GSW hosts political forum: Cheokas, Hooks answer questions — Part 3
By Lisa Law
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.
A question came from Sid Walker, “This is pertaining to healthcare. There is a healthcare crisis in Georgia. What can and should be done. Is expanding Medicaid part of the solution?”
Hooks responded, “It is absolutely a part of the solution and I can tell you there is no issue more dear to my heart than healthcare.” He said there is a need for a healthcare infrastructure, if we want explanation of jobs and economic development. Hooks also said with his experience on various healthcare boards, authorities and foundations, he is aware of the issues. He went on to say the rural areas need access to primary healthcare and specialists.
“It is not only a healthcare problem; it’s an economic development problem. You can’t go to a business and say relocate here, when you do not have any primary healthcare or you only have two in the area,” Hooks said, explaining that we to have a healthcare infrastructure to have expansion of jobs etc. He said also hospitals are struggling and they cannot keep going the way they are going without some help. “Medicaid expansion has been on the table for years. We are one in 17 states who haven’t taken advantage of it,” Hooks said.
“If Mike Pence is in favor of expanding Medicaid in Indiana, it is good enough for us,” Hooks said, adding they get nine dollars back for every one dollar put into that program. “It’s our federal tax dollars coming back to us,” he said, adding that we do not need to have a healthcare desert in rural Georgia.
“Expanding Medicaid and putting an extra burden on the taxpayers is not the answer. I am sorry, it is not the answer,” Cheokas responded. “Expanding Medicaid is another way of bringing on socialized medicine and I am opposed to socialized medicine. I am opposed to a system of a single payer. That is what we are talking about; you are obliged to the federal government to get the healthcare. The healthcare system should be between the patient and the doctor.”
Cheokas went on to explain we have small healthcare centers, regional healthcare and no matter what, they are not going to be able to have open heart surgery. “They have to be sent to Albany,” said Cheokas, where you have various doctors on staff. “Without the numbers, it is not feasible,” he said explaining that healthcare has changed over the years and doctors and specialists are only a computer away. And he added, “We have nurse practitioners who take the load off of the doctors to deal with more serious issues.”
Cheokas was asked by Boswell about job opportunity in Southwest Georgia. “What can be done to improve job opportunities here in Americus, Sumter County and the surrounding counties?” “Economic statistics show that for every two students, here at Georgia Southwestern, creates one job,” Cheokas said. “I am in favor of expanding our higher education funding; it is our economic development in Sumter County.” He also elaborated on the expansion of broadband, as a part of economic growth in Southwest Georgia. He explained access to fiber optic is needed in our area to create jobs, business opportunities. He also mentioned that a Senate Bill 180 has been passed, which designated funding for transportation and we are becoming a logistical hub, especially with Cordele building a bridge, opening avenues to Savannah, allowing goods/products to be transported to Savannah. He said Savannah has more exports than imports. He ended with “Funding educational opportunities and broadband are part of our success for a prosperous economic future.”
Hooks answered, “We have to have infrastructure in place with expanded Medicaid.” He agreed that rural broadband is needed. He said expanded Medicaid and broadband come hand and hand. “No one is going to move into here, without medical care, specialist care and rural broadband. He said the Career Academies are a plus for economic development. “If you are putting out students trained to do a certain job, it makes us more attractive. We have to make South Georgia attractive. We already have the best people; we are friendly. We just don’t have the infrastructure and broadband that will go a long way. It is a good first step. But, we’ve got to make sure the folks in Atlanta don’t forget about us, and I will be there to remind them.”
Boswell asked Hooks, “If elected to the Georgia State House, which committees interest you?”
Hooks said, “First and foremost I would like to be on the agricultural committee,” he said, explaining that the majority of South Georgia is agricultural. “I would also like to serve on the Health and Human Services committee,” explaining that he is very passionate about healthcare. Hooks said he’s also interested in serving on the Small Business Development Committee because in his law practice he handles corporate and business law and he is very skilled in that area. However, he said, he is very interested also in a special committee for Rural Economic Development, specializing in studying what communities need to develop economically.
Cheokas answered, “Having 12 years’ experience, I have already confirmed this with the speaker, I am going in with the same seniority. I am going in a leadership position, if I am successful, at least a vice chairman or chairman position,” he said, adding that he appropriated the monies for the building they were standing in. He said that is why he wanted to be on the Higher Education and Appropriation Committees.
“It is vital we address the issue of rural development,” Cheokas said, asking if anyone wants an Atlanta stretching to Americus? He said he wants to be put on the K-12 Committee. He said he wanted to work on taking lawsuits out of K-12. “There is too much money spent on litigation, when the money is paid to attorneys and could be spent on the schools,” Cheokas.
Hooks said he would advise the Governor to not forget about the folks down in Southwest Georgia. He said the gubernatorial candidates are making their rounds in Georgia for votes, but they tend to forget about us when they return to Atlanta. “I would also would advise them to work on the number one problem: expanding Medicaid,” he said.
The last question was asked by Berggren. “There are five Constitutional Amendments on the ballot; do they have any recommendations?”
Hooks answered, “The first one is on trust funds for land conservation; the second creating a special court system to hear complex business cases to take the pressure off the Superior Court judges, who may not be familiar with business law. The third amendment would change how timberland is defined and taxed; the fourth is an amendment to keep people involved in court proceedings if they are a victim of a crime. For example, giving notification to the victim, even if it is years later. The fifth amendment gives the right to a larger school in a city to have the right to call the vote for penny sales tax, but the school will still split the monies. I am in favor of all five; all would be beneficial,”
Cheokas said, “Yes I would agree there was a place for all five of the amendments.” He said he worked on the reforming of the court system, reducing taxation on the forest industry and that victim of crimes do not get enough attention. “As far as ESPLOST, it is another way of expanding their funding.”
Hooks was first allowed closing remarks. He thanked the moderator and the panel for doing a great job.
“Over the last 12 years, District 138 lost 5,000 residents and millions of dollars in school funding. The poverty rate has gone from 17 percent in 2000, to 30 percent in 2016. In the past 12 years, my opponent never passed a budget to fully fund our schools,” Hooks said, explaining the last time the schools were fully funded was in 2002, and last year under Bill McGowan. “We need a leader who is going to fight for you, not Atlanta. I promised to work with both parties and will put the district above partisan politics. I will work with diligence. I will be a leader that will focus on you. not Atlanta.” He said he will serve with integrity and he and his family have been in this community for eight generations and he wants to work for a better future for his children, and future generations to come. “I sincerely ask for your vote. Thank you,” Hooks concluded.
“My commitment to this community started after returning from college,” Cheokas said. “I could read off a litany of a few things I have accomplished when I served on these organizations.” He mentioning helping his Greek Orthodox lay preacher with his retirement. He mentioned that he worked on New Horizon Habitat and his goal was to get people out of public housing. “So, the reason I am running is because there are things I can do now. I have been told what funding is needed at South Georgia Technical College.” He said Marion County needs a small livestock program to teach their students. “I have been asked to these things. I am not going to Atlanta to expand my career. I have already served 12 years,” he concluded
Berggren encouraged everyone to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6.