A former Sandy Springs City Councilman and a Buckhead lawyer meet in the Republican Primary on May 24 to determine who will take the seat in the House of Representatives representing District 52, which covers portions of Buckhead and Sandy Springs. Graham McDonald of Sandy Springs and Deborah Silcox of Buckhead are vying to succeed veteran former Rep. Joe Wilkinson, who decided not to seek re-election. No Democrat has filed for the District 52 seat, so the winner of the Republican Primary will be able to claim the seat.
Community: Sandy Springs
Past political experience: Councilman for the city of Sandy Springs, District 3, from January 2014 through March 2016.
Other experience in the community: Graduate and board member, Leadership Sandy Springs; prior president and vice president, North Harbor Neighborhood Association; prior vice chairman, Sandy Springs Economic Development Advisory Committee; member, State Bar of Georgia, Legislative Advisory Committee; head coach (baseball), Sandy Springs Youth Sports, Rookie Red Sox; prior board member, Sandy Springs Bar Association
Q: Why are you running for this office?
A: I am running for this office because I have seen firsthand how critical it is for our district to have a strong, knowledgeable and dedicated advocate at the Capitol. I am steadfastly committed to the future and well-being of our area and know that my deep community experience and knowledge will allow me to best represent and advocate for the interests of District 52.
During my time on City Council, I saw time and time again how crucial efforts to solve major problems for our area – including keeping tax dollars local (seven figures this year and each year moving forward), managing the Braves stadium move and getting the ear and attention of government agencies like GDOT – fall on the shoulders of State Representative Wendell Willard. I was humbled when Representative Willard approached me to run for this seat, explaining that he would be retiring in 2 years and, having seen my work ethic and abilities on council, believed I needed to run for this office and overlap with him for two years before his retirement so that our community could be left following his retirement with a strong advocate on its behalf. Hearing Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul share Representative Willard’s opinions, and given my understanding of the state-level needs of our community, I felt compelled to qualify for this election.
Q: Why should the voters choose you?
My experience on City Council and in other support to our community makes me uniquely qualified for this new role. I have worked intimately with the traffic issues in our community, helped to construct and balance city budgets, dealt first-hand with zoning issues, worked closely with HOAs and constituents to understand and promote their perspectives and goals. These experiences and many others that I have gained working in the trenches of city government have given me knowledge and skills that I will utilize at the State House to promote the quality of life in our community and will allow me to hit the ground running on day one.
Time is of the essence for our community given the development, growth and pressures going on internally and in neighboring jurisdictions. At the time of qualifying for this State House race, my now-opponent had been meeting with leaders across the district for months, expressing her ambitions to run for this House seat. With this knowledge, many of these same leaders, including Representative Willard, Mayor Paul and others in our non-profit sector, approached me and asked me to transition my service to the State House to serve an even broader citizenry as a strong, knowledgeable and dedicated advocate. With this groundswell of support, I felt an obligation to serve my neighbors (including my prior city council constituents) in a different capacity for the long-term good of our community.
I am a Republican who favors a common sense conservative direction for our state. In this election, I was the first candidate to propose increasing the homestead exemption to reduce property taxes for all Fulton homeowners. I support the local rule that any property tax increase must be approved by the voters and will remain skeptical and hesitant toward any type of tax increase for our citizens. Further, I publicly oppose unnecessary legislation like the so-called “religious freedom” bill and will work to maintain focus on our most pressing issues like traffic, crime, taxes and education.
As a small business owner, with supportive business partners, I enjoy the flexibility and ability to give this House Seat the substantial time that it, and our community, deserves. My successful track record of being able to commit extensive amounts of time, year-round, to the job of City Councilman is testament to this.
I also have a proven track record of serving the community as an extremely in-touch and responsive representative. While on City Council, I sent out weekly emails to my constituents, letting them know about recent and upcoming events and issues. I pride myself in being very accessible. My cell phone number is (404) 353-0092.
