Bryce Johnson (Special photo)
ALBANY — South Georgia voters entering the polls for the May 20 Republican primary have a chance to put either Bryce Johnson of Tifton or Greg Kirk from Americus in the Georgia Senate, as no Democratic candidate is making a run at the District 13 seat being vacating by retiring senator John Crosby of Tift County at the end of the year.
Johnson, an attorney from Tifton who has spent the past two years serving as Solicitor General of Worth County, is no stranger to campaigning, and feels his understanding of the inner workings of government give him an edge in the race.
Campaigning on a conservative platform, Johnson has many priorities but feels economic development and job creation, improving education and eliminating wasteful spending while keeping a balanced budget are at the core of his campaign.
Having grown up in south Georgia, Johnson says he is aware of the importance of agriculture and feels that farming and farm product production are key to improving the district’s economy and creating jobs.
Citing places like Con-Agra Foods in Worth County and Bell Plantation in Tifton, Johnson feels it’s important to bring more agriculture product processing to the area.
“Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the state and we’re in the center of that,” said Johnson. “I feel that we grow a lot of the food here, why not process it here?”
During his time as Solicitor General and as assistant prosecutor in Dodge, Turner and Tift counties, Johnson came to believe that education is also an important priority for the district and the state.
Johnson said far too many cases involve young people with problems that stem from issues about education, something that also effects economic development. Johnson said strides have been made to improve education, but he’s concerned about the number of young people not finishing school
“One of the problems I see in the juvenile court is that 30 percent of our kids don’t graduate,” said Johnson. “We need to start at an early age identifying at-risk kids. It’s something that we need to focus on as a state.”
The third major point of Johnson’s campaign centers around fiscal responsibility at the state level. Johnson feels that his experience dealing with budget issues within the office of Solicitor General gives him the tools he needs to analyze spending and work within a budget.
“I’ve had experience working with a balanced budget,” said Johnson. “I’ve had to work within a budget every year and I think that’s important to have that kind of experience. We have to make taxpayer dollars go as far as they can.”
Running opposite Johnson is political newcomer and conservative Greg Kirk, a licensed professional counselor and entrepreneur who said he’s entering the race because of his concern about the future and the direction of the state and the country.
Kirk said he hopes to use his background in health care and as a small business owner to promote his agenda of strengthening the economy. He believes this can be done through the support and growth of agriculture and agricultural-related industry and through strengthening and leveraging the district’s infrastructure.
Having owned small businesses, Kirk feels he can promote Georgia’s workers and bring new industry to the district.
“I believe in the work ethic of our people here that has supported industry here over the years,” Kirk said. “Our people, by the sweat of our brow, have been able to do well. I ran a business that employed nearly 100 people and I want to broker deals with those industries looking to locate here.”
Citing the importance of agriculture to the state and the district, Kirk said he wants to see agriculture-related industries, such as food processing and production locate in the area.
He also said he hopes to leverage the inland port in Cordele to help entice industry to the state, something that should strengthen the agriculture industry. Kirk believes that between that and the deepening of the port in Savannah, the district is primed for success.
“I think we’ve got a great opportunity with the inter-modal in Cordele,” Kirk said. “I think we’ve got opportunity for everyone. If we can begin to produce more finished product and ship it out of here, the better that is for all of us.”
Despite having never run for public office in the past, Kirk said he is politically active and understands the political process. He said he has developed and maintained connections with state government officials and business leaders.
Kirk said he’s received a lot of support as he’s travelled throughout the district from people who say they are disenchanted with their representation and are looking for a change in leadership.
“I’ve never run for political office and I’m not a political insider,” Kirk said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who say they’re dissatisfied with the political stalemate in government and who want something new. There’s a lot of thought of ‘throw those rascals out.’”
In addition to being conservative, both Johnson and Kirk also believe in limited government and both feel the needs of the state and the district should come before that of party.