Local candidates in contested races met for a political forum that drew more than 100 people to the Rome Civic Center in advance of the early voting period, which starts Monday.

The event, hosted by the Rome-Floyd County NAACP, was billed as an opportunity for voters to meet their potential representatives on a personal level.

“This is about having a conversation,” said the moderator, the Rev. Lashounia Sanders.

Following an hour of informal socializing, each candidate was given two minutes for an opening statement. Here’s what the speakers wanted voters to know about them:

Senate District 52

♦ Chuck Hufstetler, the Republican incumbent, led off with his eight years on the Floyd County Commission and six in the Georgia General Assembly. He said his record of fiscal responsibility on the county board led to his appointment as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

“We passed out the first income tax cut in Georgia history,” Hufstetler reminded the audience, following up with a list of recent economic improvements.

The state has restored its rainy-day fund balance and is one of a dozen or so with an AAA bond rating. Unemployment has dropped to a new low and Georgia is now fully funding the Quality Basic Education formula for public schools, he said.

♦ Evan Ross, the Democratic challenger, took a different tack, proclaiming, “I’m not a politician, I’m a dad.” He said he and his wife hold doctorates in Latin American history. She teaches, he makes deliveries for two local organic farms and one of their children is special-needs.

His three top priorities, he said, are to end the opioid epidemic, fix the foster care system and expand medical marijuana access in Georgia.

Ross touted his principles of ACT -- accountability, consistency and transparency — and drew applause with an example of consistency.

“If part-time school bus drivers don’t get benefits, part-time legislators shouldn’t get benefits,” he said.

Floyd County Commission

♦ Rhonda Wallace, the Republican incumbent who chairs the County Commission, focused on her roots in the community. A Rome native, she’s been in banking for 35 years and married to Ronnie Wallace — a former Rome mayor — for 25 years. The couple has three adult children and five grandchildren.

Wallace won a special election in 2012 to finish an unexpired term, then won a full four-year term in 2014. She noted that every registered voter in Rome and Floyd County can weigh in on the Commission race, “and I’d like to have your vote,” she told the audience.

♦ Stephanie Wright, the Democratic challenger, is an associate professor at Georgia Highlands College. She said she was born in Virginia but her family moved around a lot. They spent some time in Georgia, then ended up in North Carolina, “and I worked for two decades to get back here.”

One of her three daughters is a Rome High graduate, another is a freshman there. Wright said education, and the industry that drives it, are key planks in her campaign. She also stressed accountability to voters.

House District 13

♦ Katie Dempsey, the Republican incumbent for 12 years, took aim at rumors that she no longer lives in Rome. She said her husband commutes to a job in Atlanta and she keeps an apartment there for legislative work, but their home is the city where they’ve lived for 44 years.

“It matters to me,” Dempsey said. “You will always find me in this community.”

She affirmed a commitment to be available to constituents, noting that she spent nearly four years on the Rome City Commission, had 15 years on the planning commission before that and her son and three grandchildren live in Rome.

♦ John Burnette II, the Democratic challenger, did not attend the forum. His spokesman, Vinnie Olsziewski, said Burnette, who owns a local insurance agency, was called away on an emergency to deal with a claim.

“For his platform, I direct you to his website,” Olsziewski said.

Other local candidates speaking at the forum were Floyd County Board of Education member Tony Daniel, who is unopposed for re-election, and Nickie Leighly, who has said she intends to qualify for the House District 14 seat being vacated by Rep. Christian Coomer when a special election is announced.

 In-person early voting starts Monday

Early voting for the Nov. 6 general election starts Monday and runs through Nov. 2.

Two universal precincts are open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — at the Floyd County Administration Building, 12 E. Fourth Ave., and Garden Lakes Baptist Church, 2200 Redmond Circle. The Rome Civic Center also will be open for a few days, from Oct. 22 through Oct. 24, but is booked for other activities during the rest of the early voting period.

The Administration Building also will be open for voting Saturday, Oct. 27, and Sunday, Oct. 28, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. All 25 precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Source: Floyd County Elections Office