Four candidates seek the seat representing District 80 in the Georgia House of Representatives. They will appear on the ballot during a special election scheduled for July 14.

The seat had been held by former Rep. Mike Jacobs, who resigned when appointed to a DeKalb County judgeship.

The four candidates in the special election are all from Brookhaven. All are lawyers. Reporter Newspapers asked each of them four questions. Here are their answers.

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Q: Why do you want the House District 80 seat?

I’m running because I believe that House District 80 deserves a principled, transparent, and accountable representative to best serve its constituents.  I believe that my bipartisan, cooperative approach to solving our district’s and our state’s problems is sorely needed at the Gold Dome.  In order to continue growing as a state we must put the needs of our constituents above our own and work together to achieve those goals.  From sustained economic development to resolving transportation problems to fulfilling our promise to our children and providing world class public schools, I know that the residents of District 80 can count on me to have an open door, keep an open mind, and fight for their best interests regardless of ideology or partisanship.

 Q: Why should the voters in District 80 choose you for this seat?

I am asking for the voters of House District 80 to choose me because I am committed to holding the office with the integrity, work ethic, and transparency that they expect and demand.  As an attorney representing both employers and employees alike, I know all too well the issues businesses and workers face here in Georgia. One of our most substantial challenges is the continued polarization of the employer-employee relationship. Georgia touts itself as a national leader in attracting businesses to our state, but we also lag substantially behind the rest of the country in realizing those benefits for working families.

Businesses should be free to generate a profit, and employees should be able to provide for their families. Georgia needs a more balanced approach to economic growth under the Gold Dome. Being good for business isn’t good enough if employees can’t provide for their families, and being good for employees isn’t good enough if businesses are crippled by overly cumbersome regulations. I believe that both employers and employees must feel welcome in our state, and together we can continue to grow our economy, and build a better Georgia in our workplaces and our communities.

Q:What do you see as the biggest issue facing the state of Georgia at present?

Education is the keystone to Georgia’s continued economic progress and security. As the grandson of a public school teacher and a product of public education, I know that Georgia can and should provide a world-class education to every student. However, current state spending per student is lower than it was in 2002, and too many of our students lag behind their out-of-state peers.  Most importantly, providing a high quality education to every child is the first step of many in building a stronger economy and a brighter future for our state.

I support ending teacher furloughs, lowering class sizes and ensuring special-needs students every resource necessary to thrive. Opposing austerity cuts and tuition increases in our education budget will be a legislative priority. I also support increased flexibility for Georgia’s school districts as they think creatively and proactively about the best ways to educate the children in their communities. Teachers and administrators deserve the flexibility to innovate and inspire as they educate future generations of Georgians.

 Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing House District 80 at present?

House District 80 is one the most rapidly developing areas of the Atlanta metropolitan area.  With such a fast-growing population, transportation solutions are essential.  Our communities need a strong advocate for a combined solution that improves transportation and expands transit.  As your representative, I will be fully committed to advocating for the necessary resources to make sure we realize our full potential as a district and remain the best place to live, start a business and raise a family.

Catherine Bernard

Catherine S. Bernard

Q: Why do you want the House District 80 seat?

A: HD80 is a great place to live, and I want to keep it that way – and help make sure other Georgians enjoy opportunity, freedom, and prosperity as well. Unfortunately, some of the greatest threats to our community’s well-being are coming from the legislative process itself. The Redevelopment Powers Law, arbitrarily increased property taxes, and misallocation of transportation and education funds are all examples of government failing to be accountable to the public. Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, and Chamblee are perfect places to use our strong communities to promote accountability and responsible government, so that we can achieve better outcomes for all.

Q: Why should the voters in House District 80 choose you for this seat?

A: I’m the only candidate in this race with the experience, ethics, and wide-ranging connections to be an effective advocate for HD80 interests from day one. As a public defender and former litigation attorney, I’ve seen the way laws are argued, interpreted, and executed, and I’ve seen how much room for improvement we have. As a Republican activist and legislative advocate at the General Assembly, I’ve learned the strategy and tactics we can use to make those improvements. As an Emory University and University of Virginia School of Law graduate trained in legislation and government law, I’m ready to analyze and draft those improvements.

I have a strong track record of public service on economic development and public safety issues, including founding a legal defense nonprofit (along with friends in law enforcement) dedicated to approaching criminal justice reform from a limited government perspective.

Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the State of Georgia at present?

Ethics: accountability and transparency in government. We shouldn’t have to worry that our representatives are telling us one thing while doing another, trying to conceal information from the public, or being kept in the dark by other government officials. Transportation, education, public safety, and taxation are all important areas where we need to craft sustainable solutions, but we must be able to reasonably rely on our public servants to carry out those solutions. And we can’t do that when we’re constantly stumbling on examples of government officials breaking the very rules they’re tasked with making and enforcing.

A big part of the accountability problem is the sheer volume of law we’re dealing with: over 2500 pieces of legislation were introduced in the Georgia General Assembly during the 2014-2015 session. That’s why so many of our legislators admit that they don’t read every bill before voting, but that’s a bad excuse that produces sub-par outcomes. How can we accomplish our goals and avoid unintended consequences when our representatives don’t even know what’s in the laws they’re passing?

Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing House District 80 at present?

