In case you haven't noticed, it's an election year for the governor as well as many other statewide offices. Democrat Jason Carter isn't the only gubernatorial hopeful Republican Nathan Deal has to worry about.
From roundtables to kitchen tables, State School Superintendent John Barge and former Dalton mayor David Pennington are hitting the campaign trail hard in their bids to represent conservatives in the November governor's race.
"From the governor's office and specifically the budget, we have underfunded public education horribly,” said Barge.
At his farm in Kingston, just east of Rome, Barge explains that most of his platform centers around education and restoring the hundreds of millions of dollars state leaders have cut from the state's public schools over the last decade.
"I felt like I didn't have much of a choice but to step up and fight for education because the children in this state—1.7 million—that are in our public school system need those teachers, they need those resources and they need a state that believes in them and invests in them."
Barge tells potential voters that investing in education will pay dividends in economic development by preparing graduates for high-paying jobs and drawing businesses to Georgia for quality employees.
"The Governor claims we're the number one state in the nation to do business. That's a nice claim and unemployment's down. We're still higher than the national average. But with all of that, we are still fifth in the nation in poverty,” said Barge. “The number of our residents and the percentage of people living in poverty has gone up every year that the Governor's been in office. So we're not restoring and we're not bringing back quality jobs."
David Pennington also takes issue with Nathan Deal's campaign message that the governor's leadership is making Georgia the number one state for business. "No state has ever gained wealth by bribing foreign capitalists to build a plant here,” said Pennington. A small businessman himself, Pennington is running his campaign out of his second floor Dalton insurance office. He says state tax breaks are a short–term draw for companies and believes the state should focus instead on limiting government barriers to growth. "You create wealth the way Dalton has,” said Pennington. “Entrepreneurs starting their businesses, building their businesses and paying Georgia taxes." It may be that philosophy that has some calling Pennington the "tea party" candidate in the race, but he doesn't agree. "Now, the political pundits love labeling people you know, for whatever reason and that's what they want to label me,” said Pennington. “I'm not trying to get to the right of anybody. This is who I am. And I've told people many times, if you like me today, you're going to like me tomorrow. If you don't like me today, you're not going to like me tomorrow either, because I'm not going to change." Both men consider themselves to be the "different" choice in the Republican primary. Pennington says both Deal and Barge have made their careers in government, while he's made a life in spite of it. "I love this state the same way I love this city,” said Pennington. “And I know we're heading in the wrong direction rapidly." But Barge argues he's not a career candidate having spent his time in education, rather than political office. "I bring something different to the table, you know, a good dose of reality, I suppose,” he said. Barge and Pennington are quick to admit their true opponent in the race is Gov. Deal. They hope their campaigns will show Georgia voters there's not just one person who can represent a conservative viewpoint in the general election. "People have a choice this election,” said Barge. “ I don't think incumbency should give you a free ticket to a second term. I think you need to earn that." Voters will decide whether they agree on May 20th. Deal's challengers square off in a debate Wednesday, May 14 at 7p.m. , as GPB partners with the Atlanta Press Club for the Loudermilk–Young Debate Series.