Rep. Sam Moore (R-Macedonia) is seeking his first full term in office against fellow Republicans, Creekview High teacher Meagan Biello and Woodstock pastor Wes Cantrell, in the primary Tuesday.
District 22, which Moore has represented since winning a runoff in February, covers large parts of Cherokee and Forsyth counties as well as a small piece of Fulton.
No candidates from other parties have signed on to run for the seat, meaning the top vote-getting Republican is set to sail into office. But with three candidates on the ballot Tuesday, a runoff is possible.
Asked this week about how to reform the state’s tax system, Moore, Biello and Cantrell all said they’d simply nix the state income tax.
Instead, the candidates all say a consumption-based tax would be more fair and better for Georgia.
On other issues, though, the candidates differ.
Asked what changes, if any, need to be made to Georgia’s controversial ethics commission, Moore said “Ethics commission changes won’t stop the fox from guarding the hen house.”
The 38-year-old, who bested Biello in the runoff to replace the late Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton), said Georgia ranks as the “most corrupt” state in the nation, “and I know why.”
“We are threatened to vote with leadership, nothing is transparent and the entire system is a giant good old boys network,” said Moore, a Georgia Tech graduate. “If you don’t tow the line, they fund your opponent’s campaign and plant falsehoods about your legislation. To get honest government, we must elect honest people. People who will stand up to corruption, every time.”
Biello, a 32-year-old Ball Ground resident, said the commission needs to stop going long periods of time without an attorney to address ethics complaints. The commission has been without a staff attorney since January, when the person holding the job was fired for breaking state personnel board rules, according to Holly LaBerge, executive director of the ethics commission.
“They must have an attorney on staff to review all complaints, and we need to make sure they have the ability to hire one as quickly as possible when there is turnover,” said Biello, who graduated from the University of Georgia. “Without an attorney, complaints do not get addressed in a timely manner. Enforcing the rules and addressing complaints help to increase transparency in government. Without transparency, there is no trust.”
Cantrell, 52, a young adult pastor at First Baptist Woodstock, said any reforms to the ethics commission must accomplish two goals: Funding must be guaranteed so lawmakers can’t use the budgeting process to influence the commission, and the commission must be independent, with statewide jurisdiction.
“To accomplish that, commission members should be appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court,” said Cantrell, who graduated from Georgia Tech and Southwestern Seminary, adding the commission should have the power to impanel a statewide grand jury. “I’m eager to jump right in and evaluate all the options. We have a grand opportunity to start anew and build from the ground up.”
With many commuters, the issue of how to improve transportation often comes up in District 22.
Cantrell offered several ways to make things better for Cherokee and the district.
“One way we can make the commute easier for Cherokee residents is have good jobs closer to home,” he said. “Bringing large employers to Cherokee, like Inalfa Roof Systems is one such example.”
Cantrell said Georgia should also budget 100 percent of gasoline tax revenues to transportation projects, instead of only 75 percent, which he said is now the way the state operates.
“This would result in an additional $200 million annually — without raising taxes,” he said, adding: “(The Georgia Department of Transportation) must partner with local governments to properly identify critical infrastructure needs and use a common sense approach to addressing the needs of the Highway 20 corridor.”
Biello said she’d like to do away with the state’s regional methods of addressing transportation and let counties work alone or cooperatively to make decisions for their communities. She said discussions about making changes to or building new major routes should take place on the local level and money spent on infrastructure such as roads must be considered “an investment in our community.”
Biello also thinks business will help.
“Another way to deal with transportation issues is to encourage and enable businesses to relocate to this district,” she said. “If people can live here and work here in the district, many of the congestion issues currently found on major thoroughfares can be alleviated to some extent.”
For Moore, the biggest issue with transportation is Georgia’s marriage to the federal highway fund. The federal program is supported by a national fuel tax and funds road improvement nationally.
“Georgia’s infrastructure budget suffers from us being a donor state,” he said. “Red tape and strings increase project costs and timelines. By Georgia divorcing the federal highway fund, Cherokee County would have more funds and control.”
Moore mentioned steps he had already taken to further transportation.
“I co-sponsored a bill to allow counties to work together on local transportation projects,” he said. “I’ve met with the directors of the GDOT and of the county department of Roads and Bridges to address multiple state and county road issues.”
The candidates were asked for their qualifications for the seat.
Biello said she had the most at stake in seeing the district thrive.
“I live here; I work here; I send my children to school here,” she said. “I care about this community and continuing to make it the best place to live, work, visit and play. My interest is in listening to the people of the district. This position is to serve the people, and I intend to take our shared values to the Gold Dome.”
Biello said she has a history as a “leader and go-getter,” and knows how to work with others without compromising her values.
“I have a business degree in economics and political science, and coupled with my experience as a teacher, I am the candidate with the background and experience necessary to get the job done,” she added.
While Moore’s time in office has been controversial, he feels he’s already proven what good he can do.
“Other candidates can only promise what I have already done,” he said. “I have the most conservative voting record of the entire state House. The first bill I sponsored would eliminate Obamacare in Georgia. I am the only state House rep who immediately refuses all lobbyist gifts.”
He noted he was one of two representatives to vote against the state budget, which he has said he was against because it funded the Affordable Care Act and increased spending.
Moore said that he declined the benefits plan, pension plan and expects to return half of his legislative budget.
“I have a proven record of standing up to the good old boys, every time,” he added.
For Cantrell, it’s his belief “all people are being worthy of being served” that makes him the best candidate for the job.
“I lead my life as one of a servant, and I think that naturally translates into public service,” the pastor said. “This position belongs to the people of the 22nd District, and I will honor and respect that. The people of the 22nd deserve to be represented by an effective leader that can bring real changes to the issues that matter most.”
Cantrell said he was the only candidate committed to the legacy of leadership District 22 has had and deserves.
“My legacy of leadership and service makes me the best candidate to represent this district,” he said.