Hayden Collins, David Doss and Chuck Hufstetler took the stage following candidates for Bartow County Board of Education, but ahead of candidates for Bartow County Sheriff.
Those vying for Senate District 52 referred often to their personal and professional accomplishments in response to questions ranging from the economy to education and transportation.
Soon after questions began from the panelists, candidates began making clear areas they would like to see change in. Collins, career military currently serving as resource efficiency manager for the U.S. Marine Corps base in Albany, often cited a need for better economic development efforts and a stronger emphasis on education including a project called Vision Bridge School utilizing private industry tutors for special needs students.
Doss, former Floyd County commissioner and Georgia Department of Transportation board member, stressed the need for tax code reform, transportation funding and ethics reform concerning lobbyists. Hufstetler, anesthesia provider and former Floyd County commissioner, also noted a need for economic development and the need to create a business friendly environment with changes to include a shift toward consumption-based taxes.
As jobs, the economy and education quickly became major talking points with the panelists asking candidates to name what they feel is the most pressing issue to Senate District 52 outside of those topics.
"The budget, I think, is a very important issue. You've heard tax reform talked about. We need to get some line item detail and provide the funds for a lot of areas because if we don't do this, those areas and education will continue to suffer," Hufstetler said. "The other issue that's going to be really important is health care costs and I understand this particularly as a health care provider. ... We've got to adjust our policies so that we're not just treating symptoms, I do that in the operating room every day, we've got to get more preventative care and push that or health care costs will continue to take a bigger part of our budget."
"I think the most important thing we can do as legislators right now is to restore the public trust. Opinion polls show that respect for the legislature, respect for Congress is at an all-time low and that's because of the revolving door that lobbyists have in our state government," Doss said. "I think the most important thing after education and getting the budget in order is to restore public confidence. This state deserves better, you the citizens deserve better."
"Emergency preparedness. Too many times in recent years we've been hit here and there and everywhere. We even got smacked around pretty good last year, I was out on mission with that one. My troops were out cutting down trees bringing things back in order," Collins said, noting the need for local response teams after state teams were unable to respond due to funding. "We, the citizens, can step forward to set the example. ... All the communities get together with volunteers and businesses and municipalities and plan for emergencies where they won't be drawing on the state if an emergency hits -- they can take care of themselves."
Another issue brought to the candidates by panelist questioning was the matter of Transportation Special Option Local Sales Tax coming up for vote at the July 31 primary. The one-cent sales tax to fund regional transportation projects has been a source of division among voters and set one candidate apart Tuesday in the Senate District 52 race.
Doss was the only candidate to say he would vote for T-SPLOST, and "reluctantly" at that. His reasoning, despite calling T-SPLOST "terrible policy," was to avoid a 30 percent penalty for counties voting the tax down, as opposed to a 10 percent match from counties supporting the vote. He also cited necessary funding for the 411 Connector.
Collins, proudly proclaiming his place in the Tea Party movement, called T-SPLOST an "abomination," while Hufstetler too opposed the proposed tax questioning the constitutionality of burdening opposing counties with a 30 percent match.
As the Senate District 52 forum came to an end, things began to heat up between Hufstetler and Doss. Panelists handed over the microphones to candidates giving them the opportunity to ask one another questions. First up to bat was Doss asking Hufstetler about the constitutionality of a statement used in his campaign. Shortly after, Hufstetler retorted with a question aimed at Doss concerning his personal record with ethics while in office -- claims which Doss strictly disputed. The evening ended with the two arguing over who held the lowest tax rate while in office.