Courtesy Jim Galloway; www.ajc.com
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and his Republican challenger, chamber executive Brandon Beach, met in a debate up in Milton last night, sponsored by the North Fulton & Friends Tea Party.
Yours truly served as one of two moderators. For the record, the time needed to drive the 40 miles from the state Capitol was one hour, 55 minutes. My partner was former secretary of state Karen Handel, who – should she ever give up on politics – will make a fine TV news anchor.
Topics included the transportation sales tax, ethics, and a new Milton County. Both men support the latter. But stark differences showed up when it came to education and gaming.
Atlanta developer Dan O’Leary wants to harness the Georgia Lottery as the engine to drive a vast entertainment and gaming complex in Gwinnett County. We asked the candidates what they thought about the idea. Said Rogers:
”If people earn money, and they want to spend it in a way that doesn’t violate anybody else’s rights, it’s none of my business. So if somebody wants to come in and make that development, and the free market can continue to support it, then let the free market continue to support it. The fact of the matter is, you can go to any casino that’s located on the periphery of the state of Georgia, and you drive into their parking lot, what you’ll find are all sorts of vehicles that have Georgia tags on them…
“Now I think the state is going along fairly well without it. But government shouldn’t be there telling everybody how to live their lives in all those aspects. If you have a developer that can take what’s already in place – the lottery system – and expand it, and have a free market system that produces more money for the HOPE scholarship, more money for pre-K, that’s up to the market to determine.”
”I don’t think we need to have video gaming. I’m not against gambling, but I don’t think we need to have that in our state. If we are going to have gambling, I think we need to have full gambling – blackjack and craps. I don’t gamble, but I think video gambling preys on a sector of our society that can least afford to be there. “
The GOP primary ballot will ask voters whether they support casino gambling in Georgia.
“I’ll vote no,” said Beach.
“I’ll vote yes,” said Rogers.
If you’re of a certain age, the answer by the No. 2 leader of the Senate is evidence of a stunning cultural shift. Twenty years ago, an endorsement of casino gaming would have marked the end of a political career. Today, it’s just part of the mix.
Fueling Beach’s candidacy is the fight over charter schools. Beach opposes the November ballot issue that would restore the state’s authority to license charter schools over the objections of a local school system. Rogers endorses that – and more. Rogers favors an immediate, statewide conversion to a system of school vouchers. Said the candidate:
”How quickly should we do it? Yesterday. The consequences will be, we will finally have a market-based system, where the best educating schools in the system deliver a product to children and parents that they want, that they desire, that they will be involved with – and not a system that says because you live at 123 Elm Street, you must go to school over here. That’s craziness. That doesn’t work. No one would ever set something up like that in the private sector. But the fact of the matter is, this is in complete accordance with the Republican national platform….”
”We need to replicate schools around the state that are like north Fulton and Cherokee. We have good schools here, and it’s because we have parental involvement. Both of my kids attended public school, Milton High School. My wife was an educator at Milton High School. We have good schools because the parents demand it, and that’s wrong in Clayton County. They don’t have the parents demanding it….We don’t need vouchers. We need good public education with parental involvement. Each kid gets an $8,000 allotment per student. So they’re getting money to get educated in a public school. We just need to make our public schools good.”