Candidates vying in Tuesday's special election answer questions about their priorities and goals.

From staff reports

Voters in five Floyd County precincts and about half of Bartow County are slated to decide Tuesday who will fill the vacant state House District 14 seat.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in western Bartow and the Floyd precincts of Barkers, Chulio, Etowah, Howell and part of North Rome.

The four candidates — Ken Coomer, Nickie Leighly, Mitchell Scoggins and Nathan Wilson — answer questions about who they are and what they stand for below. 

Under state law, a candidate will need to win more than 50 percent of the vote to win the seat outright. If a runoff is needed, Georgia Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden has set the date for Jan. 15.

A week of early voting ended Friday, netting a total of just 696 mailed and in-person ballots. That included 609 from Bartow, where the majority of the district lies, and 87 from Floyd, according to a secretary of state data report.

In comparison, there were a total of 18,677 votes cast in the 2016 election for the seat: 13,166 in Bartow and 5,511 in Floyd.

Tuesday's election is billed as a Republican primary special election, although Georgia voters don't register by party so anyone in the district registered by Nov. 27 is eligible to vote in the race.

Robert Brady, Floyd County's chief elections clerk, said the purpose is to replace Christian Coomer, who was unopposed for re-election but withdrew for a seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

"The winner of the Republican primary did not make it to the general election, so a special election is needed to determine a candidate," Brady explained.

There was no Democratic candidate on the general election ballot, so the winner of the Republican nomination will automatically take the seat.

CANDIDATE Q&A's:

Name: Ken Coomer

Office sought: State House District 14

Occupation: Pastor

1) What are the top three issues for the state that you’d personally like to focus on and why?

As I have knocked on hundreds of doors, I have heard the issues most important to the people of our district. First, H.D. 14 families want to have a bold voice under the Gold Dome. I am running to first ensure that our district receives the representation and attention it deserves. My priority will be to make those I serve the priority under the Gold Dome. Second, I will fight to protect the values I served to protect in the Marines. We should never have to apologize for our faith, and Georgia should remain a place where we stand for the flag, kneel to pray, and strengthen the family. Third, I will promote limited government, lower taxes, less spending, and more freedom to grow our local economy in the right way so our children and grandchildren will choose to raise their families here.

2) The Legislature fully funded the public education formula this year but also increased the 100-percent tax credits available for donors to certain private school foundations. Is this sustainable policy?

I believe it is so long as education remains our state’s top budget priority. I am a firm believer in our local public schools, and we must ensure our schools and teachers are fully funded. But there are many kids in areas of this state, mainly from low-income families, that do not have access to stellar public schools as we do. We must promote options for those students to ensure they receive a world-class education so they are prepared to succeed in a 21st century economy. The SSO tax credit will ensure this is done without harming our local public schools.

3) What are some concrete ways the Georgia General Assembly can address rising healthcare costs and declining accessibility?

As I have talked to voters and business owners across H.D. 14, healthcare costs are obviously a top concern. We cannot allow our people and businesses to continue to be priced out of the market. I will join Governor-elect Kemp and legislative leaders in crafting a Georgia-focused healthcare reform plan that lowers health insurance premiums, prescription drug costs, and improves access through innovation, the free market, and common-sense policies. Through association health plans, high-risk pools, and more flexibility, we can solve this challenge the Georgia way and without expanding broken policies that are not working.

4) Although many legislative initiatives benefit everyone, different parts of the state have different needs and priorities. How will you work to advance the interests of Floyd and Bartow counties?

This is absolutely true and exactly why the people of District 14 have expressed their desire to have a leader in the State House that will give them a bold voice that makes them a priority at the State Capitol. I am running to continue my record of service and bold leadership to ensure Bartow and Floyd counties are not overlooked or ignored. I will fight hard every day, to ensure we have better economic opportunities, our schools receive the resources they need, that we maintain a safe community, champion the interests of our people and ensure our community is a place of opportunity and prosperity for kids and grandkids. I will take the same tenacity I have used in serving our community and in the U.S. Marines to make our district a priority.

