Coinciding with the start of early voting in Columbia County, residents had the chance to preview the candidates vying to represent them both locally and at the Statehouse.
Candidates running for Georgia House District 123 and Senate District 24 took part in a panel discussion Monday that was preceded by a meet-and-greet and statements from four others running for county commission and school board seats. The forum was held by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia County News-Times.
District 2 Commissioner Trey Allen and his opponent, Lee Benedict, each addressed the audience at the Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center at the Columbia County Library. They were followed by David Alalof and Eric Lewkowiez, who are running for the school board’s District 1 seat.
The men all expressed a desire to serve others as reason for their bids for public office.
In the panel discussions, candidates for the state Legislature were asked for their takes on issues, many of which surfaced during the most recent session.
On the topic of medicinal and recreational marijuana, former state Rep. Lee Anderson said he would oppose legislation that allowed medical marijuana. “We can find other ways to cure diseases” through research at Augusta University, he said.
The other candidates seeking to fill Bill Jackson’s state Senate seat – Joe Edge, Pete Gibbons, Pat Goodwin, Greg Grzybowski and Brenda Jordan – all voiced support for medical marijuana while standing firmly against its recreational use. Jordan did say, however, that she would seek more “discretion” in the penalties for possession, going easier on those caught with less than an ounce.
On other issues, including the legalization of casinos, which failed this past session, the candidates mostly agreed with one another: Put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.
As for growing the state and Columbia County in particular, Jordan said a greater emphasis should be placed on specialized technical colleges to better prepare students for the future workforce. Grzybowski and Edge both saw growth in the arrival of Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon and the contractors that will follow, and Anderson saw the greatest potential should the state’s infrastructure receive the attention he thinks it deserves.
“Then get out of the way, and let the businesses create the jobs,” Anderson added.
Fielding a different set of questions were Lori Greenhill, Wright McLeod and Mark Newton, who are seeking to fill the state House seat held by Barbara Sims, who is retiring. They were immediately asked for their take on laws regarding “religious freedom,” which came to a head this year in legislation vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal.
“No one has explained to me that there was a need to pass that law just yet,” McLeod said after reaffirming his Christian values.
Newton said there is perhaps a better way to offer protection to those of faith that won’t infringe on the rights of others. Greenhill said whoever wins the election should help facilitate a more comprehensive look at how to move forward with such legislation.
Regarding Georgia’s employment at will doctrine, Newton said that he sees no need to change the law but that there are perhaps avenues the state could explore to attract industries where unions are more commonplace. McLeod, who made headlines when he assisted in the firing of an Augusta Warrior Project employee, joked that he has some familiarity with the law but agreed that it should remain.
Greenhill said that she saw no need to make unions mandatory and that current law is working, but she is open to exploring other options if Georgia starts losing out on job growth.
Early voting will continue at the Columbia County Board of Elections office, and Saturday voting is scheduled for May 14. Elections will take place May 24.