My wife and I chose this community above all others to raise our family and to give our children a place to call home. I am invested in the future and well-being of this area. As is evident by my already strong history as an engaged citizen, I am, and will remain, steadfast in my passion and dedication to protect and improve our neighborhoods.
Q: If elected, what’s the first thing you want to accomplish in office?
A: Success on critical issues like transportation and overdevelopment will require first and foremost teamwork. As State Representative, I will make it an immediate priority to establish productive relationships with fellow legislators and our GDOT representatives to facilitate efficient tackling of the most pressing challenges in our area, including regional transportation.
On City Council, I did not always agree with my fellow council members. In fact, it was not uncommon for me to be a lone dissenting vote in opposition to zoning matters relating to apartments. However, and while we might have disagreed on an issue, we maintained mutual respect and admiration for one another. This is evidenced by the support that I have received in this election, including those council members that serve as campaign co-chairs, are supportive in other ways, and, of course, the Mayor of Sandy Springs, Rusty Paul, serving as the Chairman of our campaign.
Q: What do you see as the biggest problem facing the district you seek to represent?
The biggest challenges to District 52 are traffic, over-development and crime. As State Representative, I will fight to give homeowners a stronger voice in protecting our great neighborhoods.
I will work to allow more GDOT money to be spent on regional solutions like synchronizing traffic lights across city and county lines and implementing bus-rapid transit on reversible lanes in areas of the District where the rush hour commuter traffic is one directional. I will collaborate with GDOT and local governments to prepare the infrastructure for future technologies, like smaller electric vehicles, self-driving cars and ride-sharing, and work towards a truly regional transit system.
Further, I will work with GDOT, Atlanta and Sandy Springs to support funding to expand our trail network and to acquire, protect and convert more land into greenspace for all neighbors to enjoy.
Rundown/crime-ridden areas are a real threat to our quality of life. As State Representative, I will work to introduce State Tax Credits for at-risk areas, provide a State Revolving Fund loan to underwrite redevelopment in poor communities and expand property tax abatements for removal of outdated and unsafe C-class apartments.
Q: What do you see as the biggest problem facing the state?
A: The biggest problem facing our state is unnecessary legislation, like this past year’s so-called “religious freedom” (“RFRA”) bill. We need to cut back on legislation attempting to serve as a solution to a problem created only by the legislation. I strongly support Governor Deal’s veto of RFRA, and did so publicly before the veto. If it had not been for the Governor’s veto, Georgia’s reputation, both nationally and internationally, as a welcoming and gracious state would have been damaged and the economic detriment to our state would have been immense. One only needs to look at what has occurred in North Carolina and Indiana, when similar legislation was enacted, to see what could have befallen on Georgia economically.
Q: If a “religious freedom” bill similar to the one passed this session and vetoed by Gov. Deal is offered again next year, how would you vote on it?
A: I would vote against it. My position against the so-called “religious freedom” (“RFRA”) bill is unqualified and not just a strategic political stance. My family and I attend Holy Innocents Episcopal Church and my opposition stems from my personal beliefs.
Q: If it comes up again in the legislature next year, would you support some form of new tax to expand MARTA?
We need to extend MARTA, as we also need to embrace other forms of mass transportation (like bus-rapid transit on reversible lanes). However, the Lt. Governor has made a very key point – while MARTA is financially stabilized today, it still has not produced a workable master plan for the entire Metro-area. I want to know what MARTA’s master plan is before I vote for any new funding for MARTA.
As a common sense conservative, I am always skeptical and hesitant toward any type of tax increase for our citizens. Again, I was the first candidate to propose increasing the homestead exemption to reduce property taxes for all Fulton homeowners. I support the local rule that any property tax increase must be approved by the voters.
I work very hard not to over-promise when it comes to taxes and other issues important to our citizens. I caution not to forget about the secondary implications of promises, as well as promises that have little to no chance of coming to fruition. Further, reforming and improving our schools and education system is to the benefit of our entire community (including through increased property values) and any position removing money from schools should be accompanied by a real plan for how our local schools will not be detrimentally impacted.