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Candidates talk issues at forum

COVINGTON -- Candidates vying for state and local seats spoke and answered questions during a candidates forum at the Newton County Library on Tuesday night.

Ten of the 12 candidates running for the open opposed seats in State Senate District 17, Georgia State House District 110, Georgia State House District 95, Newton County Board of Commissioners District 2 and Newton County Board of Education Districts 3 and 5 participated in the forum, which was sponsored by the Covington Newton County Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau of Newton County and the Covington News.

Present were State Senate District 17 Democratic candidate Jim Nichols; Georgia State District 110 Republican candidate Andy Welch; Georgia State District 95 candidates, Democrat Pam Dickerson and Republican Rodney Upton; Newton County Board of Commissioners District 2 candidates, Republican Ricky Corley and Democrat Lanier Sims; Newton County Board of Education District 3 candidates, Democrat Shakila Henderson-Baker and Republican Kevin Wade; and Newton County BOE District 5 candidates, Republican Abigail Morgan Coggin and Democrat Sharon Sawyer. District 17 Republican candidate Rick Jeffares and District 110 Democratic candidate Rudy Cox did not attend.

Candidates answered questions about raising taxes or cutting spending, transportation and education solutions, making Georgia and Newton County more business friendly and representing Newton County.

District 17's Nichols said Georgia needs to invest more in transportation and education to get more out of it, and the state also needs a tax reform.

"I'm fed up with what I see going on in Atlanta," he said. "We as citizens have to shake things up. ... The only way we fix the problems we face right now is by getting involved."

He suggested lowering the sales tax, getting away from funding education through only property taxes, expanding MARTA and introducing a rail system connecting Macon, Savannah and Atlanta to Tennessee and North Carolina.

"We're behind the curve," he said. "We have a lot of hard work to do as a state."

Welch also argued for a tax reform, but he suggests removing the income tax and replacing it with more sales tax, which he said would be fairer by capturing tax money the state is now losing. He said that measure would also mean cuts to the Department of Revenue.

"More needs to be done and will be done," he said.

District 95's Dickerson and Upton faced off to discuss taxes, transportation and representing Newton County.

They both said they would work hard to represent all constituents, including citizens living in portions of Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties. They said they've learned through visiting residents that many are going through rough economic times.

Dickerson said she hopes to work with all levels of government to create jobs, and Upton wants to cut wasteful spending.

"One thing the government knows how to do well is waste your money," he said.

Board of Commissioner candidates Corley and Sims also discussed taxes, as well as a liquor by the drink referendum and challenges facing Newton County.

They both said they would allow a referendum and let citizens vote on having liquor by the drink available in the county. Both candidates stopped short of supporting liquor by the drink, however, saying they would like to look into it more.

"This needs to be decided on by the citizens," Sims said.

Corley said he doesn't want "bars going up on every corner" because people in the county already don't feel safe.

"It's going to be hard for me to support it," he said, adding that many regulations would have to be implemented to help him better support it. "I realize this may bring restaurants to our area, and we can benefit from that, but it may place more of a burden on our law enforcement."

Local school board candidates answered questions about improving test scores and how their experience will help the Newton County School System.

Many of the candidates said that getting parents, the community and businesses more involved in education would help improve test scores.

Wade said he didn't support cutting the school system budget by introducing furlough days for employees and reducing the number of instructional days for students -- he said students and teachers need to be happy.

Sawyer suggested that the school system better prepare students for the real world.

Coggin hopes the system will better teach all types of children.

And Baker said the school system needs to teach parents how to help their children more.