Election Run Down with Martha Zoller: Governor’s Race

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In a recent interview with FYN, Local Pundit and Radio Host Martha Zoller gave us the run-down on the governor’s race. Governor’s Race: As it stands now, we only have the incumbent, Governor Nathan Deal. However, over the past few months Dalton Mayor David Pennington has been travelling around, talking to voters, shaking hands, and giving campaign-style speeches. He’s even pushed out his decision several times already, drawing out the drama of a possible bid. Conventional wisdom, however—not to mention an endorsement this week from political advocate Oscar Poole—suggests Pennington will soon announce his bid for the Gold Dome.

Zoller says Deal’s people would welcome Pennington to the race, because, she says, it’s easier to raise money with a challenger. Regarding political strategy, she says Pennington will try to run to the right of Deal. The mayor’s speeches reflect this. Based on his talks and newsletters, Pennington’s platform shows a conservative three-pronged message, what he calls the three Es: Economy, Education, and Ethics Reform.

Pennington’s economic plan would reduce or eliminate the state income tax, which will force Deal to talk about the issue, who supported last year’s widely unpopular TSPLOST, a transportation tax that was largely voted down through out the state save three regions. Zoller, who supports the elimination of the state sales tax, says it’s significant and hopes Governor Deal runs on this issue. Deal’s support of TSPLOST, said to be one of the biggest tax increases in the state if passed state-wide, could hinder the governor’s credulity on the issue if he adopts it for his platform.

On Education, Pennington argues for a de-centralization of Georgia’s educational system.

“The way to turn that (education) around is to de-centralize more and more of the control back to local communities,”

he said last week at a Pickens GOP event. The process, he says, will produce more winners than losers. The mayor also rejects big government educational initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core, which some say was initially a states’ initiative but was abducted by the federal government and fused with Race-to-the-Top, which invariably is tied to federal funding. The varying interpretations of the standards continue to make it one of the more controversial issues of the day.

The mayor’s ideas on the decentralization of Georgia’s educational system, though, could pose a formidable challenge to Deal’s actions last year at the Gold Dome. For instance, during last year’s debate over charter schools, the governor signed two pieces of legislation, HR 1162 and HB 797, which some argue increased the centralization of the state’s education system. HR 1162 allows the state government to approve charter applications previously been denied by local school boards. HB 797 provides a funding mechanism for 1162. Superintendents and school boards in Gilmer, Pickens and Fannin Counties argued that this circumvented local boards of education, removing decision-making authority from local communities.

The funding for future charters approved by the state was also cloaked in mystery. According to financial reports from all three counties, school districts get hit with deeper and deeper austerity cuts in state funding each year. For instance, Fannin County was underfunded in state funding, called QBE, $2.1 million last year, while similar numbers persist in the other counties. If districts are underfunded now, where will the state get the money to fund new charter schools? Superintendents asked. When FYN asked the governor’s office where the money would come from, we were told simply, from the general fund. As such, if Pennington or anyone challenges the governor in the primary, Deal will have to answer for these ambiguities. The two pieces of legislation resulted in a referendum in last November’s ballot, which was approved by voters statewide.

Regarding ethics reform, Pennington argues for greater transparency, saying state legislature should be under the same open meeting requirements as cities, counties and boards of education.

“We would have far better legislation than what we have currently,”

he says.

For all of Pennington’s attributes and virtues, Zoller says it will be difficult to unseat Deal.

“He’s popular and I think that he will have the money to do what he needs to do,”

she says. But, she also says the mayor comes from the insurance industry, which may allow him to raise some money. Zoller says Pennington’s strategy of talking to small groups of people is a good method, but may not be enough to get the needed votes. “Governor Deal is not vulnerable,” she says, (yet) nobody is unbeatable.”


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