GSW hosts political forum: Cheokas, Hooks answer questions — Part 2

Published 10:31 am Thursday, October 25, 2018

By Lisa Law

Part 2
AMERICUS — Members of the community gathered inside the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Services Center auditorium on the Georgia Southwestern State University campus on Oct. 16 on to listen to the candidates bidding for the Georgia House District 138 seat.
Moderated by Jason Berggren, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at (GSW, the forum featured 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.
Student Savannah Hall asked Cheokas a question regarding education. “What is the state of K-12 education in Georgia? What do you think is the most important issue and what do you see as a need for Georgia Southwestern State University?”
“Education is near and dear to my heart,” Cheokas said, as he explained that his daughter is graduating this year from college, and his wife is employed with GSW as a business instructor and she lets him know what they need in education. He also revealed he has served on various committees for education and is well aware of the issues.
“I was appointed by Governor Deal to the State Board of Education after my defeat [to Democrat candidate Bill McGowan in 2016],” he said, adding that he and Deal have worked on the graduation rate. He said the graduation rate in 2016 was 79.6 percent 80.6 percent in 2017, and this year 81.6 percent. Cheokas said, “It’s not good enough, but we are moving in the right direction,” adding that Sumter County should be striving toward Schley County’s successes and even copying what they are doing to achieve success in the K-12. Cheokas revealed Schley County’s graduation rate is 97 percent. “It’s phenomenal what they are doing,” he said. “As far as higher education we need to fund them, reduce the tuition and finally preserve the Hope Scholarship.” He said he has worked extremely hard on making sure the Hope Scholarship is for the average American.
“The present Democratic candidate for governor right now wanted to take away the Hope Scholarship for our middle class and give it only to people who received public funding and only on a needs basics. I thought that was rewarding bad behavior to be perfectly frank with you,” Cheokas said.
Hooks responded to the question, saying that education is very important to him and he is fully invested in education. He said he has many family members involved in education also. He said providing schools and teachers with resources to teach our children is vital. “I have been very fortunate enough to be involved from the very beginning with the Sumter County College and Career Academy,” he said, adding that the future of education has to look toward innovation like college prep and career academies that partner with businesses and technical colleges. He said we need to provide classrooms to get the students trained not only in academics but programs in the classroom that teach the student a skill. “When they graduate, they are able to go right into their careers they are trained for,” he said. “Whenever you have the career academies spring up, you see economic development follow. It’s not only an education problem, but an economic problem. We need to think about the way we fund education, especially K-12 education. The Georgia constitution guarantees every child an equal education. We are not living up to that because if you live in the richest part of the state, you have the best schools. If you live in the poorest part of the state, you have the worst schools. It is because school taxes are tied in to the counties and I think we need to break that system so that every child would have an equal and good education, no matter what zip code.”
The next question was asked regarding civil rights and the removal of Confederate monuments. “There have been increasing efforts to remove Confederate symbols, and monuments from public property. This was done recently in Atlanta. The Democratic candidate for Governor has supported the removal of Confederate monuments at Stone Mountain. Do you think the Georgia Legislature should use its authority to have confederate symbols and monuments removed or protect them?”
Hooks responded, “Let me start out by saying like I said earlier tonight, I don’t always agree with Democrats and Republicans, but on this issue [Stacy] Abrams is wrong. The carvings at Stone Mountain should be left alone,” said Hooks. He went on to say he was a history major and has thought about this through the years and he has family that served in the Confederacy.
“This is our history. You cannot run from history and go running tearing everything down. I don’t want to see this issue divide us, as in the past generation. I think we need to tell the whole story. I think there is room for common ground. I think we need to learn from it instead of it to continue to hurt us as a society today.”
Cheokas answered, “It is an important issue for Georgia and other parts of this nation. First thing I want to say is President Lincoln was the first Republican president of the United States of America and for that fact I am very proud. The second thing I want to say, you can’t change history. You can take the monument down. You can leave them up. You can do what you want with then, but you can’t change the significance of them. I am opposed to moving or removing or changing anything that deals with our Confederate history. If you ask me this was a manufactured issue. I believe the opposing party used this issue to activate their base, and I share with you why. In 2014, when I was in the legislature we appropriated $6 million in the state budget, economic development and tourist development to celebrating the 150th year anniversary of the War Between the States. The Democratic candidate for governor voted for this $6 million in appropriations.
“I find it unusual that when she [Abrams] was in the legislature she voted for something that promoted Confederate history, but when she decided to run for governor, she finds that offensive,” Cheokas said, ending with saying he is supportive of all history, including Civil Rights history.
The next question was asked by Sid Walker regarding abortion, to Cheokas first.
“Abortion is currently legal in the United States. Suppose Roe v. Wade was overturned by the United States Supreme Court and the issue was returned to the states. would you support Georgia keeping it legal or would you support completely abandoning it?”
Cheokas answered, “I think it is a very personal issue. In my case, it’s something I take very, very, very seriously. It is something completely wrong! We in this country have created an issue about abortion and turned it into nothing but a form of contraceptive, a type of birth control. People use it for the sex of their child. They use that when we have so many other means. Why do they have to use abortion for contraception?” Cheokas said. “I think it’s cruel. I think it’s wrong and I am opposed to it.”
Hooks answered that the abortion issue is sacred and he was very opposed to it, especially after having a child of his own. But he explained this was his personal belief. “But this is not everyone’s belief,” he said, explaining that women should be trusted to make their own decisions with their bodies. He added that many have their belief systems and they have their right to their beliefs. “Personally, from a legal standpoint and a procedural standpoint, I don’t think Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned,” he said, explaining it is a well-established law. “But, I personally believe if it was up to the states, women should have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.”