District 95 candidates square off

COVINGTON -- Candidates for Georgia House of Representatives District 95 squared off at a forum hosted by the Newton County Voters League on Tuesday evening at the historic courthouse.

Democrats Andre Cooper and Pam Dickerson participated, along with Republican Rodney Upton. Incumbent Toney Collins was absent. The district includes portions of Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties.

The following is a summary of questions and responses.

Q: What will you do to improve education?

Cooper said he would work to reverse cuts to education funding.

Dickerson said she supports smaller classroom sizes and finding nontraditional ways of educating students, such as career academies catering to students who are not college-bound. She also said she does not want additional furloughs for teachers.

Upton said teachers should be paid based on their abilities and level of education, and he supports parents' right to choose where to educate their children. All three candidates said they do not support school vouchers.

Q: Should the state push the federal government to re-evaluate its immigration policy?

Cooper said he would support giving illegal immigrants the opportunity to become legal.

Dickerson said the state should push the federal government to give the state more control on immigration matters because the burden falls on states tax-wise. She said businesses employing illegal immigrants should be required to pay for their living costs, including funding their children's education.

Upton said he supports the state's right to take control of the immigration problem in Georgia and supports all efforts to oust illegals who "put a huge strain on infrastructure" and don't contribute to the tax base.

Q: How will you make sure the district is represented fairly in the Department of Transportation budget?

Cooper said he would work with local government officials to get input on needed road projects and that he supports House Bill 277, which created a statewide comprehensive transportation plan. He said he would also work to get more traffic signals in the district and supports a light rail system.

Dickerson said she would work with local and state officials to secure funding for the district, noting that "I can't do it alone." She said she would try to make sure the district gets its fair share of revenues from the recent TSPLOST bill that was passed.

Upton said he supports division of the state into regions, with each region receiving equal shares of the DOT pot and determining its own transportation needs.

Q: How will you ensure you get input from the people and how will you be accountable?

Cooper said he would host town hall meetings and be accessible via e-mail and will continue attending party and local government meetings.

Dickerson said she would host town hall meetings in all counties in the district and provide information on issues to constituents before they are passed in the General Assembly. She also said she would be available by phone, e-mail and a Web site.

Upton said he will be accessible via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, a Web site, phone and a physical address. He said he will also strive to make person-to-person contact within the district.

Q: What is your vision for the district?

Cooper said education is his top priority. Specifically, he wants smaller class sizes and no more furloughs for teachers.

Dickerson also named education as her top priority and said other areas of the budget need to be cut. She also said she supports smaller classroom sizes and no furloughs for teachers.

Upton named the creation of jobs as his priority and he wants to get incentives for businesses to locate in the state and "get government out of our way" so small business can grow. He said without jobs, education, the environment and infrastructure suffer.