Candidate Q&A: Georgia House District 88Carol Calvert (l) and Lisa Cottrell handle the voter registration table during a ‘Get out the Vote’ rally hosted by the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice at the ArtLot in Avondale Estates on September 19, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decaturish.com sent a Q&A to all candidates running for the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate. Here are the responses of the candidates running for House District 88 in the May 24 election. Early voting starts May 2. To see your sample ballot, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page by clicking here. The answers have not been edited. All our elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com.
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Candidate name: Billy Mitchell
Candidate website: http://billymitchelldevelopment.com/
What is your occupation? Businessman
What neighborhood do you call home? Greenridge
Why are you running for this position? I have had the privilege of representing the citizens of the 88th Legislative District, after being examined by the voters to have served well and faithfully since 2003. But for my service many landmark and significant opportunities would not exist.
If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? I’ve always placed economic opportunity, strengthening our public school system – which even has a direct impact on our community including home values as well as fighting to not raise taxes.
How would you work to accomplish your priorities if elected? As a senior member in the legislature, I sit on the committees that have direct impact on some of the most important issues facing our community, including Appropriations – How how the State spends its money, as well as Health – which deliberates over the the decisions affecting our state and community. I will continue to work to deliver the good government that my constituents have come to expect.
How would you work with members of the opposing party to accomplish your goals? I am known for being able to work with anyone, no matter the political persuasion. I will continue to use my collaborative form of deliberation and legislative policy making to get what needs to be accomplished for our community. Much of the legislation I’ve proposed has been co-sponsored by members of both parties.
Do you support expanding Medicaid in Georgia and how would you work to accomplish this? I do indeed support expanding Medicaid and have sponsored bills to do just that in Georgia. Doing so would not only mean a de-escalation of ever increasing healthcare costs for most Georgians, but would also be of great economic impact to our community. Georgia is regarded as the number one state to do business, I am working to accomplish expansion by emphasizing that doing so, would be great business as well. For instance, the hospitals that our failing/closing all over our state, particularly in rural areas, would become solvent. Most hospitals not only provide health services, but also serve as the largest employer and economic generator in their communities.
Do you support full legalization of marijuana in Georgia? Why or why not? I support a hybrid approach. There is no question that there needs to be a change in law such that we have decriminalization for possession of amounts for personal use. I am indeed supportive of marijuana for medicinal purposes and co-sponsored the legislation that allowed it in Georgia.
Do you support the creation of new cities in DeKalb County? Why or why not? As the former Vice Mayor for the City of Stone Mountain and as the sponsor of the legislation that created the City of Tucker (which is an outstanding example of how cities should be administered), I certainly have an appreciation for municipal government.
What do you think of the current process for creating new cities? I think the current process is good one, which insure a an equitable balance of statesmanship, fiscal analysis and citizen participation. Not a simple process which if you have the political muscle to form a city that would not be fiscally viable long-term – the effort would not be successful. Conversely, if the confines of the proposed city could be proven economically viable, but has no community support it would not be successful.
Do you support ending Georgia’s prohibition on gambling? Why or why not? Georgia ended the prohibition against gambling decades ago, when it authorized the Georgia Lottery, where proceeds fund the Hope Scholarship (Playing the lottery is gambling). The Hope Scholarship has revolutionized education in our State and is the envy of our nation. There are some additional opportunities to strengthen and provide additional Hope Scholarship opportunities that could be realized if we regulate certain gaming opportunities that Georgians are engaging in already. For example, Georgians participate in online sports betting to the tune of billions of dollars a year. But those funds go to other states. I maintain, that if they are doing anyway to the tune of billions of dollars, than it ought to be regulated by Georgians for the benefit of Georgians.
If the state has a surplus due to increased revenue, how should the money be spent? After bolstering our “Rainy Day Fund,” Which will surely come some day (And having a healthy surplus even earns us a higher bond rating, I maintain we should also bolster the areas which would make Georgia an even better State, be it broad band access in all the state, traffic reduction strategies and continuing to build a world class education system. Anything above and beyond that should be returned to the taxpayers.
