Chamber, sorority host political forum

Published 4:13 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2018

By Beth Alston

Part 1
AMERICUS — The Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority hosted a political forum Thursday at the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building. The event was narrated by Kim Fuller. The forum was being held prior to the first day early voting, Monday, April 30, for the May 22 Primary Election.
First, each candidate was allowed up to five minutes to speak.
Ed Rhynders, R, Albany, incumbent member state House District 152, was asked to speak first.
“I want to speak on a broader subject … Southwest Georgia, rural Georgia, as a member of the rural economic development team. This is my eighth term. I chair the Governmental Affairs Committee … I’m secretary of the Appropriations Committee and secretary of Health & Human Services … But … we’re losing population. In the last redistricting … we lost five members south of Macon. We’ve got one candidate that’s got nine counties in southwest Georgia, Rep. Gerald Greene. That trend is not going away. We’re trending in the wrong way. This is not about me; this is just the facts …
“But we’re losing folks down here so that our districts are getting larger and larger and larger. We’re now being outvoted on a consistent basis by Metro Atlanta. …. But we stay ahead of the game, whether it’s a George Hooks, whether it’s an Ed Rhynders, whether it’s a Freddie Powell Sims, who know how we stay ahead of the game? … With seniority. My district … is a solid, solid Republican district. I believe that government works best when you do the job that you’re supposed to do, which is to represent your constituents.
“I’m not here to represent DeKalb County or the City of Albany. I’m here to represent the people. You ought to be upset when your elected officials do not vote the values of their people. I have an immense amount of respect when I look at your [Democratic candidate Marcus Batten) Facebook page that you’re a Bernie Sanders guy. And if that’s your belief, so be it. The people will decide whether or not they’re Bernie Sanders’ folks. And that’s their form of government. But I’m going to vote my district. That’s why I’m there. If I don’t do that, that’s when you as individuals ought to say, ‘you know what? You’re no longer connected to the district. You’re no longer doing what you’re supposed to do.’
“We’ve got challenges, infrastructure, health care, education, but I’m going to tell you something. You don’t always hear it. Five years in a row, we’ve been named the best place to do business. We just opened a new plant in Bainbridge. … Some of that is education related with our soft skills for our young people. … As long as I’m up there, I’ll make this commitment. I’ll be true to my district and I will always do what’s in the best interest of rural Georgia.”
Marc Alan Urbach, Republican gubernatorial candidate, was up next. He said it was an honor to be in Americus. He said he’s been a Georgia resident for 18 years, and taught school in Gwinnett County for 11 years, teaching history as a “master educator.” Prior to that he was a businessman in Texas.
“Common sense can solve a lot of the problems we have here in Georgia … ” he said. He said he’s become a professional author in the past five years, writing a book called “Believe.”
“Do we need a third great awakening? What do you folks think? … Most people say ‘yes,’” adding that most members of Congress have read his book. He said that while autographing a copy of his book for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, he told Breyer that the Supreme Court has illegally removed five religious freedoms from the public schools.
“So why am I running for governor? …. I believe in the Holy Bible … My savior is Jesus Christ and we must get back into the hearts and minds of all Georgians … believe in something other than yourself. If we don’t get people’s hearts and minds right, we’re spinning wheels … We must be getting people believing in almighty God and respecting and loving each other. Because we know that love is the greatest force that changes anyone … Is Dr. King’s dream … alive and well here in Sumter County? I’ve seen it for nine months … and we will succeed beyond all expectations if you put the right person into your mansion. You guys are the first branch of government, the people … you control the representatives. … ”
Urbach closed his comments by saying he has documented proof of “malfeasance by all the representatives … ”
Herschel Smith, Republican candidate for House District 138, was next.
“ … I was born and raised in Americus, graduated from Americus High School and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. I served as a Navy pilot and a Southwest Airlines Captain before returning to my home.
“I am running for Georgia House of Representatives because we need a change in representation. I was not satisfied with the performance of my opponent who served 12 years in the Georgia legislature, prior to Bill McGowan. After six terms in the House, my opponent was defeated. That is very rare in political circles unless there was a reason.
“Elections are about choices. People are looking for a representative that they know, that they like, and that they trust. A representative who will serve with integrity and fairness.
“Commitments and obligations should be taken seriously. To me ‘finish the drill’ [his Republican opponent Mike Cheokas’ campaign logo] is not just a phase. When you start a job, make a commitment; you finish the job, keep your word.
“I spent my whole life either serving my country in the Navy or transporting families around the country safely as an airline pilot. In both cases, I have held extreme responsibility for life and treasure. I took my job seriously. I will also take this new responsibility to represent you in Atlanta seriously.
“I am pleased that the needs of GSW and SGTC were met with new construction, but this is not a direct result of one person’s effort. We have been blessed with a number of good legislators over the years who have attended to these two schools and I intend to join their ranks. GSW and SGTC’s growth has been stagnant for a long time and I would like to work towards significant growth for both of them, 4,000 and 3,000 students respectively over the next 10 years.
