Bruce Thompson, Nicole Ebbeskotte, Christopher G. Nesmith, Dwight Pullen and Matt Laughridge are squaring off in the Nov. 5 special election to replace Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) for the seat covering parts of Cherokee, Bartow and Cobb counties.
One of the issues most often brought up in the brief campaign since Loudermilk resigned for his bid for U.S. Congress has been what can be done to improve the state of education in the district.
Pullen, a Canton resident and former school superintendent, said parents should have access to the school-types of their choice and quality instruction.
“I would support legislation to provide funding for 180 days of instruction for students, provide 10 staff development and planning days for teachers, and to reduce class size to a manageable number,” said Pullen, who said he has been a teacher in all three counties in District 14. “We shortchange our students and jeopardize our future when we fail to provide quality instruction to each student.”
That instruction should come from public, home, religious or charter schools, whichever the parents choose, Pullen added.
A self-described “pro-family candidate,” Bartow candidate Thompson said elected officials should help families to give their children “an education that prepares them to compete locally as well as globally for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”
Thompson also said the parents should have their choice of school.
“I believe home-school, private school, charter schools and public schools should be options available to decision-making parents,” Thompson said. “And adequate funding should be provided for each option.”
If elected, Woodstock resident Ebbeskotte said she would work to improve education in District 14.
“I would conduct a comprehensive review of the various sources for education funding at the local and state level to ascertain an equitable and efficient use of education funding at the district and state levels,” said Ebbeskotte, a former Cherokee sheriff’s deputy. “Education funding must be proportional on a per-student and taxpayer basis, not preferential based on lobbying efforts of one county at the expense of another.”
Nesmith, of Adairsville, said improving education is in a large way about funding, which the state of Georgia has grossly cut in recent years.
“Immediately, Georgia needs to correct course away from austerity measures and begin to return education funding to at least (previous) levels,” he said. “Whether we can do this by way of increasing revenue or redirecting money elsewhere in the state budget is difficult to say. (But) fundamentally, we as Georgians need to embrace the idea of investing in our state and our legislators need to break up the club and govern with states true interests in mind.”
Laughridge, of Cartersville, said District 14 can improve education by “localization.”
“We have to reestablish local control in our schools,” he said. “I’ve spoken with a number of educators who simply want the bureaucratic hurdles that the system has placed on them moved out of the way. We need to give teachers the ability to build their own cultures in their classrooms and have the freedom to teach again.”
With many of District 14’s roads known for their congestion, transportation and how to improve it is an issue of importance to many.
Ebbeskotte said there are two practical ways to solve issues like drivers regularly see on Interstate 575 in Cherokee County.
“First, bring quality jobs to the district so the citizens of District 14 will have a better opportunity to work and live in the district,” she said. “Second, I would encourage the immediate prioritization of the addition of two additional lines running north and south on (Interstate 575). The taxpayers of Cherokee County have been paying transportation taxes for years for other counties to reap the rewards of extra lanes.”
For Pullen, part of the answer is also about jobs.
“Quality jobs within the district would reduce home-to-work travel times and relieve traffic congestion,” he said.
But generally, “We need to reexamine how we travel,” Pullen said.
“Expanding our highway network has not solved the problem. More efficient and safe mass transits systems must be expanded. Incentives need to be provided to encourage businesses to allow employees to telecommute,” Pullen said. “Public-private partnerships must be explored to more efficiently move freight within the state.”
Thompson said transportation is likely the “single most important issue” in District 14 next to economic development, and it needs a calculated solution.
“In order to solve our state and our district’s transportation problems, we need to look at what is going right and what is going wrong with other proposed traffic alleviation implementation within the state,” said Thompson, who is a business owner and a former Loudermilk campaign employee. “Everything must be looked at in order to come to a full determination of what will work best for the northwest corridor.”
Laughridge said the district should look past “simple” solutions like adding lanes.
“Our traffic congestion will not have a quick fix, but we can address real issues through a well-thought-out plan,” said Laughridge, who is a higher-up at a car dealership. “We must develop a viable 30-year traffic plan to address transportation issues, build in flexibility to meet changing demands, and bring relief to our transportation infrastructure.”
For Nesmith, the solution is clear.
“The truth is that rail is the answer, but it’s going to cost us,” he said. “Rail has been sabotaged at every turn in this state for decades and it becomes more difficult to create a viable rail system that the region is going to have to have if it is going to compete. Rail’s time has come and I think the Canton area is a good place to take aim, because I-575 desperately needs to be expanded anyway. Why not push the issue here? Instead of widening the road, open up rail to downtown.”
With five candidates on the ballot for the election and many predicting a runoff, each of the candidates is taking the last few days to try to pull in as many votes as possible to thrust them ahead of the field.
Thompson, who serves on multiple boards including Northside Bank’s, said he has a “history” of serving the community, believes it’s his business leadership that make him the best for the job.
“I am the only candidate in this race who is a successful entrepreneur with years of experience (and) knows the meaning of what it takes to make a payroll,” Thompson said. “I am the only candidate with over 25-plus years in the business arena after beginning with very little. I have tenure as a businessman and am a self-made man with no inheritance. I am the only candidate that has served in the military, and that means a ton at a time that our freedom is under attack.”
Pullen said his qualifications as a long-time, proven educator and a resident of District 14 for 25 years easily make him qualified.
“I understand where the district has been and with (the voters’) help we can provide a bright future for our children and grandchildren,” said the candidate who served as the chair of the Canton Planning Commission for a decade. “I have been involved in public service my entire adult life. As an educator, I have taught in Bartow, Cherokee, and Cobb counties. I have been a teacher and administrator. I understand the need for quality growth.”
Nesmith is hoping his political engagement and work as a kids’ soccer coach and Boy Scout leader will show the voters he’s serious.
When asked what sets him apart from the competition in the non-partisan race, Nesmith said “Well, I’m a Democrat for one.”
“I have met every candidate except Nicole Ebbeskotte and had the opportunity to get to know them a little. I can say without doubt that they are all good and decent people, even if some shortcomings of theirs and mine have been on display in the press,” Nesmith added.
Ebbeskotte said it’s her diverse skill set coming from years in law enforcement and other arenas in her last 12 years in District 14 which sets her apart.
“Unlike several candidates in this race, I haven’t spent an inordinate amount of money to become (the) elected representative,” she added. “When a candidate is willing to spend over three times their representative salary in order to become your elected official, do you believe that candidate will be good steward of your taxpayer dollars? As (a) representative, I will be a frugal steward of (the constituents’) tax dollars as well as an advocate for the citizens and businesses of the 14th District.”
For Laughridge, it’s his volunteer work and message of “inclusion” which set him apart of the others.
“I’m the only candidate talking about inclusion and that is extremely important as we look to the future,” said Laughridge, who is the youngest candidate in the race. “The region of District 14 needs to be strong as a whole, and by working together to develop a stronger regional identity, I want to help us build a vision plan that will prepare our communities for the next 20 years and beyond.”