Moderated by Tribune Managing Editor Rebecca Johnston, all local, state and national candidates running for office in 2012 were invited to attend the forum.
All candidates with opposition had a two-minute opportunity to speak, while those without opposition were recognized for their attendance. For the question-and-answer portion, one minute was allowed for responses for a maximum of five minutes of questions and answer per race. No rebuttals were allowed.
Homemade ice cream was served by the Boy Scout Troop No. 465, and attendees were encouraged to make donations to support the troop.
With more than 15 contested races, Cherokee voters came out in droves to support their favorite candidates and several heated exchanges were made throughout the warm summer evening.
At least 300 people crowded the pavilion and stood around the periphery to hear the candidates speak.
The Board of Education chair race kicked off the night with Board Vice Chair Janet Read facing Danny Dukes, a member of the Local Governing Council for Cherokee Charter Academy, for the first time this election season.
In his introduction, Dukes said he wanted to clear the air by saying neither he nor members of his campaign had anything to do with the robocalls regarding Read’s voting record that many residents received last week.
“However, if I had done that I would have got it right,” Dukes said. “Mrs. Read’s only been on the school board for seven tax years, so it’s impossible to make eight tax increases.”
Dukes said four out of those seven years Read has been in office, the dollar amount the district received from taxpayers increased versus the previous year, which he argued was a tax increase.
“I will pledge to you no tax increase… and to improve the (graduation) rate,” Dukes said.
Read countered the allegations, pointing out that the last four budgets were “revenue negative” as the district continues each year to receive fewer tax dollars than the previous year.
No public hearings were required when the millage rate was raised in 2010 because under Georgia law, that is not considered a tax increase.
“It’s wonderful that Mr. Dukes can see into the future and has a crystal ball and can see that he won’t have to raise taxes,” Read said. “I’m not going to make that pledge because I’m in it for the kids… whatever it takes to make sure that all of our kids have a quality education is why I do this.”
It was also the first time Post 1 BOE candidates Kelly Marlow and Kyla Cromer met on the campaign trail. An audience question asked how both felt about charter schools.
Cromer said she thinks local and state politicians have confused the issue and should refocus on the transparent funding of charter schools. Marlow didn’t express that view, but said parents should make the decision about where and how their students are educated.
Also present were BOE Post 2 incumbent Kim Cochran and her opponent Patsy Jordan, but no audience questions were asked of the two.
For the sheriff’s race, Sheriff Roger Garrison and challenger David Waters took questions once again about the handling Andrew Messina case.
“I stand behind the actions that occurred that day,” Garrison said. “Those officers did everything within their power to bring a peaceful resolution and I stand behind their actions.”
Waters continued to criticize the events, saying the situation “should not (have gotten) to that level” and hostage negotiators should not have been so close to the door.
In the tax commissioner’s race, challenger Kenny Phelps admitted to passing out information packets regarding complaints against Sonya Little, the current tax commissioner, from former employees.
“I believe everybody here needs to understand who your candidates are, who your elected officials are,” Phelps said of the decision to distribute the information to the audience.
There was also a question to Robert Wade Wilkie, asking why he had not filed his campaign disclosure reports. He said it has been filed and he had difficulty with the online filing process.
The debate that drew the most reaction from the crowd was state Senate District 21, when incumbent Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers attempted to answer a previously asked question about HR 1162, the state constitutional amendment that would enable a state agency to fund charter schools without the support of local school boards.
Rogers had previously said the Republican Party stands for getting government out of the way and allowing parents to make the best decision for their children’s education. His challenger Brandon Beach said legislators want to run politics closest to the Gold Dome rather than closest to the people.
“We don’t need a bureaucrat from Atlanta telling us how to run our schools,” Beach said.
But when asked about immigration reform, Rogers returned to the charter school question before shouting from the crowd drowned out his answer and Johnston informed him that no rebuttals were allowed under the rules of the evening.
The two state Senate candidates will meet again Monday night at the Cherokee County GOP Headquarters for a debate.
Other opposed races included: Superior Court candidates Judge David Cannon Jr. and Mark Shriver, State Court Judge candidates Michelle Homier and Jeff Rusbridge, Post 2 County Commission, with incumbent Jim Hubbard facing challengers Raymond Gunnin and Channing Ruskell; Post 3 County Commission candidates Brian Poole and Chris Hampton, who was absent; State House District 20, with incumbent Rep. Charlice Byrd, who was absent, and challengers Lillian Burnaman and Michael Caldwell; State House District 21, with incumbent Rep. Sean Jerguson and challenger Scot Turner; State House District 23 candidates Mandi Ballinger, Dean Sheridan, Alan Shinall and Otis “Harold” Welchel, who was absent; State House District 46, with only incumbent Rep. John Carson in attendance and his challengers Martin Hawley and Kevin Westphal both absent, and U.S. Congress District 11, with incumbent Phil Gingrey’s challengers William Llop and Michael Opitz in attendance. Gingrey was in Washington, D.C. and could not attend.
Unopposed candidates who attended were state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), state Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton), District Attorney Shannon Wallace and Probate Judge Keith Wood.