 

Name: Nickie Leighly

Office sought: State House District 14

Occupation: Small business owner

1) What are the top three issues for the state that you’d personally like to focus on and why?

Foster care (including opioids), making healthcare and education more than a one-size-fits-all approach in Georgia, and issues affecting first responders in our state including a PTSD bill.

There are some great ideas to improve our foster care system in Floyd County. I would like to expand the model throughout the state. I would also like make it easier for families to become foster parents by improving the system to contact DFCS. As a foster parent, I have seen what works and what needs improvement. We can make the system better.

Healthcare and education need a bit of a different approach. I know this is more than one topic, but families need to be able to make informed decisions and not feel pressured to change their minds. As parents, we know our children and should be able to be more hands-on in the different methods of medicine and teaching. Both areas need to be personalized and we should be respected in the different decisions that we make for our children and ourselves.

PTSD is very real when it comes to our first responders: 911 operators, police officers, EMT workers, and firefighters. I am married to a firefighter and see what he goes through on the job. As a state, we need to have the help available for the people who are always there during our greatest emergencies.

2) The Legislature fully funded the public education formula this year but also increased the 100-percent tax credits available for donors to certain private school foundations. Is this sustainable policy?

The public education formula that was used this year, from my understanding, was dated and while it covers more than previously, it does not cover everything our children need in our public schools. It is nice that the tax credits are now available to donors to certain private school foundations, but the sustainability will only last as long as the economy is doing well. It seems that because education consumes so much of our state budget that it gets cuts when the economy is hurting. I would like to see some more ideas come to help sustain our school system and make it better. I believe we can take ideas from public education, private education and home-based education and perhaps come up with fresh ideas that may be able to be more cost efficient in our public education system.

3) What are some concrete ways the Georgia General Assembly can address rising healthcare costs and declining accessibility?

Preventative medicine is key to keeping the costs low in our healthcare system. Last year a task force was put together to address healthcare costs and accessibility. It focused on the personalization of need for different communities. The greatest problems were pointed out and it is evident that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  I think that this information will greatly help our legislative session this year. We can look at the statewide needs (obesity, opioid use, mental health, and the need for preventative medicine) and focus on them first and then help our local community clinics and hospitals in the areas they need. This must be accomplished in order to improve the costs and accessibility. Accessibility will improve as our communities are able to focus on local need and work from there.

4) Although many legislative initiatives benefit everyone, different parts of the state have different needs and priorities. How will you work to advance the interests of Floyd and Bartow counties?

I am running on improving foster care, improving healthcare and education, and helping our first responders because there is a need in our community. These three areas touch my family on a daily basis. As a foster-turned-adoptive mom, I can use my experience to help change. As a mom of seven, I can see that each of my children are different and their healthcare and education need to be personalized. As a firefighter’s wife, I experience only a small portion of what my husband goes through and know the need to help. I am currently living these issues and want to use this passion to enact change to our district.

 

Name: Mitchell Scoggins

Office sought: State House District 14

Occupation: Retired Probate Judge

Website: mitchellforhouse (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

1) What are the top three issues for the state that you’d personally like to focus on and why?

There are four: A. Opioid Addiction — In view of the fact that it’s destroying our state and our country as a whole, we need to address the problem and try to find a solution.

B. Funding Mental Health — Part of the problem for those suffering from mental health issues is that there isn’t enough funding for proper facilities to give them the help they need and deserve.

C. Education — Georgia’s economic growth allowed the state to fully fund Quality Based Education for the first time. I will work hard to make sure our children have the education they need to excel in today’s society.

D. U.S. 411 extension to I-75 — Each time this project has gotten close to starting, it is delayed. I will work with all our delegates to make this a major priority when I’m elected. This extension could give our counties a significant economic boost.

2) The Legislature fully funded the public education formula this year but also increased the 100-percent tax credits available for donors to certain private school foundations. Is this sustainable policy?

Whether or not this policy is sustainable will be determined within the next year. The tax credits were first allowed in 2008 and capped at $58 million. Beginning in 2019 through 2028 the cap will be raised to over $100 million. Therefore, its effect on our education budget has yet to be determined. The offer of Georgia Income Tax Credits is for individuals and corporations in exchange for charitable contributions to the Student Scholarship Organization. The scholarships are for public school students to have access to private schools that may best fit their needs. It is my hope that with Georgia’s economic growth, we can continue to fund all our educational needs.

