Republican gubernatorial candidate Hunter Hill says he plans to apply the lessons he learned as an Army Ranger to running the state government.
Hill, who has represented District 6 in the Georgia Senate for the last five years, announced in April he would seek the 2018 GOP nomination to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, who has served his second and, by law, final term.
The Cobb County native and West Point graduate, is a straight-laced, limited-government conservative who favors eliminating the state income tax for most residents, giving parents more choices about their children’s education and curbing or eliminating wasteful spending.
“I’ve really championed conservative reforms in many areas,” he said. “Some of them I have been successful in getting them passed, but many of the major ones I have not because the status quo still rules under the Gold Dome, and that is what I’m running for governor against.”
Government waste is at the top of his lists of reforms.
“In my third tour in Afghanistan, I was sent to mentor and train Afghan National Police,” he said. “I was an Airborne Ranger, trained to close with and destroy the enemy, but I was being used in a nation-building capacity to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. That’s when I first realized that our government doesn’t always spend its resources in the highest and best use.
“I realized we had gotten away from the conservative principles of limited government, free enterprise and individual responsibility, so I chose to leave the military and get involved in government. That’s where I thought we needed more leadership.”
But he was in for a big surprise.
As state senator, he discovered that even under Republican leadership, the state was wasting billions of dollars on low-return activities.
“I’m the limited government candidate,” Hill said. “I feel like we’re a jack of all trades and a master of none because we try to be all things to all people in government. We spend billions of dollars on low-return activities and it’s not delivering results for the people we’re trying to help.”
Hill is vying against three other Republican candidates — Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and District 27 State Sen. Michael Williams — for the governor’s seat, but he feels his conservative principles set him apart from the others.
The biggest plank in Hill’s platform is his plan to eliminate the state’s income tax.
“Essentially, I would replace it with a consumption tax, similar to the Fair Tax,” he said. “We would also shore up the sales tax code. Right now, we have a 4 percent sales tax, a 6 percent income tax and a 6 percent corporate tax, but it’s got buckshot through it. We’ve got exemptions here and tax credits there so it’s not bringing in the revenue that it could. We need to increase the tax a few points and then we can lower the income tax.”
Although tax reform is high on his agenda, Hill has three mandates — transportation, education and public safety — for the future.
“These are the constitutional mandates that I want to focus on,” he said. “So you can add budget reform too.”
Hill said he plans to double the investment in transportation without raising taxes.
“We are behind in Georgia,” he said. “When Atlanta was the single metro area in Georgia in the 1970s, transportation made up 15 percent of the state budget; now it’s 5 percent. Choosing to invest in transportation is my focus, but to do that, we need to gather the experts around the table — the demographers, traffic engineers, civil engineers — to make sure we have the resources to invest in those solutions.”
Hill said he first wants to ease congestion in Atlanta by diverting truck traffic around the city.
“We need to expand I-16 west and create a corridor north that ties into I-75 near the Rome area,” he said. “I’m OK looking at the cost of tunneling (under Atlanta), but we also might need to go up and double-deck the top of I-285 to allow the truck traffic that’s not destined for Atlanta easy passage while those living in that area can operate underneath.”
High speed rail is appropriate for some areas, he said.
“Rail is very expensive,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense unless you have the population densities to support it. Bartow for instance, doesn’t have that density to support it, but a high speed line from Chattanooga to Atlanta would work, in that it would ease congestion, provide more access to jobs and increase productivity.
Education holds a high place on Hill’s platform, particularly his idea that parents, especially in middle and low-income families, should have more choices as to where their children are educated, including allowing parents to use public school funding to send their children to private schools.
“Basically you are empowering parents to make those choices, and you are empowering them with those resources that I believe are theirs anyway,” Hill said. “We already have the documentation about how much it costs per head to educate a child, and so what I’m proposing is that we allow that money to follow the child. It would empower families to make choices between the traditional school, online education, charter schools, private schools and even home school.”
Hill’s ideas on education embraces the preparation of the state’s workforce.
“We must make sure our K-12 students are graduating with critical thinking skills,” he said. “The bar has been lowered too far, so we have to implement our own standards of education and make sure the bar is high enough. The economy of the 21st century is changing and we must recognize that.”
Hill said he would pull back state funding for social welfare programs and push that money into other functions of state government like education and transportation, while relying on others — ministries, businesses and nonprofits — to fund a social safety net.
“We all want to help people,” he said. “But the government has failed in its promise to deliver results for these folks by giving them money for nothing. When you think about the war on poverty that was begun by Lyndon Johnson in the 1960’s, what has it done? We still have the same level of poverty in our country. Government shouldn’t be all things to all people. We should have a semblance of a social safety net but we shouldn’t pay people something for nothing, because it traps them in a cycle of dependency and prevents them from reaching their full potential.”
Hill is dismissive of any idea of working with the opposition to solve problems.
“I welcome anyone to the table but I’m not going to change my values and principles,” he said. “We are going to move forward with a conservative agenda for this state, because I believe that my vision for Georgia is the best for all Georgians.”