ELLIJAY, Ga. – Mountain View Elementary (MVE) school hosted the Georgia Speaker of the House, Rep. David Ralston, on Thursday, October 4, as part of the Georgia Pre-k Week program.
Originally launched in 1992, Georgia Pre-K is a lottery-funded program serving four-year-olds in the state regardless of parental income. After almost losing the program to cuts in 2010, the Pre-K Week celebration was created to emphasize the importance of quality early childhood education by providing opportunities for leaders to engage with pre-k classrooms in their local communities.
Ralston’s visit came to MVE in its second year of the return to pre-school classes at their location. Visiting both pre-k classrooms, he read Behind the Little Red Door in Katlin Johnston’s class and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons in Gina Brock’s class.
Having previously visited Ellijay Primary school year’s ago, his return to the new location is made possibly by Gilmer County’s L4GA Grant providing supplemental literacy funds to the education system. A part of the grant, the “Birth-to-5 piece,” is the major part of increasing literacy and putting books into the hands of kids at home. By extensions, educators hope to build the language skills and development for not only those children, but also to other younger children in the household as well.
Gilmer’s Pre-K Director Katrina Kingsley told FYN this is usually an annual event to host lawmaker’s in our schools and allow them firsthand knowledge of what’s going on in these classrooms. Kingsley asserted the importance of programs like this as it not only educates lawmakers on our schools, but the grant and program allow pre-k teachers to affect even more students. Just as the body needs food and nourishment, Kingsley said these kids need “nourishment for the brain.
Check out more photos of the event at FYN’s Facebook Page.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.
First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.
Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.
The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.
First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”
Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”
The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”
With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.
First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”
It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”
It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.
Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?
She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”
Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.
The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.
Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”
Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Congressman Doug Collins made a brief stop at the Republican Women of Gilmer County meeting Thursday, Feb. 22. Collins has served as a U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District since 2013.
Collins spoke to the crowd concerning on a number of issues currently being addressed in Washington D.C. and took several questions from audience members on a wide variety of subjects.
“We came through a year, last year, where our biggest failure overall was, frankly, healthcare,” Collins stated, giving attendees an update on the happenings in our capital.
Feeling that the House did their job in trying to address some of the difficulties the nation faces when it comes to healthcare, Collins said that reform and change fell short due to the Senate.
“We did our job. We passed something to the Senate,” Collins explained. “The Senate is just marred and not moving.”
Collins has been a long time advocate to change rules that dictate the actions of the Senate. These regulations can and often do slow or completely stall progress from being made in our nation. In Congress, legislation can be passed by a simple majority vote.
The Senate, however, requires a supermajority of 60 votes for many pieces of legislation to pass rather than the 51 votes that would be required if the Senate went by simple majority vote.
“The 60 vote rule has got to go,” Collins spoke straightforward about his feelings on the issue, “at least on appropriations.”
According to Collins, the Senate currently has many pieces of legislation passed by Congress and has created a bottleneck in moving forward. Collins stated that of the bills currently sitting at the Senate waiting to be addressed, 85 to 90 percent of these bills were passed by Congress with fewer than five representatives voting against their moving forward.
In regards to healthcare, Collins said that there needs to be review and scrutiny of mandatory spending such as Medicaid. He stressed that he is not in favor of eliminating such programs but wants to slow the expansion.
“Medicaid was meant for the aged, blind, disabled and those who couldn’t take care of themselves,” Collins said, expressing his thoughts on this particular program. “You put a healthy able-bodied adult on Medicaid (and) what you do is you take healthcare away from the aged, blind, disabled and those who can’t take care of themselves.”
“That’s just wrong. That’s why we got to fix healthcare,” Collins added.
Several questions concerning gun control and safety in public schools were asked in the wake of another mass shooting that took place last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“This week was another tragedy of a very sick individual doing something very wrong and very twisted, using a gun,” Collins, a supporter of the Second Amendment, explained of his thoughts on how these situations should be approached on a federal level. “A gun did not walk into that school and kill anybody.”
Stressing the need for compassion for those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Collins wants there to be meaningful discussion and meaningful answers to this problem. He fears that passing any “bumper sticker” legislation as a quick fix would only fail shortly after.
“Are there responsible ownership of guns? You better believe it. Do some people probably not need to own a gun? Yeah,” Collins stated, proposing a look at circumstances in a realistic fashion.
While Collins does feel that certain agencies dropped the ball and should have to answer for and be held accountable to their mistakes, he also feels that first as a nation we need to uphold the laws that are currently in place.
Collins expressed these thoughts: “Explain to me how I can pass a law, that if they are ignoring it now, how does passing another law make it better?”
Collins was optimistic about certain directions the country is currently heading: “Our country is being portrayed as strong again.”
“We are starting to see the economy start to take off again,” Collins said, addressing the recent passing of the Tax Reform Act and the need for more employees in the workforce.
“We are trying to move what we know as Welfare to Work,” Collins said, discussing current legislation being proposed in Congress. “We are trying to get people through bad times, you know when we need to help them, but it is now time to begin that transition off of the assistance programs into meaningful work.”