3) What are some concrete ways the Georgia General Assembly can address rising healthcare costs and declining accessibility?

First, I would support Governor-elect Brian Kemp’s policy of affordable health care for Georgians without expanding Medicaid. In addition, I plan to work to lower insurance premiums and deductibles, and at the same time require insurance companies to offer insurance that will be accepted by all doctors and hospitals.

4) Although many legislative initiatives benefit everyone, different parts of the state have different needs and priorities. How will you work to advance the interests of Floyd and Bartow counties?

Having a good working relationship with all of our elected officials and community leaders will enable me to address the needs of Floyd and Bartow counties. While talking to the citizens of Floyd County, it was evident they felt forgotten by past District 14 representation. I promise to change that by being accessible and accountable to all of my constituents. 

 

Name: Nathan Wilson

Office sought: State House District 14

Occupation: Business owner

1) What are the top three issues for the state that you’d personally like to focus on and why?

Lower taxes, lowering spending, and placing more of government at a local level. The calls for more government are due to having too much government. When we increase government, we increase spending and, thus, taxes. When that happens there is a cascade effect that displaces the normal economy and the process starts again. Example: Obamacare is a multi-trillion dollar Band-aid to Medicare, which is a multi-billion dollar Band-aid to Social Security, which is a multi-million dollar Band-aid to government interventions under FDR, and now we are discussing Medicare for all. Currently, unfunded Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security and the national debt ($90 Trillion) is more than the world’s GDP ($80 Trillion). We simply have too much government.

This process needs to start at the state level so that when we do downsize at the federal level, there is no catastrophic collapse or loss of services.

2) The Legislature fully funded the public education formula this year but also increased the 100-percent tax credits available for donors to certain private school foundations. Is this sustainable policy?

People should be able to write off 100-percent tax credit to any school they wish to donate to.

Schools get paid based on days attended. If your child goes to a private school, the public school loses the amount of the child. This just simply allows the money to follow the child to a private school at the parent's expense.

I would like to see public-private partnerships and incentivize tax credits to businesses that will re-invest in things like band, shop and other important programs that develop important learning pathways. Conscious capitalism is putting the heart back into business. When businesses put people, the environment and the community before the bottom line, we build a relationship that is more than just about numbers. We build sustainable connections that provide investments, jobs, retirement, education, and healthcare. When people care about something, they take care of it.

3) What are some concrete ways the Georgia General Assembly can address rising healthcare costs and declining accessibility? 

We need hospitals to post costs. You can go online and know what it cost for Lasik or a tummy tuck, but you can’t for a appendicitis. This is due to how billing is done in hospitals, thanks to Medicare. Health insurance companies have also skewed prices, thanks to how they pay for procedures; there is simply no consistent and logical way we bill for our healthcare.

Additionally 60 percent of healthcare costs are in medications. What patients are prescribed are not always the doctor's choice: Limitations created by Medicare and insurance providers not only have schedules or steps at which a patient can receive medication, but there are also financial incentives within the system to go to some choices over others.

Quite simply, government meddling has interfered with doctors helping patients by providing additional administrative costs, but also put legal limits on the help they are allowed to offer.

4) Although many legislative initiatives benefit everyone, different parts of the state have different needs and priorities. How will you work to advance the interests of Floyd and Bartow counties?

By listening.

My biggest plank is to make myself available to voters regularly. Open-door-after-four will be a way for people to meet me in five-minute intervals, to speak to me directly, one-on-one. I want to know what is going on. I want to know the issues of the constituents. If I cannot address their concerns, I will help find out who can.

Too many people feel there is too much distance between them and elected officials. Also, our elected officials have been met with harsh public displays of criticism, making them afraid to do more open events. I do not expect to be immune to this, but I will sit down and talk with them. That is what leadership is about: Not politics but people.

Elected officials serve the people, and we should always be on their side; it should never be about one side "getting into power."