The New Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church sanctuary is no place for guns, a sentiment Augusta’s three candidates for state Senate District 22 shared at a forum there Tuesday.
“I don’t know what they were thinking about,” Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said of the state’s expansive new gun law, which Gov. Nathan Deal signed last week.
“Why does it matter if you can bring a gun into church? When I’m elected, I’m going to fight that bill,” he said.
Johnson’s fellow Democrats in the May 20 primary, which has no Republican contenders, basically agreed with his response to the question about the gun bill, posed at the church where Johnson said he’d been baptized.
Former state court solicitor Harold Jones said “possibly some rational, reasonable people might make some changes to the law.”
Realtor Elmyria Chivers recalled the morning’s shooting at an Atlanta-area shipping warehouse and the 1974 shooting death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother and said she didn’t support the new law,
From there, the candidates did their best to distinguish themselves from one another.
Johnson, who has served two terms on the Augusta Commission, touted his experience, including work relocating residents from the Hyde Park community and ongoing cleanup, as an asset he’d take to Atlanta.
“You have a better success rate when you know what the needs are,” he said.
Jones said voters had entrusted him, “at 34, to run the office” of solicitor for the first of two terms, then took a different stance on a common question about racial division in Augusta.
“They’re just political divisions,” Jones said, not racial ones.
“You don’t hear ‘race’ ” describing the political infighting in Atlanta or Washington, D.C., he said.
Also gathered at the forum – sponsored by the Augusta branch of the NAACP – were candidates for the District 4 commission seat held by Alvin Mason, who is running for mayor.
The Rev. Melvin Ivey, an outspoken pastor and a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit over the May 20 election date, emphasized his “courage” to stand alone for what he believes is right and the “great need for fairness” in city government.
Ivey also stressed that building a water park in south Richmond County would provide the development push the area desperately needs.
“Businesses follow activity,” Ivey said, promising to win the May 20 election by advance votes alone.
While originally included in a master list of potential Augusta Recreation, Parks and Facilities projects to be included on the most recent one-cent sales tax package, the multi-million-dollar water park at Diamond Lakes Regional Park did not make the final cut on the list going before voters May 20.
Longtime neighborhood association activist Sammie Sias said he wasn’t going to preach or yell at the audience of more than 100 gathered at the church.
“When the VA wanted the veterans to go through the back door, we handled that issue,” Sias said of a 2010 battle over a new facility for homeless veterans.
Sias noted how often he receives and answers calls from across the community.
“The citizens come first, before egos and ambitions,” he said.
Former Wrens city Councilwoman Tomasenia Jackson said while she might be relatively new to Richmond County, she was no stranger to politics and had a track record voters should check out.