Audience member, Noraye Hinds, brought up a key issue that is of concern to Republicans in the upcoming 2018 election year: “Hate is a motivator, and that is what is going to get the Democrats out to vote.”
Collins agreed and said, “We’ve got a tough year coming.”
Collins explained that on average, there is a loss of 32 seats held by the majority in the House in a mid-term election following a presidential election. Furthering concern for the Republicans, 26 of the seats up for election this year are in districts that Hillary Clinton won majority vote.
“If we lose 24 (seats), we lose the majority,” Collins spoke frankly.
He spoke of specific seats that Democrats are targeting in Georgia. Representative Karen Handel of Georgia’s 6th District and Congressman Rob Woodall of Georgia’s 7th District could face tough elections as the demographics of their areas are changing.
Collins spoke exclusively with FetchYourNews (FYN) about concerns over losing control of the House.
In a controversial move Feb. 19, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new map for the state’s U.S. House of Representatives districts. The new map, aimed at removing what some in the state considered Republican gerrymandering, now seems to favor Democrats.
Collins told FYN, “This is very concerning. You’re looking at worst case a 9-9 map. Best case a 10-8 map.”
According to Collins there is not much that can be done to overturn the changes made in Pennsylvania. In order to be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court there must be proof of a violation of U.S. law, but since the state Supreme Court ruling was based on the Pennsylvania Constitution, it is unlikely that federal courts would get involved.
Collins told FYN, as of right now, there is not major concern that other states will follow suit in redistricting, and praised his home state of Georgia: “Georgia has some of the cleanest maps in the country.”
“What I view as a good map,” Collins said, further explaining his feelings on the district layout of Georgia, “Does it reflect the homogeneity of an area, does it reflect the population of an area and does it give everybody a chance? If it does that, then you’re meeting most of the test.”
Collins feels there are two key issues that might hurt Republicans in the upcoming elections. The first being that while Republicans have a good message, sometimes that message does not get portrayed clearly.
“Turn out is our problem,” Collins expressed of the second and potentially more damaging issue. Collins urged those in attendance to be active in not only voting themselves but in spreading the word about candidates in the state of Georgia.
Collins thanked constitutes for electing him to his position and spoke candidly about his job: “At the end of the day, it’s about helping people. It’s about realizing where you come from.”
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Gov. Nathan Deal, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, today outlined updates to HB 918, which addresses state tax code. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, now combines the 2017 Internal Revenue Code (IRC) bill, HB 821, with 2018 IRC updates. It also addresses the state revenue projections resulting from the Federal Tax Act.
HB 918 would double the standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses, effective Jan. 1, 2018. It would also reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6 percent to 5.75 percent effective Jan. 1, 2019. Finally, the legislation includes a provision further reducing the tax rate to 5.5 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2020. This reduction would require approval of the General Assembly and signature of the governor in order to take effect.
The bill will also help our state be more competitive by eliminating the sales tax on jet fuel, which will encourage airlines to fly additional direct flights from Georgia to destinations around the globe.
“Taxpayers have already started to experience the positive effects of federal tax reform here in Georgia and throughout the country,” said Deal. “Our state is also projected to benefit significantly in the coming years. The legislation presented today is a result of ongoing dialogue between House and Senate leadership and addresses Georgia’s projected windfall while balancing the state’s fiscal health and protecting our AAA bond rating.
“This bill keeps more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money in their pockets by doubling the standard deduction and reducing income tax rates. It will save taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next five years. Doubling the standard deduction will also allow Georgia filers to take fuller advantage of the newly enhanced federal standard deduction. Further, these combined changes mark one of the biggest income tax cuts in state history, and does so in a fiscally responsible manner. The standard deduction was last increased in 1981. The individual rate was set at 6 percent in 1937 and has not changed since, while the corporate rate has also remained at 6 percent since 1969. I’m confident HB 918 will be passed by the General Assembly quickly and immediately transmitted to my desk. The sooner I sign this landmark reform legislation, the sooner taxpayers may file.”
“This historic tax cut lowers Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time ever, returning significant savings to millions of families across our state,” said Cagle. “Most importantly, this framework sets the stage for continued reductions – building on the Trump administration’s tax reform to allow Georgians to keep more of what they earn.”
“I am committed to keeping the tax burden on Georgians as low as possible,” said Ralston. “This measure is yet another example of the General Assembly working with Governor Deal to empower families to save more of their money. I appreciate the Governor’s leadership and the cooperation between the House and the Senate in developing this income tax cut legislation. I look forward to it moving quickly through the legislative process.”
ELLIJAY, GA – Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston visited Ellijay on Wednesday, September 13, to speak with the Retired Teachers Association.
Before holding a regular meeting, the Association received Ralston with a lunch reception and a meet and greet with the members. As he began his remarks, Ralston noted he was returning to the capital the same day to continue working through Georgia’s recovery of Hurricane Irma.
Taking a moment to recognize those involved, Ralston praised workers and volunteers who continue to clean up and restore Georgia in the aftermath. “I have never been prouder of the response that our state has had to what has been a tremendous storm. Hurricane Irma has really brought a lot of destruction to our state,” said Ralston.
