Richmond County sheriff's candidates fielded most of the questions, and some of the toughest ones, at a political forum Monday night.
Joining them on a stage at Tabernacle Baptist Church were hopefuls for House Districts 115 and 119 and the Richmond County Civil Court chief judgeship who delivered campaign messages ranging from education to gun control.
The forum was sponsored by the Augusta Black Journalists Association and was organized in a question-and-answer format.
Sheriff's candidates Democrat Ronnie Strength and Republican Leon Garvin were questioned on several issues, including racial profiling.
Woodrow Fryer, who is not on the ballot but is vying for the sheriff's post as a write-in candidate, also participated.
The controversial practice of racial profiling set the tone for questions about race relations in the sheriff's office.
"I will not tolerate racial profiling," said Mr. Garvin, a lieutenant on leave from the department. "What can we do to prevent that from occurring? As soon as we find out that we do have it, then we can put a stop to it."
Mr. Strength, a chief deputy on leave, said he was also adamantly against the practice of targeting a single ethnic group as suspects.
"I would never sit up here and say it does not happen. It happens every day, and not just in the state of Georgia," he said.
But Mr. Fryer extended the meaning of the question.
"When it comes to racial profiling - I'm a victim myself," he said, referring to his disqualification from the sheriff's race as an official candidate.
"We live in a city's that's predominantly black ... where are our black deputies?"
Mr. Fryer, a former officer with the sheriff's department, was disqualified by the Richmond County Board of Elections because he didn't follow state election law requiring candidates to provide fingerprints.
Mr. Fryer said the department had his prints on file.
Education was a prevailing topic for House 115 Republican candidate Cherie Foster.
Ms. Foster spoke of House Bill 1187 in her opening statements and said examining her concerns with the education reform legislation would be her first order of business if elected.
She said that Georgia's pupils had the potential to overcome low standardized test scores that have ranked the state 49th in the country.
"I think we have a very good possibility at being in the top 10 in the country," she said.
Her opponent, Democratic incumbent Jack Connell, stressed the role lottery proceeds have played in the state's educational system during his time in the Legislature.
He also said it was important to continue investing in early childhood development programs.
Thomas Atkins, the Democrat running for House District 119, fielded questions alone Monday night. His opponent, Republican incumbent George DeLoach, was invited to the forum but was unable to attend because of a death in the family.
Mr. Atkins said he would continue to seek the same type of diversity in input as he experienced when he visited landmarks of the civil rights movement.
When asked how he would reach out to black voters if elected, Mr. Atkins said he would depend on individual interaction.
Although candidates for the Civil Court chief judge position were asked only two questions, incumbent William D. Jennings III and his challenger, Benjamin A. Jackson, spoke about enforcing sentences for juveniles and basing bond criteria on individual cases.
The forum also was a last-minute voter registration driver, and 35 new voters signed up.
Today is the final day to register to vote in the Nov. 7 election.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.
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