The two candidates in the state Senate District 22 runoff have built their platforms on similar issues, such as restoring education funding and spurring economic growth.
But each say their backgrounds and experience set them apart, giving voters two distinctive candidates to choose between July 22.
Augusta Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, 40, said his two terms on the Augusta Commission have given him insight on local needs and challenges to better serve the county from the state level. As evidence of his leadership, he touts leading the Hyde Park project that moved residents out of poor conditions; securing local funds to repair roads and clear dilapidated homes in his District 2; and advocating for the new judicial center to be named after Judge John H. Ruffin Jr.
“I understand the local issues. I understand what we’re dealing with as a city and a county. I understand the challenges to better serve the community,” Johnson said. “I better understand the local government so when I’m up in Atlanta, I’m more astute to the issues here.”
Harold Jones II, 44, became Augusta’s first black solicitor general in 2004 and is one of three attorneys representing the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. As solicitor general from 2004 to 2009, he helped cut the time between arraignments to trials from 180 days to about 40 by adding staff and making cases involving victims a top priority.
He then began advocating for the decriminalization of traffic offenses and alternative sentencing for marijuana possession – issues he plans to take up in the state Senate.
“I became an attorney because I love helping people. That’s my passion,” Jones said. “In law, I’ve shown that I can work with the opposite side. You have to have a good relationship with the prosecutor, defense attorney and realize their opinion and their side is valued. In the state Senate, I can reach across the aisle to get that bipartisan support.”
During the May 20 primary, which had about a 30 percent turnout, Johnson got 45 percent of the votes while Jones received 43 percent. The third candidate, Realtor Elmyria Chivers, trailed with 12 percent.
Jones said his major priority is to push the Legislature to change the outdated education funding formula to allocate money based on economic need instead of size. He said that will enable low-income districts, such as Richmond County, to better address academic issues and eliminate funding cuts that often affect teachers, students and programs.
He said establishing official partnerships between colleges and businesses could create a school-to-workforce pipeline, opening job opportunities for graduates while feeding the economy.
With growing support for medicinal marijuana, including Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposals for clinical trials, Jones said it’s unrealistic to continue charging felonies for possessing small amounts of the drug, which clogs prisons with nonviolent offenders and disrupts lives.
“It can really ruin lives and families,” Jones said. “We ought to look at the fact the state could be heading to legalizing medicinal marijuana, but we’re still charging people with felonies for possession.”
Johnson said he’d work to eliminate austerity cuts in state funding for schools, which leads to furlough days and teacher pay freezes. He said the state should invest more in infrastructure to attract businesses to Augusta and to create programs that train students to enter the workforce.
Because Johnson and his wife own two small businesses they started from scratch, Johnson said he wants to help make the economic climate easier on people who don’t want to just find employment but create their own.
“I have the ability to garner bipartisan support for these issues,” he said. “If you don’t have that ability, then you’ll just be in a seat taking up space. I have proven I have the ability because I’ve done that on the commission.”