All three candidates fighting for the Georgia Senate District 22 seat made promises to help fully fund education, lure jobs to the area and make communities safer at a forum held Tuesday at Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.
What sets them apart is experience and ideas on how to achieve those goals.
At the forum, hosted by the Augusta alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Women’s Civic Club, candidates Elmyria Chivers, Corey Johnson and Harold Jones II fielded questions from the audience of about 150 people on issues from the legalization of medical marijuana to gun laws.
On the federal lawsuit filed Friday challenging local elections being held May 20 instead of on the general election ballot in November, all candidates said it may be too late to be successful.
“I don’t care when the election is, we’re going to vote,” said Johnson, Augusta Commission member and mayor pro tem. “We’re going to show them that they’re wrong. If you think you can change the date and you can change our mind, you’re wrong.”
Jones, Augusta’s former two-term solicitor general and current attorney for the sheriff’s office, said because voter turnout is traditionally so low for a primary, the date must be changed.
“Once I go to the state senate, we are going to fight to make sure our non-partisan elections go back to November where they belong,” he said.
Chivers, vice president and associate broker for Meybohm Realtors, said while voter suppression exists, the community must still ensure people are put in office who can fight for public interests.
“We are at the point where we can change the state from red to blue if you vote,” she said. “We have to vote in people that have the interest of what you want.”
To ensure the state properly funds education, Jones said the legislature must change the way the formula is calculated to allocate money based on need instead of size.
“We have serious economic needs but also academic needs,” he said. “That is something that you change on the state level that benefits Augusta. It is also something you can get done, I believe, in a Republican dominated state ... it’s something that crosses both aisles.”
Chivers said the state needs to restore funding to eliminate furlough days for both students and teachers.
“Our students are not just competing locally, they’re competing abroad ... and these jobs will be filled, but we want them to be filled by our children,” she said.
Johnson said the state’s outdated tax code must be revised to ensure local districts receive adequate funding, but districts must also prepare students on the local level by providing support and innovative intervention.
“It’s going to take conversation, it’s going to take us getting on one accord,” he said. “As a community, we need to make sure we understand the needs of our young people and put the resources where the needs are.”
All candidates support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes only, each stating it could drastically improve the quality of life for sick children without the risk of addiction. All of the candidates also oppose a state law passed last month giving private probation companies more power over sentences and fines without the oversight of a judge.
Jones said one solution for the unjust treatment of offenders is to decriminalize traffic offences. Johnson said the fines imposed by the companies are “horrific” and must be changed. Chivers said more rehabilitative programs like counseling and job training should be provided to offenders.
All candidates pledged to fight a law passed last month, and awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature, that would allow guns in bars, schools and churches.
Mary Moorer, a retired school social worker said she entered the forum undecided and left the same way. However, she said each candidate touched on issues important to her and gave her “a lot to mull over.”
“I was really encouraged by what they said because it’s an important election,” she said.