What can the state do about private companies buying single family homes as investments? Should the state do anything? The State should always be concerned about the well-being of its citizens and consumerism is no different. I think a healthy balance of business interests and consumer protection, which is often best administered by local governments as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach that the State would have to propose.
What can the state do to make housing more affordable in Georgia? As a sponsor of legislation mandating tax freezes for homeowners and tax exemptions for senior-citizens that would be a great policy to replicate and expand. We must also create zoning districts that would allow for a healthy areas of homes for renters to first-time buyers to estates.
If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government? I absolutely will continue to do so. A commitment that is recognized by being one ogf the few members of the House of Representatives on the standing committee on Ethics.
Candidate name: Gabrielle Rogers
Candidate website: www.gabrielleforgeorgia.com
What is your occupation? Director of Marketing
What neighborhood do you call home? Stone Mountain
Why are you running for this position? I want to serve House District 88 because I recognize the need for revitalizing opportunities in our community. We deserve strong leadership that serves our district equitably and protects the interest of those unable to protect themselves.
If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? If elected, I will continue to serve our community by drafting policies that support public safety, protections for small businesses, criminal justice reform and livable wage employment opportunities.
How would you work to accomplish your priorities if elected? I will advocate for improved public safety by sponsoring legislation that redirects state funds to support local public safety initiatives, prevents citizens from retaining weapons more powerful than the police department and supports crime prevention through mental health and substance abuse awareness. To expand criminal justice reform, I will propose strategies to reduce recidivism by adapting the 2018 First Step Act to reform state prisons and sentencing laws, increase medical marijuana accessibility and decriminalize recreational use, as well as work with leaders in education and law enforcement to address the pipeline to prison for GA youth. My small business strategy is to identify mechanisms that will simplify the process for starting a business and support economic development for business owners that live in the district. I will address under employment by advocating for an increase in minimum wage and industry supported training and employment opportunities.
How would you work with members of the opposing party to accomplish your goals? According to a 2015 article in PLOS ONE, partisanship in American politics has increased exponentially over the past 60 years. Unfortunately, in Georgia’s General Assembly, several leaders served for decades during the latter period of this trend, as the divide continued to widen. Working across party lines does not begin in the legislature. Those relationships are cultivated in our communities and are transposed into our politics. As an Executive Committee Member in the DeKalb Chamber, Junior League, NCNW and a graduate of Leadership DeKalb, I have successfully worked on community initiatives and political advocacy projects with leaders of all political affiliations. Therefore, I will use my bipartisan coalition of elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists, across the state, to influence my fellow legislators to begin compromising during the early stages of legislating including drafting bills and co-sponsorship.
Do you support expanding Medicaid in Georgia and how would you work to accomplish this? Yes. There are over 725,000 Georgians that are employed, yet unable to afford health insurance. What’s more daunting is that 20% of district 88 residents are living in poverty or cannot afford health insurance. I support Medicaid expansion as a means to address the problem of pre-existing conditions, making insurance more affordable, achieving universal coverage and sustaining the quality of care that Americans have grown accustomed to. According to the Georgia Center for Opportunity, naysayers of Medicaid expansion are not against offering healthcare services for more Georgians but would rather reimagine a more functional healthcare system that would avoid ‘trapping’ the uninsured with welfare reliance, over exhausting the state budget, yet improve healthcare outcomes for Medicaid patients. Consistent with my efforts to work “across the aisle,” I’d advocate for organizing a committee dedicated to identifying a compromise and drafting a plan of implementation.
Do you support full legalization of marijuana in Georgia? Why or why not? Yes. I support increasing medical marijuana accessibility and decriminalizing recreational use as a matter of health, safety and revenue. Unfortunately for many Georgia patients, accessibility of medical marijuana is indirectly limited by legalization of marijuana country wide. My priority is to advocate for qualified medical marijuana patients by collaborating with seasoned and progressive legislators to propose a mechanism for patients to obtain low-THC products from a state-regulated producer or provider. This shall be an initial step toward decriminalizing marijuana statewide by making it more accessible while generating revenue for Georgia. In addition, crime statistics suggest that there are fewer violent crimes, deaths or accidents associated with the use of pristine marijuana products relative to other legal drugs and alcohol. In comparison, it is reasonable to legalize the drug with regulations comparable to other recreational use products.
