The contest for State House District 153 representative between state Rep. Carol Fullerton and Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards will be decided Tuesday by those who vote Democratic Party ballots. Both of these candidates are well known in Dougherty County. In interviewing them, we believe both have the interests of the county at heart in their respective campaigns for the Legislature.
Fullerton has represented Albany in the Georgia House since January 2009 and is seeking her third two-year term. Previously, the consultant has served on the Albany City Commission and the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission Board. She currently serves on five House committees -- Economic Development and Tourism; Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications; Health and Human Services; Higher Education, and Natural Resources & Environment.
Edwards is completing a four-year term as the District 3 representative on the Dougherty County Commission.
In their interviews with The Editorial Board, the candidates discussed what they saw as the big issues for the redrawn 153rd District.
"I want what's best for Albany," Fullerton said. "And to me, that means having good jobs, good educational opportunities and a community that's working together, one that isn't distrusting."
She thinks that passage of the special transportation sales tax on Tuesday would benefit the residents of the district and prepare the region for growth. While many voters don't like the way the tax is structured, she said, "It's the only way we're going to get this money" for transportation projects.
Fullerton also says she plans to meet with the House speaker, lieutenant governor, chancellor and hopefully the governor to push for funding for the Ray Charles Fine Arts Center at Albany State. She's optimistic that it will come through in the 2013 session. She also believes there's a chance to save the Broad Avenue Bridge as a pedestrian bridge that would benefit the downtown area.
As a member of the minority party in the Legislature, Fullerton says it's important to work with the Republican leadership. "I'm a Democrat and that's not going to change," she said. "And I'm an old-time Democrat. ... But we ought to be able to come to the table to work together. I vote with Republicans when I have to to get things done. ... If you don't vote for the (state) budget, you're never going to get anything in it."
Edwards said she feels she is ready to move from the County Commission to the next level -- the State House.
Among her work as commissioner has been to delve into local social issues that have a detrimental effect on the community, with a focus on truancy. Working in a partnership with the Dougherty County School System and Albany State University known as Project SHIELD, she developed a pilot program for Turner Elementary School on ways to combat truancy. In pointing out the importance of school attendance, she noted that a 2010 survey of 100 Dougherty County Jail inmates ages 18-62 revealed that 99 of the surveyed inmates had a history of truancy.
"Truancy was a kindergarten for crime," she said, adding that tardiness to school also cheats children out of valuable class time. "They must be there on time."
Edwards wants to see parents held accountable for their children's school attendance, and she notes the problem often falls to grandparents who have been thrust into the parenting roles with the students, often because the parents are not there or in the prison system.
She also wants to help residents of the district who need official documentation, such as birth certificates. As the demand for this form of I.D. grows, it can be a particular burden for older residents, she said, such as a 91-year-old woman she helped who was having trouble getting a birth certificate so that she could get an official Georgia I.D. Those can be used as photo I.D. for voting.
On T-SPLOST, she said that she feels that the informational meetings should have been conducted in locations where more residents of the community would have attended. "At the end of the day," she said, "I'll support what the people in the city and county say."
She said she wants to see the state's $300 property tax rebate that was discontinued a few years ago restarted and that services for veterans need to be expanded for veterans and their families in Georgia.
Asked about the difference in working with county commissioners and state representatives, she said, "I look and I do what I think is best. I make my decisions based on that. When I get to the House, I will work with the Dougherty County delegation."
In making a recommendation in this election, the decision boils down to which candidate is best positioned to work on Dougherty County's behalf as a member of the minority party in the Gold Dome. Redistricting, which has moved seats from our region to the more populous areas of the state, has cut into Southwest Georgia's political muscle. That makes the experience of being a legislator who is already intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the legislative process even more critical. We think the voters of District 153 would be wise to give Fullerton another term in the Legislature.