If elected, Mr. Snider promised to bring teamwork to leadership like he had done in his career as a successful wrestling coach for Gilmer County Schools and the founding leadership for two Gilmer churches. Speaker Ralston asked the audience to consider who will bring the most effective representation for District 7 and to choose a Representative dedicated to a positive vision rather than nay-saying.