Harbin, Studdard hone positions in July 22 runoff

Both men seeking the District 16 state senate seat agree that the budget needs to be scrutinized for cuts, but they would approach cuts in different ways.

Marty Harbin of Tyrone is encouraging a look at privatization of services and a review of state social welfare programs to “provide an incentive ... to use such programs as a stepping stone to move beyond dependency on government.”

David Studdard of Fayetteville meanwhile wants a statewide assessment of discretionary spending in particular so it can be “subject to the most intense scrutiny by law makers and citizens alike.

Both candidates replied to a list of questions from The Citizen for this story. Harbin's full answers are here and Studdard's answers are here.

The winner of this race will assume office Jan. 1 since there is no Democratic challenger in the November general election. The 16th district covers south and central Fayette County including much of Fayetteville, all of Peachtree City and also Tyrone. The district also extends into Spalding, Pike and Lamar counties.

On the question of what each candidate’s spending priorities would be, Studdard said he has none, except to reduce spending when possible. Harbin has a more detailed approach, urging a review of educational systems from elementary to college and also looking at transportation funding options such as user fees to fund necessary improvements. Harbin said he specifically opposes local or regional transportation sales tax initiatives.

As to the candidates legislative priorities, Studdard said he plans to derive his by listening to his constituents.

“I think we could all benefit if our elected officials did more listening and less talking,” Studdard said.

Harbin said he wants to undertake a review of the state’s participation in Common Core standards for K-12 education, address the Affordable Healthcare Act, eliminate the state’s income tax and replace it with a Fair Tax method and “strengthening incentives for businesses to locate or relocate to Georgia to create jobs and additional revenue.”

While Studdard said he does not plan to serve on any senate committee that oversees his profession as an attorney, Harbin said as an independent insurance and investment services profesional, he feels his knowledge and experience “would help to secure the rights and legal protections of those I was elected to serve and so would actively participate in legislative matters related to them.”

Both Harbin and Studdard said they were in favor of term limits on legislators. Harbin said he doesn’t think the country’s founding fathers intended elected office “to be a full-time or lifetime job.”

Studdard agreed, arguing that while many state and federal legislators do a good job, others “seem to have an attitude of entitlement and arrogance, completely unresponsive to the voters who elected them.”

The Citizen also asked both men their thoughts about the state’s ethics commission, which has come under fire in recent months due to questions about its lack of independence from the governor’s office. Harbin urged creation of a bipartisan board with independent members who are unaffiliated with any political party as well.

Such a board could serve on a part-time as-needed basis which would eliminate or avoid additional offices or staff, with funding from the state’s general fund, Harbin suggested.

Studdard agreed that the state’s ethics commission “needs to be free from influence from not only elected officials but anyone with an economic, personal or political interest in the outcome of any investigation brought before the commission.”

Studdard suggested funding could come from either increasing the qualifying fee on candidates for state office, or decreasing the salaries of state elected officials.

Both candidates were also asked whether they feel the state’s open records and open meetings laws were sufficient or either need to be expanded or curtailed.

Studdard said the laws are sufficient but there is “flagrant disregard” for those laws.

“Often times, governing entities at all levels, restrict access and even free speech at meetings, otherwise open to the public,” Studdard said. “Certainly a balance between an orderly productive meeting and a display designed to solely disrupt should be struck, however, open records and meeting laws do not exist to protect elected officials, committees and boards from citizens, on the contrary, they are in place to protect us from them.”

Harbin said all government spending and legislative matters “need to be fully transparent” and he would not support efforts to curtail the public’s right to know.

“Where the people’s money and the people’s interests are involved, they have an absolute right to know where and to whom that money goes and how the decisions that affect their lives are made,” Harbin said. “In fact, I would recommend additional options to open the process to the public. For example, live streaming of committee meetings, with archived copies available on the General Assembly website.”

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