Jones County’s Candidate Forum took place at the W.E. Knox Center and was sponsored by the Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce and The Jones County News. Greg Mullis served as the moderator, fielding questions and making sure each candidate had an equal opportunity to be heard.
Jones County Farm Bureau’s Women Committee provided writing materials and water for forum attendees.
Superior Court judge candidates incumbent Lee Parrott and challenger Jack Nebl, U.S. Congressional District Eight candidate Rick Goddard, Georgia House District 140 candidates incumbent Allen Freeman and challenger Bubber Epps, Jones County Coroner candidates incumbent Jerry Bridges Sr. and challenger Don Graham, and Jones County Commission District Two candidates incumbent David Gault and challenger Kip Smith were all in attendance.
Each candidate gave an opening statement. Nebl was first and was barely into his education when his two minutes expired. He quickly said he was an Eagle Scout, enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam.
“I’ve been a lawyer for 30 years, and my diverse experience makes me the best candidate,” he said.
Nebl left the Jones County forum early to attend a similar event in Jasper County.
Parrott gave four reasons why he should be re-elected, which included his local background, training, experience, and performance. He said he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received.
Goddard talked about challenges being faced by people today and their inability to do anything about it.
“You send people to Washington because you want your voice heard. I want to be that voice,” he said.
Goddard said nothing has been done about immigration since 1973 because no one has had the courage to stand up.
“I would like to go to Washington and do what you want me to do and do what is best for America,” he said.
Graham said he is a graduate of the Georgia Police Academy, Georgia Fire Academy, and the Medical Center of Central Georgia School of Paramedics. He has been a paramedic manager for 20 years.
Bridges said he has been coroner for 16 years, and when he took office in 1992, the coroner did not even have a police radio. He said he has four deputy coroners, and his office handles from 75 to 100 calls per year.
“I’d like to go in one more time and finish what we have been trying to do,” he said.
Gault said he has been in office for two terms, and during that time, 20 miles of roads have been paved and his district has received $3 million in grants. He said he serves on nine different state committees.
Smith said he has enjoyed meeting the people in his district and feels knocking on doors is a great way to find out what is important to them. He said he was born and raised in Haddock.
“I represent the fifth generation. Jones County’s future is very important to me,” he said.
Epps said he does not think anyone has the right to criticize unless they are willing to accept the responsibility themselves.
“My background is in education, and I am a small business owner. The future of my children and grandchildren is important to me. I want to help stop the cuts to education,” he said.
Freeman said four years ago voters sent him to Atlanta, and since that time 4,300 jobs have been created and Jones County received $500,000 for its industrial park.
“We are putting more money into education. We have tough times ahead, and I am proud to be your conservative voice,” he said.
Mullis parceled the questions to each of the candidates and covered a diversity of topics. The candidates answered their questions and followed the forum rules with decorum.
The questions from the audience ranged from taxes and education to office expenses. The heated campaign between Freeman and Epps was very civil at the forum, although each made his points.
Freeman said he believes a candidate’s past record plays a role in how he will serve in the future, and Epps said the past drives commitment.
“I think it’s important for you to know our pasts,” Freeman stated.
Smith stated that if elected he would represent the will of his constituents while answering a question about a proposed rock quarry.
“I’m opposed to it for several reasons. One is that the site is along the Scenic Byway and that relates to land use. The comprehensive plan calls for that area to be agricultural and that is the bible for how land is to be used,” he said.
Gault disagreed with Smith’s reasoning.
“I fought against the quarry, but you have to look at the facts. The RDC did a study of the impact to the area and gave about 20 reasons why we didn’t need a quarry. Our decision has to be based on fact,” he said.
Parrott explained that it took him a while to grow into being deliberate enough after becoming a judge.
“It’s a constant learning process. We are always striving to become a better judge,” he said.
Freeman described a legislator’s biggest battle as the economy. He said the state budget is $22 billion, and he appreciates the trust of the voters to make tough decisions. He also managed a comment, which questioned his opponent’s ability to do so.
Epps questioned the constant cuts to education that occurred in times of prosperity.
“The budget is not realistic to meet the needs of the needs of the state. Tax reform has not been accomplished and the state needs to live up to its funding requirements,” he said.
Goddard was asked about immigration and said his position is clear.
“If we don’t control the border, nothing else counts. There are jobs that go unfilled because we can’t find anyone to do them, but we need to bring workers here legally and make sure they go home,” he said. “They need to honor our flag, honor our people, and speak our language.”