Maurlean Edwards has launched her second attempt to unseat incumbent Carol Fullerton from the Georgia House of Representatives (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — It’s a three-way race this term among state Rep. Carol Fullerton, former Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards and School Board member Darrell Ealum for the District 153 Georgia House seat.
The three Democrats will meet at the ballot box on May 20 in the primary election.
Fullerton formally kicked off her campaign April 8 at the Convention and Visitors Center Bureau on Front Street, where she assured voters she had entirely recovered from a severe back injury suffered in an October car accident.
“The doctors have dismissed me and I’m back together again,” Fullerton said.
During the worst of her convalescence, Fullerton said she was able to participate in House activities through the use of her personal computer and by speaking with House leaders by telephone. She said she was present at the Capitol during the final five weeks of the legislative session.
Fullerton describes herself as a “middle-of-the-road” legislator who works to better District 153 and Southwest Georgia through intelligent compromise with lawmakers of both parties.
Serving on four House committees — Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications, Health & Human Services, Higher Education and Natural Resources & Environment — Fullerton points to working relationships she has formed during her time in office as a reason for her re-election.
Fullerton said that during the latest legislative session, which ended March 20, the Dougherty County delegation was able to procure Department of Transportation funds to complete construction of the Jefferson Street exchange, making it safer and “better” upon completion.
In addition, Fullerton said money was made available for the resurfacing of U.S. Highway 19 between Albany and Leesburg and for the widening of Georgia Highway 133, which links Albany, Moultrie and Valdosta.
“That’s a good thing for the MCLB and for Fort Benning in getting things to Jacksonville and then to our soldiers,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton was also a part of securing partial funding to cover design work for a new fine arts building at Albany State University, she said, with a promise of more to come from governor Nathan Deal. For education in general, Fullerton said she helped in bringing home more money for public education “than was taken out in the previous six years.”
Dougherty County School Board member Darrell Ealum has leveled his challenge to Fullerton based on public education, and in particular the concept of an Albany college and career academy that would be aimed at lowering what he says is a 40 percent student dropout rate by the end of 9th grade.
Ealum said the academy can be visualized as a “three-legged stool.” The first leg of the stool is the Dougherty County School System, Ealum said, which would operate on a universal schedule to allow qualified students to attend classes during part of each school day and at other times work at learning vocational skills.
The second leg is Albany Technical College, which would provide customized and hands-on instruction for the students, Ealum said.
The final leg of the academy stool is the business community at large, Ealum said, which would provide internships as well as important input as to what practical skills are required by employers.
“If you don’t have the business community involved, they’re not going to provide these internships where a student will spend half an hour, two hours with the businesses. It won’t work,” Ealum said. “The communities which have done this right are those that have developed a phenomenal relationship between schools and business.”
Ealum said many Dougherty County students are dropping out because they see no relevancy in the classroom. According to Ealum, the academy would create a more desirable work force and thereby attract more industry to the area.
Ealum was disappointed in June 2012, he said, when the college and career concept failed by one vote in a meeting of the Dougherty County School Board. Now, he says, the board is ready go full bore with the project.
Ealum mentioned the importance of other issues such as water, transportation and the need for widening Highway 133, he stressed education and the lowering of the high school dropout rate as comprising his No. 1 priority.
For Muarlean Edwards, the campaign for the House seat is a familiar path. Edwards won a seat on the Dougherty County Commission, representing District 3, in 2007. She resigned in 2012 for an unsuccessful run against Fullerton for the House District 153 seat.
In her election material, Edwards says she would work toward reducing the number of unexcused absences from the Dougherty County School System and toward increasing the percentage of students who are present to take required and necessary examinations.
Edwards points to a list of credentials and accomplishments, most of which are related to her long-time exploration of truancy and tardiness in all grades, including her 2010 study of 100 inmates at the Dougherty County Jail. Edwards’ research on the inmates indicated that tardiness — even more than simple truancy — was often a precursor to criminal activity.
“Truancy is the kindergarten of crime,” Edwards said, “When (the inmates) came to school late, their whole day went wrong. They hadn’t eaten breakfast; they disturbed the class. When a child stays out of school, nobody else is disturbed. But usually those (tardy) children are suspended or expelled from school and have disrupted the whole school.”
Edwards said that as a lawmaker she would work toward providing funds for local training and education and in support “mom-and-pop” businesses so they can better compete against big box retailers.
Edwards would also work to revamp health care for affordability and ease of access, she said, and to support competition among qualified medical providers.
“You should have control over what doctor you go to,” Edwards said. “And many times when you go to a doctor and get a prescription and a generic will do the same thing. The pharmacists should be educated to tell people.
“What happens when you buy a prescription and it doesn’t work? The consumer has to buy another one and that means price, price, price. My role as state representative is to find all of those resources I can, but I need to know what my community needs so I can study and do the research.”
If none of the candidates receives a simple majority of the vote next month, a runoff election would be conducted July 22. There is no Republican candidate for the seat. State representatives are elected to two-year terms, with the term for this election starting in January.