ALBANY — Darton State College assistant professor Pat Garner may be a newcomer to politics, but that hasn’t kept the Democratic District 4 Dougherty County Commission candidate from coming out swinging.
While focusing on three primary issues — increased pay for first responders, opposition to the proposed Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline that is projected to come through part of Dougherty County, and better control of flood waters and mosquito infestation — Garner has not been afraid to challenge incumbent District 4 Commissioner Ewell Lyle, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Tracy Taylor.
“Consolidation is Republican-speak for job loss,” Garner said at a recent forum after Lyle said he favors consolidation. And in response to Taylor’s contention that he will appeal to younger voters, Garner said, “I have a deeper connection to the young community.” In an attempt to reach beyond his Democratic base, Garner has also pointed out that his platform consists of “bipartisan goals.”
A marathoner who has served along the U.S./Mexico border with AmeriCorps and in both Kazakhstan and South Korea in the Peace Corps, Garner said taking his message to District 4 voters has allowed him to become even more involved in the community that has been his home for the past five years.
“I take this extremely seriously,” he said. “There’s no polling in a local race like this, so I have to assume that it’s important for me to make every moment count. Unfortunately, very few people vote, so that means that a few voters could change the outcome of an election.
“I’ve received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the people I’ve interacted with. That’s why it’s imperative that I walk these neighborhoods and knock on doors.”
Garner must outpoll Taylor, a dental assistant, in the May 20 Democratic primary to earn a spot on the Nov. 4 general election ballot opposite Republican incumbent Lyle.
“Actually, I think campaigning in the primary is going to be an advantage,” he said. “I’ve had an opportunity to get my name out there, to meet more people. If I’d had no primary opponent, I would have had only a few months to articulate my vision.”
While Garner has not strayed far from his core issues during the campaign, he said talking with voters in District 4 has given him insight into other issues that impact the region, such as more and better-paying jobs, at-risk teens and the quality of education in the community.
“I hear candidates say, ‘The County Commission is not involved with the school system,’” Garner said. “That’s ridiculous. I plan to work with the school system, the City Commission and other elected boards once I’m seated at the county table.”
“I will continue to be very active in our community, no matter what happens,” he said. “It just seemed a natural progression for me. I’ve been getting more and more involved in the community, and I felt like this right opportunity came along.