GSW hosts political forum: Cheokas, Hooks answer questions — Part 1
By Lisa Law
AMERICUS — Members of the community gathered inside the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Services Center on Tuesday to listen to the candidates bidding for the Georgia House District 138 seat.
The forum started with moderator Jason Berggren, Ph.D., associate professor of Political Science at Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW), welcoming Republican candidate Mike Cheokas and Democratic candidate Bardin Hooks.
Berggren explained the forum format which included the candidates’ opening statements and questions which would be asked by a panel of GSW leaders and political science majors Caleb Daffron, Savannah Hall, Sid Walker, and Kaitlyn Boswell. He also explained that questions would be answered by both candidates and they would have two minutes for each question and those questions would be alternated between each candidate.
Cheokas was allowed to start the opening statements. He started by thanking everyone and thank first responders and emergency workers for their tremendous service in recent event of the hurricane. “The reason we are here is because of you, the students. We appreciate what you are working toward,” he said, explaining to the students that they are our future leaders and will be taking care of us as we get older.
“The distinguishing question is who will be better to protect your future and provide you the opportunities you need to be successful?” he said, quoting President Kennedy. “This nation needs to develop an aristocracy of achievement and a democracy of opportunity.” He said his goal is for all of us to be provided the opportunity to succeed. Cheokas said leadership has been a part of his life from day one. With his family’s encouragement, especially of his father, a long-time businessman in the community, he said it was at an early age that he was taught to give back to his community.
Hooks’ introduction started with introducing his wife Hayden and his son George. “George there is the eight generation of living right here,” he said referring to the Americus community. “This community has taught me a lot about public service.” He said he had been introduced to love and dedication of family values, leadership, and public service by his parents, George and Gail Hooks, also, at an early age. He also revealed he had the honor of working with the late Governor Zell Miller, who he said loved Georgia and put Georgia first. He said one of Miller’s characteristics he most admired was his fierce independence.
“Southwest Georgia is at a crossroads,” Hooks said. “Our hospitals are closing. The bureaucrats in Atlanta want to take away control of our local public schools. Atlanta continues to thrive and we get left with scraps. I am running down here as your representative because families down here need someone fighting to fix these problems. As your representative I will work for better schools, with economic resources you need, and begin to end the health care crisis.”
The first question from the moderator was about political incivility. Berggren said American politics has become tense, and there’s a growing tendency to view who doesn’t agree with us is the enemy. “Should you win, as a representative, what will you do to improve political discourse?”
Hooks explained that he is a moderate and agrees that the public is sick of the political division that seems to be getting worse. “For me the race is about people, not politics,” Hooks said, explaining that he isn’t the type who couldn’t work across the aisle. He said he could compromise. “I am Team Americus and Team Southwest Georgia and that becomes before any partisan politics.” He said he would do what is best for his constituents, his district, and his state.
Cheokas answered, “Well, I think it is sad we have incivility and I believe we can rise above it. I have become a victim by my opponent,” he said, adding that his opponent just recently passed out information on facts about Cheokas and himself, and, mostly, truths about Cheokas.
He said one fact stated, “Cheokas calls himself a businessman, but he owns a chain of liquor stores and Section 8 housing.” Cheokas said, “I am a businessman. I do own two liquor stores. I employee approximately 20 employees. I do own 100 apartments. None, zero are Section 8; most are student housing.”
Cheokas said that Hooks’ campaign information implies that Cheokas avoided the Vietnam War by leaving the country. Cheokas claims he left for overseas after the war. Cheokas also said the Hooks stated that Cheokas had been to a private school in Atlanta without obtaining a degree. Cheokas said he did attend a private school in Atlanta, the Westminster School, and was very proud of it. He said he actually left for Greece with two degrees. Cheokas said Hooks claimed that Cheokas flew to Obama’s inauguration. Cheokas said this is true; he had flown to several inaugurations in his own plane, and that he’s a pilot, his father was a pilot, and his son is a pilot.
The second question, involving the environment and climate change, was “As we all know full well hurricanes are getting more intense and evermore capable of causing major damage far from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. What can Georgia do to address this?
Cheokas answered first. “That is a very good question. Right now, I think we need to improve our investments in carbon cleansing. We have that technology at Georgia State; we have had it for years,” he said, explaining that encouragement of fuel economy is another step toward improvement; however, he said electric cars are not necessarily the answer, since we still use the carbon-based products to run the electric cars. Cheokas also emphasized that this is a complicated problem which needs to be addressed on the state and federal levels and also include countries overseas.