A: Local control, especially the relationships between city and county governments and the relationships among cities (and their teams of lawyers). House District 80 is made up of three dynamic, high profile cities that lead the metro area in growth and desirability. That means it’s even more critical to carefully scrutinize any proposed state legislation that affects development , financing, transparency, and other key local control issues.

The importance, and complexity, of local control is exemplified by last fall’s Redevelopment Powers Law referendum. I chaired the committee to defeat it because if passed, the RPL would have given the Brookhaven government the power to take on debt without first asking the voters, as the Georgia Constitution requires. It also would have expanded city government’s power to seize private property to financially benefit other private interests. Unfortunately, our state and city officials slipped this onto the ballot with no notice or significant opportunity for debate. Fortunately, once we got the word out, Brookhaven citizens voted the measure down 60-40 percent.

That’s the model I’ll bring to the State House. Read the bills, catch any problems, and report back to constituents so we can decide how to properly represent community interests. That’s what a representative is supposed to do.

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Loren Collins

Loren Collins

 Q: Why do you want the House District 80 seat?

A: I want to contribute to the betterment of not only my local community but to the state of Georgia as a whole, and not just on a single issue, but on a swath of them. Serving in the General Assembly is perhaps the ideal means of accomplishing that end. Additionally, there are many who complain about the recent direction of the Republican Party; that it is overly partisan in its behavior, that it’s uncritical in its thinking, that it’s anti-science, etc. I myself want there to be more reasonable, more thoughtful, less jingoistic Republicans, and one way to remind the public of that possibility is to *be* that more reasonable and thoughtful Republican on the ballot. And District 80 has proven itself willing to elect such a reasonable and thoughtful Republican.

 Q: Why should the voters in District 80 choose you for this seat?

Mike Jacobs represented our district incredibly well for twelve years, and as a moderate Republican myself, I’m the most natural successor to his legacy in this race. I support fiscal responsibility in government and the protection of our civil liberties from government overreach. As an attorney I know the law; as a mediator I know about reaching compromises; and as a skeptic and author I know about critical thinking. I have friends across the political spectrum who nonetheless respect and support me in this race, because they know that even when I disagree with them on issues, I’ve come to my positions intelligently and thoughtfully. I’m an independent thinker, not a partisan or a party activist, and my campaign isn’t driven by interest groups and their money. If elected, I would eschew the profligate gifts of lobbyists. And I have little desire to be a career politician; I’m asking only that voters permit me to represent them for a time, and to then allow a new voice with new ideas to take my place.

 Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the state of Georgia at present?

Georgia already has a balanced budget, its economy is strong, and while unemployment sits a little higher than the national average, it’s still relatively low. There are ample opportunities for reform in aspects of state governance, from stronger ethics regulations to criminal justice issues, but the single biggest issue statewide remains education. Georgia’s ranking nationwide has improved in recent years, but the overall state of our educational system continues to receive grades like C-. And it’s critical to keep improving, because while a better educational system may seem to only provide bragging rights in the present, it is the dividends that pay off 20 or 30 years in the future that will make those improvements so valuable.

 Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing House District 80 at present?

Again, House District 80 is fortunate in many ways. If there is a biggest issue facing our local community, I would say it is transportation and transit. As people move closer to Atlanta, and are attracted to Brookhaven and Sandy Springs by what we have to offer, congestion will only get worse. We need to have an eye not only on what will address our district’s transportation needs right now, but also on what will be best for this community 10, 20, or even 50 years from now.

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J. Max Davis

J. Max Davis

Q:  Why do you want the House District 80 seat?

I want to continue the positive momentum I helped start as Brookhaven’s first Mayor. As a state legislator I can have a more direct impact on stopping unfair county property tax assessments. I can dramatically enhance educational choices with the creation of new city school systems. I can better deal with the issues of traffic congestion across our community. As Mayor I launched a new city that has exceeded expectations. We quadrupled police coverage with a first class police department.We paved more roads and built more sidewalks in 2 years than the county was able to do in more than a decade. We have vastly improved our parks and have built a $4 million plus reserve. We did all this and were still able to cut our property tax rate 2 consecutive years.  I want to take my record of effective, conservative reform and continue it at the Gold Dome.

Q:  Why should the voters in District 80 choose you for this seat?

I am the only candidate with deep roots in our community. I have spent most of my adult life working to make our area better. I led the campaign to make Brookhaven a city and served as its first Mayor. I am the only candidate with a proven record who has made concrete proposals to reduce property taxes, relieve traffic congestion, enhance government transparency, reform our education system by bringing more local control and reforming the DeKalb and Fulton governments. I have a successful record of bringing reform to reality. No other candidate can say that.

Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the state of Georgia at present?

We must improve educational outcomes for our children. My wife Carrie is a public school teacher and I hear first hand her concerns and ideas for how to improve the system. We have too many county bureaucrats and not enough focus on educating children in the classroom. If we don’t improve student performance, increase graduation rates, and offer better school choices it won’t matter how many job openings there are in this state…there won’t be enough skilled workers to take them.

Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing House District 80 at present?

Rising property taxes caused by unfair county assessments is the biggest issue as well as traffic congestion. I have been working to educate homeowners on the system by which they can appeal their property tax assessments. But that is a short-term fix. I have proposed a cap on all items on homeowners’ property tax bills so that regardless of how much the assessment increases, the bill can only increase 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. This is especially important for homeowners with lower and fixed incomes.The government  should not be taxing people out of their homes.

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Voter’s Guide

Voters’ Guide

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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