Do you support the creation of new cities in DeKalb County? Why or why not? Once deemed the second wealthiest county in the nation for black opulence, DeKalb is gradually losing its position as one of the richest locales among all affluent demographics. The exponential increase in cost of living partnered with lack of economic growth has inhibited the sustainability of many urban communities. Unfortunately, this correlates with a reduction in services rendered for public safety, deferred economic development, housing insecurities, lack of protections for small businesses and more. While I understand the rationale for municipalization, I also recognize that there are other options to address these issues including electing qualified county leaders, increasing community input by urging leadership to implement NAPU’s or file a petition with the delegation proposing a consensus study identifying the percentage of neighbors familiar with the cityhood movement and their position on incorporation.
What do you think of the current process for creating new cities? Currently, the development of and decision to approve the charter for incorporation lies with the advocating body and General Assembly, respectively. There is no clause requiring either institution to garner input or feedback from the citizens that will be impacted by municipalization. Only after the act has been approved are residents permitted to vote in favor of or against the single option that has been presented before them. I am an advocate for informing, involving and surveying the community that will be impacted prior to approval of the charter.
Do you support ending Georgia’s prohibition on gambling? Why or why not? Yes. It is inevitable that identifying additional sources of revenue to sustain the state budget and fully fund each department, namely education and healthcare, would become necessary. The 2020 AJC poll for gambling revealed that 64% of Georgians support casinos and 57% support professional sports betting, but had reservations regarding the appropriation of funds and development of gambling addictions. Therefore, I would support legalizing gambling because it has the potential to significantly increase state revenue, fully fund education and Medicaid expansion, create well-paying jobs and support the surrounding small businesses. I would, however, recommend the oversight of a gambling audit committee for accountability and a Georgia Problem Gambling Prevention plan to prevent a public health crisis, as tandem initiatives for its legalization.
If the state has a surplus due to increased revenue, how should the money be spent? I would advocate for the funds to be spent on improving public safety by redirecting state funds to support local public safety initiatives; expanding criminal justice reform strategies to reduce recidivism and the pipeline to prison; identifying mechanisms that will support economic development for small business owners that live in the district; increasing minimum wage, training, and employment opportunities; in addition to, fully funding education.
What can the state do about private companies buying single family homes as investments? Should the state do anything? Georgia has 159 counties with 120 of them classified as rural, while the remaining 39 are divided between urban and suburban affiliations, which loosely describes their uniqueness. Exploring the communities, within each county, reveals that they have discrete needs pertaining to their individual housing concerns. Local governing bodies, with more insight on the needs of their communities, are best equipped to regulate private companies buying single family homes as investments. However, the state should support local governments by regulating the extent to which companies owned and operated from outside the state should be allowed to invest. Georgia business owners should be given preferential treatment over non-Georgia owners.
What can the state do to make housing more affordable in Georgia? There is a shortage of nearly 200,000 affordable housing units in our state which affects both the rural and metropolitan areas. The state can respond to this crisis by adapting policies that increase the available supply of housing for homebuyers and renters. I propose the development of a Fair Housing Accessibility Plan modeled after the City of Atlanta’s Housing Affordability Action Plan, which outlines the vision to provide affordable and accessible housing opportunities for all who desire to live in Georgia. In the adaptation of this plan, we can expand homeownership programs for first-time homebuyers, minorities and millennials, which reports less than 50% homeownership amongst each demographic, respectively.
If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government? Yes. As an Executive Committee Member, community leader and advocate, I take great pride in upholding my fiduciary responsibilities (the duty of loyalty and the duty of care) in civic organizations and will use the same tactics to promote ethics and transparency within government. As a graduate of the esteemed Leadership DeKalb, we began our program year with Integrity and Ethics Day. It is designed for DeKalb county leaders to view the remainder of the program year through the lens of high integrity and ethical standards. As an elected official, I will continue to build relationships with all levels of government to create transparent partnerships, provide exceptional constituent services, host town halls and forums for our neighbors to inform and engage them on legislative updates and district news that will directly impact them both positively and or negatively.
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