“For too long rural Georgia has been on the short end of the stick. We are good people but need help turning our economy around. We need industry to see that we have much to offer. We need access to the world through the internet and reliable phone service. We need our young people to see there is a reason to stay and raise a family. The sunshine in South Georgia can become a resource in the future through renewable energy as well as agriculture.
“Many politicians make promises they can’t or don’t intend to keep. We all support law and order, schools, mom and apple pie, but do we really mean what we say? Do we tell the truth or dance around it? Do we treat people the same even when it isn’t election time? I make no promises except: I will answer your calls, respond to your questions, and promise that I will make you proud that I represent you and Southwest Georgia. Scoutmaster Charlie Hogg taught me well, ‘do my best.’
In 1914, a young doctor moved to this town with his bride to make his way in the world. From him and his son, my father, I learned to love this town and the people in it. I have lived all over the world, traveled extensively and no matter where I have served, I have always been proud to tell people that I am from Americus. During this campaign, I have spent time in all four counties and met many wonderful people, re-established friendships from church, scouting and school. I have explored the rivers and creeks and traveled the backroads, ate the barbecue and fried chicken.
“But we have problems that need to be solved. Rural Georgia needs strong leadership to pull together our greatest resource: honest, hard working people. You deserve a leader who will listen and respond. I am that leader. I want to serve you because this is my home and proud of it.”
Mike Cheokas, Republican candidate for House District 138, was next.
“The only thing that I can agree with my opponent on is that quite frankly we had zero leadership the last two years in the Legislature. And I’ve seen that he’s criticized my term in office and then questioned whether the money for the Health Science Center, for the Media Center, for South Georgia Tech where I was asked just two weeks ago to speak at the ribbon cutting for the Diesel Technology Center was because of my hard work in the Legislature. You’re right; as a body, it does take all of us to work together, but I had the respect of my peers, and I was able to get that money in the budget, and I did it. It wasn’t on the Regents’ list. I put it there. It wasn’t on the list for the Technical College System of Georgia and I put it there.
“As far as my committee assignments and what I did when I was … in the Legislature, I was on the Appropriations Higher Education Committee … you don’t get on after your first term. You have to earn that position. There are several difficult, difficult committees to be on: Rules and Appropriations and I happened to have served on the Committee of Assignments … [which] selects the committees that other representatives serve on. Bill [McGowan, current Democratic representative in the State House who defeated Cheokas in 2016, and who was sitting in the audience], how may committees were you on? You served, if I’m not mistaken, on three committees; agriculture was one … I ended up serving on six committees and I was chairman of one. And you don’t get that overnight.
“ … The reason I’m running and I don’t mind telling you … is because we need experience up there. I have the experience that’s necessary. I’ve talked with the leadership. I can go back in and I can make a difference for this community. I will hit the ground running. I don’t have to have any lead time or growing pains to make a difference.
“Now, if you want to talk about hard work and constituent services, we can talk about that, because for the last two years, our representative here did not do anything. He didn’t even show up for half the votes. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not factual. According to the 2017-2018 Legislative Biennium, Rep. Bill McGowan, D-Americus, voted 802 times out of 811 recorded votes during his time in the state Legislature.] In my 12 years I was up there, I missed one day in the Legislature, and that was to go to my uncle Jimmy’s funeral in Charleston, S.C.
“Now let’s talk about the committees that I served on. I served on the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, that deals directly with funding for our South Georgia Tech and Georgia Southwestern State University. I served on the Health and Human Services Committee. I served on the Insurance Committee. I served on our State Properties Committee which deals with our prison systems. … I served on Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight, and I had the good fortune of serving as chairman of the Information and Audit Committee and … the state auditor, worked under me.
“And I want to say a little bit about my background and … my history in Sumter County. I came back to invest in this community, to raise my family in this community, and I joined the foundation at South Georgia Tech and I was twice chairman … and vice chairman three times. I was past chairman of New Horizons Habitat for Humanity. I’m currently co-chairman of the Rosalynn Carter Institute. I graduated from the Georgia Legislative Leadership Institute. I’ve had multiple certificates from the Advanced Self Policy Institute. One of my proudest accomplishments, I’m past president of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Macon … I’m invested in this community … I will close by saying the state Legislature is not a hobby. It’s a full-time job. I put over $15,000 a year traveling throughout my district. And the last two years, I put, through the help of my friends in the Legislature, the guard rail in Andersonville on the curve, the blinking light …”

Read Part 2 in Saturday’s edition when Democratic candidates for House District 152 speak.