Much of the debate, sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Party, focused on political issues, but Turner used his opportunity to question his opponent at the end of the night to ask about Laurens’ actions during a November traffic stop.
Turner asked Laurens about a traffic stop by the Holly Springs Police that took place inside Laurens’ neighborhood in November.
“I was made aware of a traffic stop where you had run a stop sign and began to berate the police officer. It appears you tried to call the mayor to talk your way out of the ticket,” Turner said. “After you left, you came back and got into an argument with two police officers.”
In a video of the incident, Laurens tells police officers he would take down the stop signs that night, but the officer argued they were public property. Laurens, however, continued to argue the signs were the property of the homeowners association.
In the video Laurens said he had called Mayor Tim Downing to ask about the signs.
During the debate, Turner questioned Laurens’ appeal to the mayor.
“How can we trust you, as a public servant, over the really big issues when you tried to use what was basically a politically corrupt move to benefit you personally?” Turner asked.
“Wow. That’s quite an accusation,” Laurens said. “A roundabout is designed not to have stop signs, to keep traffic moving. They’re supposed to have yield signs,” he said, adding that he called Downing because Downing was a developer of the neighborhood, not because he is the mayor.
“I went to court and I paid that ticket, because there was a stop sign there. Should there be? Absolutely not. That’s the only discussion I had with the police officers,” he said.
Laurens said he is in the process of having his homeowners association petition the city regarding removal of the stop signs.
“The personal attacking in this race is just unreal,” Laurens said as he ran out of time to answer the question.
When it was Laurens’ turn to question his opponent, he said Turner had been on both sides of the school choice debate and asked him if he would support a “parent trigger” bill that would allow parents to trigger a failing school to become a charter school.
Turner said he has always supported parental choice.
“I said in public, on the record, that I support school choice. What I said is that we need to end the polarization in our community. I will never degrade our public school system that is serving the needs of tens of thousands of students for the benefit of school choice,” he said.
Candidates opened the debate by each giving a two-minute introduction.
Laurens talked about growing up as the son of an unwed teenage mother.
“I worked three or four jobs at a time through school. It wasn’t always easy,” he said. “I still, despite the obstacles, got involved in the political process. I’ve been involved in the local party for 12 years. There are some things I wish I would have handled differently, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences and relationships for anything in the world.”
Turner said he wants to be in office because government is broken.
“People think the government’s broken,” he said. “How are we going to recover from a $16 trillion national debt, when these people can’t even work together? But there’s a glimmer of hope today on the state level.”
He said ethics reform would be his “cornerstone issue.”
“We’ve got to fix that. I’d like to see the Legislature returned to the people. I support term limits, maintaining our constitutional rights, things that can restore faith in the government by having someone fight for the things that are important.”
Each candidate was asked how he would limit lobbyists’ influence.
“One of the easiest things is to vote for the candidate who will never take a penny from a lobbyist,” Turner said. “I swore a lobbyist would never buy my lunch, would never buy my dinner. No PACs. No special interests. The only people who donate to my campaign are people like you, regular Georgians.”
Turner said he would support a $0 cap on lobbyist gifts and also wants to see tax reform.
“Why don’t we have (reform)? It’s because lobbyists can influence our legislators to tweak the tax code to their benefit,” he said.
Laurens said he has allowed the public to see every dollar given to his campaign and thanked the Legislature for working on ethics bills currently under consideration.
“We don’t need a law to show every dollar received or spent. I’ve showed you every penny, and I will continue doing the right thing regardless of what the House passes next week. I am not for sale for a jar of jelly, a Subway sandwich or a 10-pound bag of Vidalia onions,” he said.
In a rebuttal, Tuner said those gifts could add up to tens of thousands of dollars over a legislator’s time in office.
Laurens, in turn, said: “You get good ethics by electing good people. We don’t need laws to say do the right thing.”
When asked, both candidates said they felt dealings between the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners and Ball Ground Recycling are a local matter.
The candidates both oppose using state money to fund a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
“To me, that’s a mis-prioritization of funds. I don’t see the benefit, and I don’t see that it’s actually constitutional,” Turner said.
As far as building relationships with local leaders such as city councils, the county commission and the board of education, Laurens said relationship building comes down to open two-way communication.
“Any issue that affects a county board, I’m going to call and sit down with them. We might not always agree, but we do deserve to come together and sit down and talk about things,” he said. “Let’s find that common ground to work together for a better future for tomorrow. The system, as it’s been working, is not sustainable. In order to make Cherokee the best and bring jobs, we need strong education. We need to make sure the board of commissioners and delegation are on the same page. I want to bring jobs, because by increasing our revenue, increasing our tax base, at the end of the day we’ll have a brighter future for our county.”
Turner said he has been meeting with elected officials during the campaign season and has been endorsed by the mayor and police chief of Holly Springs.