Hooks first said, “I would like to say for the record I did not distribute any handouts.” He answered the question, “The environment has always been important to me. As I said before I was an Eagle Scout and I grew up outdoors in our wonderful forest, rivers, streams and mountains. It’s close to my heart.” He added that we are seeing more solar power in use, and solar power is important and we should provide more incentives for its use. “Certainly, renewable energy is the future and solar, I think, is the way we should go.”
The next question was from student Caleb Daffron: “The right to vote is a critical feature of our democracy. Some are concerned the right to vote is being restricted, even suppressed. Is Georgia suppressing the right to vote and how would you protect this important right in this state?”
“The right to vote is sacred,” responded Hooks. “It is the most fundamental right,” he said, explaining that it always has to be protected here and everywhere. He said there has been some concern about voting rights being suppressed. However, he said he did not think voting fights have been suppressed intentionally. He added, that if he is elected to the state legislature he will make sure there is of no discrimination and intimidation.
Cheokas answered, “Everyone should have the opportunity to vote.” He said he in favor of the provisional ballot which is used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility to vote. They are allowed to vote anyway but the vote cannot be counted until all eligibility issues have been cleared up. He said also he is in favor of an ID when voting. He also said when voting he is in favor of a paper receipt. Cheokas said he is firmly against non-citizen voting. “We have to be careful in allowing non-U.S. citizens to gain the right to vote,” he said. “No other countries in the world allow non-citizens to vote.”
The next question was asked by student Samuel Hall on gun rights and the 2nd Amendment: “Consider the issue of guns and gun rights in America. What measure should Georgia take to insure school safety and responsible gun ownership?”
Cheokas answered first. “Thank you; that is a good question,” he said, adding that he has been a champion of these rights that are very important in protecting families and everything they’ve worked hard for all our lives. He went on to say he has the license to carry and recently he spent the night in his business overnight after the hurricane because he lost power to his business. He also said another one of his businesses were broken into, “The police can’t do it all. I lived under a dictatorship in Greece and the first thing they do is want to take your guns preventing something our forefathers fought so hard for.” He said he is a supporter of the National Rifle Association.
Hooks said, “Let me start off saying I am a firm supporter of the Second Amendment.” He said he grew up with guns and believes that gun ownership is part of growing up in the South and being an outdoorsman. But Hooks also said he believes along with owning a gun, comes responsibility and it is important to teach gun responsibility when it comes to school safety. He said it is important to teach gun safety and responsible gun ownership to the next generation. He said he believes most of the laws in Georgia are adequate. He also said he would like to see more mental health screening for gun buyers. He said he would not exploit the Campus Carry Law, which recently went into effect in some states. According to Hooks, many law enforcement officers are against the Campus Carry Law. Overall, Hooks said the present gun laws in Georgia are very effective.
Student Sid Walker asked the next question: “How big of a problem is illegal immigration for Georgia and how should it be addressed?”
Hooks answered, “I think with the immigration question a lot of it we hear is from Washington. I guess I should start off by saying immigration is a federal issue.” He added that the majority of the Georgia economy comes from agricultural. “We don’t want to do anything to hurt our farmers or our economy,” he said, adding that we also do not want to do anything to scare immigrants who are legally here. “We are a land of immigrants and I think we need to remember that, and certainly need to protect our farmers and that will be a priority,” he said.
Cheokas said, “Illegal immigration is a huge problem for our country and state. We do need to protect our agriculture. We have that with e-verify. Farmers are allowed to check and make sure these immigrants are allowed in our country. They are very efficient and very good at what they do, but by the same token, what worries me is the rise in crime by MS13 and other gangs built and recruited in our country.” He said even in this community law enforcement has shared with him that they see gang activity on the rise, illegal drug activity directly related to the border problems.
“We see it in our school system; the law enforcement officers see it, and the teachers know it is going on,” Cheokas said. “Unfortunately, until we build a wall, secure our boarders like all the other countries in the world, until we protect our own communities, we are going to have problems.” He also said passports are important. “If any of you ever go overseas or to Europe, do they just let you pass through the passport line?” Cheokas asked. He explained that one has to go through one passport line if you are a member of the European community and another line if you are not. He ended by saying, “We need to do this, not only at the airports, seaports but we need to do that at boarders that are not as heavily populated. I strongly feel that will help with crime in our community. I believe we need to protect our farmers and e-verify and e-verify has been very effective at that,” he said.