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Editorial & Opinion

July 30 - PHELPS ON POLITICS: Before Worrying About an Educated Voter, Do We Have Candidates?

By Lou Phelps, Publisher, Coastal Empire News

July 30, 2018 – It’s another election season in Coastal Georgia — this time with a much larger, and more organized slate of Democratic challengers to the incumbent Republican power-clique that has dominated coastal politics for more than 25 years. It should be a year of a true debate of issues.

However, even with this slate of predominately Democratic women who are being supported by national efforts to bring many issues to the head of the table, we are seeing very little from these candidates in regards to position papers and specifics on why these challengers should be elected. Independent voters — using the largest segment of voters — need a reason to vote against an incumbent, and not just because they are Democrats.

As a long-time journalist, there are days when it feels like oppositional research is a thing of the past. Certainly, local media companies do not have the staff to dig into every lousy vote by some of our elected officials and explain them through editorials and commentaries. 

And, there have been some pretty lousy votes during the 2017 and 2018 sessions of the Georgia General Assembly and the Congress.

Example: the bill that brought down Casey Cagle’s run for governor, the vote to dramatically increase the amount of taxpayer money allocated for scholarships to students in Charter Schools. Cagle, who as Lt. Governor was President of the Senate, was caught on tape saying the bill was ‘lousy legislation’ that was bad for education in Georgia. But he let it come to the floor of the senate — and helped get it through — to try and thwart a candidate running against him in the GOP primary in May, 2018. Check out the members of your delegation who voted for House Bill 217. The bill increased education tax credits from $58 million to $100 million in a program that allows eligible citizens and corporations in Georgia to receive credits for donating money to “student scholarship organizations,” which critics say will drain students and resources from public schools.

Funding of public education is just one of the many issues that those of us in the Savannah and Brunswick regions, and all of Coastal Georgia, have to FIGHT about to make sure that our needs are understood up in Atlanta. And, once understood, addressed. 

Another example of lousy votes: the question of offshore drilling.

In January, the Trump Administration announced that they were going to open up 90% of all off-shore areas of the U.S. to oil and gas exploration, and kill the 50-mile limit that the Obama Administration had fought to put in to protect the U.S. coastline. 

Anyone with a background in the oil and gas industry — or who can Google — can understand that if there was a major strike off the Georgia coast, it wouldn’t be too many years before there was an effort to build refineries here, similar to those in the Galveston, TX area. Refineries in Georgia would be a much less expensive option compared to shipping the oil and gas down through the Panama Canal to refineries in Louisiana and Texas, but you can Google an image of the oil refinery fields in Galveston to get my point.

While it is a Federal decision to open exploration, our elected members to the Georgia House and Georgia Senate will have great amounts of power in whether drilling actually takes place, and certainly to fight refinery efforts, or bringing the fuel in through the Savannah and Brunswick port.  

In this year’s session, anti-offshore drilling efforts failed. The bipartisan effort was led by two members of the Chatham County delegation, who were trying to get the State of Georgia to take a stance opposing offshore drilling.

State Sen. Jackson, D-Savannah, and State Rep. Carl Gilliard, D- Garden City, sponsored resolutions that asked the General Assembly to express its support for Georgia’s fishing and coastal tourism industries, extensive salt marsh and marine mammals, as well as opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration. Neither measure made it out of the House or Senate, and little attention was paid at the committee level.

“Many members of the General Assembly believe offshore drilling promotes business and job growth,” Sen. Jackson said, after the session ended. “Legislators who are not familiar with our coast don’t understand the biggest economic driver in the State of Georgia is tourism. Many flock to our beaches for tourism. And they don’t understand that another large business affecting our region is our fisheries. Anything that may jeopardize that industry may cripple the coast.”

Along with Sen. Lester Jackson, the Senate resolution against offshore drilling was co-signed by William Ligon, Jr., R--Brunswick; and Ben Watson, R-Savannah from the local delegations. Along with Gilliard, his House resolution was co-signed by Ron Stephens, R-Savannah; Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon; and Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. There are names from each delegation missing off those lists. 

And, a resolution, of course, is easy to support at this early stage, and in an election year. The tough votes will be ahead. Both Gilliard and Jackson said they’re not finished pushing for a resolution opposed to offshore drilling.

As Sen. Jackson said, after the resolution got buried in the final days of the session, “We don’t want what happened to the coast of Louisiana and in Alaska to ever happen to us.”

Added to the lack of understanding about the coast by Atlanta-area legislators who control the General Assembly on most days, is the fact that Congressman Buddy Carter’s son is now married to the daughter of Douglas H. Hunt, Director of Acquisitions for Petro-Hunt, LLC., based in Dallas. The Hunt family has always been among America’s wealthiest, with family money earned in the oil and gas industry, including from the Middle East. Doug’s father was literally the man behind the “Dallas” TV series depicting rich Texans making money and living very flamboyant lifestyles.

Knowing this, can we look to the Congressman for all of Coastal Georgia to fight oil and gas exploration and drilling off the Georgia coast over the next two years?

Local Candidates’ Nights and Debates are needed immediately for the House, Senate and Congressional races in our region, to ask our current elected officials and opposing candidates their position on this and other critical directions of state and federal law that will affect us all. 

Before we can worry about an ‘educated electorate,’ we need educated candidates who are deeply schooled in the issues that will be on the front burner in the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, both on the state and federal level. Here in Georgia, those issues include casinos, funding of public education, transportation infrastructure (will we LIVE to see I-16 widened?), solutions for our broadband systems that are negatively impacting business, expansion of Medicaid, and support for our smaller and more rural hospitals.

Healthy debate will only occur if opposing candidates have the staff and knowledge to conduct oppositional research, and are well-prepared to face the voters. That takes campaign dollars and volunteers. 

We need local debates in all areas of the 1st Congressional District, and for all Georgia House and Senate races to learn more about where our current officials, and their challengers, stand — and why we should or should not vote for them.

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