Ralston continued his remarks speaking on the state’s budget. He said, “I tell people, there is only one thing we have to do every legislative session, and that’s pass a budget. We have passed a balanced budget in Georgia with no tax increases for the seven years that I have been honored to hold this position.”
Saying they had managed this in a conservative and responsible way, Ralston continued telling those in attendance the number one spending item in the budget every year is Education. According to the Speaker, last years $24.9 billion budget held 62% of new revenue budgeted for K-12 Education. This included $162 million for a 2% adjustment to state teachers salary.
The Teachers Retirement System (TRS), holding 218,000 active members and 118,000 retired members, was a focus of Ralston as he spoke about strengthening the system, protecting pensions against ideas of certain candidates for governor, and maintaining his “covenant” with teachers for their future and the future of their careers. Continuing in the financial aspect of education, Ralston commented, “I insist on a very strict actuarial study of what works and what don’t, between what is sound and what is not.”
The Speaker also talked of Georgia as a whole saying the state has added almost 600,00 new jobs in the private sector over the last 6 years. We are one of the fastest growing economies in the nation. Businesses are leaving other states in order to move here to Goergia. He continued, “We are now the number two state in the nation for the entertainment industry.”
Taking a moment to recognize complaints on the film tax credit, Ralston noted the $60 million a year credit generates over $9 billion a year saying, “Sometimes we have to invest a little to gain a lot, and I think strategic investment is a good thing.”
In an effort to spread the growth that Georgia is experiencing, he began speaking of the the challenges of rural Georgia. The Speaker spoke of a new two-year initiative called the ‘Rural Development Council.” The council’s plan is to examine every component of rural Georgia’s economy through education, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, and more.
Ralston closed his comments thanking the teachers present for what the mean to the community and for the honor of representing the area in Atlanta.
However, before leaving, the Speaker took time to answer a few questions including one about the concept of Casino gambling in Atlanta saying, “I think the casino companies are a whole lot more interested in it than the members of the General Assembly.”
He went on to say there were several issues at play such as the general question of “Do you favor the expansion of gambling?” But if yes, more questions arise of “How many do you allow in the state?” “Do you allow one big one and one small one?” Ralston went further to say the next issues then would be about the tax rate and the distribution of proceeds.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal visited Fire House 1 in Gilmer County Thursday to officially sign House Bill 146 known as the “Firefigher’s Cancer Insurance Bill.”
Joined by several officials including Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch, author of the bill Micah Gravley, District 67 Representative, opened the ceremony by speaking about the two year effort to bring the bill to this point. Gravley related his interactions with two firefighters, Frank Martinez and Brian Scutter, who he said were the honor of the Bill as they fought for and spoke with legislators to get the bill passed, as well as the appropriateness to have the signing in Scutter’s home station in Gilmer County. Scutter was also mentioned by Speaker Ralston who said he had made a promise to Brian that he would give all that was in him to bring this day about. Turning to face Scutter, Ralston said, “I kept my promise.”
Governor Nathan Deal, who originally vetoed last year’s Bill 216 called the new House Bill 146 an “innovative and great solution to the situation.” Deal said the Bill provides relief for firefighters by providing a different method for compensation and money for treatment and care for firefighters who contract cancers during their work. Gravley thanked the Governor for his support of, as he called it, a “better bill.”
The sentiment was echoed by Speaker Ralston who said, “We have arrived at a better solution. By requiring a local government to provide insurance to our firefighters for certain types of cancer, the firefighter can skip the process of litigating a worker’s comp claim. This will allow the firefighter to focus on getting better and recovery rather than having to worry about legal bills and depositions and hearings.”
FYN caught up with Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal to ask them to elaborate on why the bill is better, comparative to last years Bill 216. The Speaker replied saying, “This uses a Health Insurance Model as opposed to a Workman’s Comp model which means instead of having to make a claim and perhaps go through a court type process to get benefits and income, Firefighters in this case will file a claim just like health insurance.”
Governor Deal also spoke on the insurance versus workman’s comp comparison saying it was an awkward and “adversarial way of deciding whether or not compensation is owed.” Deal went on to say the newer Bill is a much better solution “to provide insurance coverage that will define benefits and give some flexibility as to deciding the compensation that will be given to firefighters.”
More than Senators and Congressman came to see Deal sign the Bill, though. Several representatives from neighboring and local emergency services attended the event including Gilmer’s own Director of Public Safety Tony Pritchett who said the Bill “gives you a sense of protection… You can lay your head down and sleep better at night knowing that if you contract cancer because of the job, there’s some protection that will take care of you and your family.”
For more on the Signing of House Bill 146 watch the full ceremony below or find more Photos in our Album:
The votes have tallied and the results delivered. While some races will receive their final decisions today, others are simply looking on to July for the next round. Meanwhile, citizens look for answers as they study tonight’s results. In a remarkably low voter turn out, many of the races received over a third of their votes from absentee and mail in votes.
Check out the precincts here and the totals below.
(Click on images to enlarge)
Sam Snider and David Ralston speak on FYN’s Candidate Day for the citizens on the eve of the election day.