“Having good working relationships is what I do in my professional life,” said Turner, an information technology manager over 35 employees. “I am working on behalf of the people that report to me. It’s not that the local board would report to me, but I would take the same approach. I would say, ‘What do you need? How can I help?’ and take their feedback, go to the legislature and fight for what I can get.”
When it comes to Quality Basic Education, the state’s formula for funding public education, the candidates both said the system has problems but offered different solutions.
“One of the primary problems is that we’re overpaying our local fair share,” Turner said. “We need to cap the donation rate and make sure other counties are paying the same millage so we can keep more local money in Cherokee and try to eliminate things like furlough days.”
Laurens said Cherokee County needs to be able to keep its tax revenue inside the county and develop more jobs.
“We have to bring jobs to increase our tax base and get people to work. We can increase our tax base, our sales tax, our property tax. Cherokee County money is going to Gwinnett County. If our economic pie is bigger, that’s more money for education in Cherokee County,” he said.
Neither candidate has plans to introduce any local legislation.
Both said they support partisan races for local school board positions.
One submitted question asked if the candidates would serve with complete honesty. Both said they would.
“Transparency and accountability go hand in hand,” Turner said. “Mr. Laurens mentioned earlier that he lets you know where every penny is going. I’ve been doing that since a year ago tomorrow (when he began his first House campaign). I’ve always let you know and taken that extra step to not take from outside interests. Honesty and integrity is something you have to be able to count on. There’s a reason why you look around and see lots of folks that have already endorsed me. They know I’m the right person for the job this time.”
Laurens said: “I think who we are at home when nobody’s looking is who we are in public.”
Regarding endorsements, Laurens said politicians from outside District 21 have supported him financially.
“I’m not openly telling you how somebody outside the district is trying to influence what’s inside the district. You have not seen the first mention or heard me drop their names because they cannot vote for me. I don’t care about endorsements outside the district. The only endorsement I care about is yours, the voters inside the district.”
Both candidates gave different answers about their qualifications to deal with the complex issues that may arise in the Legislature, such as tax codes.
“I’m not new to this process. I’ve been working in the political realm for 12 years,” Laurens said. “I have the relationships and the experience under the Gold Dome to get started on day one.”
Laurens noted that he has worked from the start to the finish with pieces of legislation.
Turner said he had seen the effects of complex issues such as tax codes and state policies on small businesses.
“We have got to be able to have policies that are friendly to local businesses. We have got to be able to have a clearer tax policies,” he said.
In answering a submitted question about how to protect property owners from municipal governments regarding tax law, Laurens said he would like to see the state move toward a fair tax.
Turner said the state should put in policies to punish local governments for not following state laws.
Laurens, in a rebuttal, said: “You’re saying that if a sheriff doesn’t endorse a federal law, you would be for that? The sheriff can be forced to?”
Turner replied by saying the question wasn’t about the office of the sheriff.
“It was about what happens when local governments don’t follow the law. If a government is not following the law, that citizen has the right to appeal to a higher power.”
Both said they support the Second Amendment and stand behind Sheriff Roger Garrison’s statement opposing recent executive orders issued by President Barrack Obama regarding gun control.
The candidates offered differing opinions on term limits when asked if they would limit themselves to a certain number of terms.
“I think we have term limits. They’re called elections,” Laurens said. “Every two years, you choose who you want as your representative and senator. Federally, this makes a lot more sense.”
Laurens added that he didn’t see himself serving more than eight years.
Turner framed term limits as a defining difference between himself and Laurens.
“The theme that’s building here is that I’m the person who wants to go down and fix government because it’s broken. Term limits are one way to do that,” he said, adding hat he supports legislation filed by Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) calling for a limit of four consecutive House terms.
“Why should it be the government’s role to choose who your representative or senator is? Why should it be anybody’s role but the voters in that district? I trust you voters to know what y’all have and to know what’s best. I’m not going to make a law that ties your hands,” Laurens said.
“I see a broken government,” Turner said. “I trust you (voters). I don’t trust the people under the Gold Dome.”
As for balancing their work and personal lives with serving in the House, both candidates said they feel confident they can balance the responsibilities.
“I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. There is a balance there. I own my own business, and I’m able to commit as much time as needed during the first three months to serving you, and I’ll make up for it during the other nine months,” Laurens said.
Turner said his company will work with him if he is elected.
“It will be a sacrifice on my part. I won’t have vacation anymore. I’ll be using my vacation time to be a legislator, and I’ll take some days off without pay,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Turner said he and Laurens had presented two different philosophies during the debate.
“I believe government is broken. I believe you have the opportunity today to have good, ethical leadership, if you hire the right person,” he said.
Laurens said he wanted to represent District 21 to give back to the community.
“This community has given me so much. I want to make sure for my daughter, for Scot’s kids, for your kids, that Cherokee County is the best place it can be.”