Bruce Thompson (left) and William Boddie

Bruce Thompson (left) and William Boddie are running to become Georgia labor commissioner.

Credit: File photos

ATLANTA – Both major party candidates for Georgia labor commissioner agree the agency needs an overhaul after it was overwhelmed by unemployment claims during the pandemic.

But Democratic state Rep. William Boddie and Republican state Sen. Bruce Thompson disagreed over how to solve the agency’s woes during a debate Tuesday streamed by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Boddie, a lawyer from East Point, said he wants to more than triple the department’s employees from the current 1,100 to the 4,000 on the payroll when Michael Thurmond, the last Democratic labor commissioner, ran the agency during the late 1990s and 2000s.

Boddie complained the labor department took a 55% budget cut this year.

“How can you adequately serve the needs of the state with a skeleton budget?” he asked.

Thompson said throwing money at the problem is not the answer. He said he would use technology to modernize the department’s operations.

“When you bring technology in, you don’t need to balloon this staff,” he said.

Boddie also pledged to increase the number of career centers the agency operates around the state by placing one in every county with a population of 725,000 or more.

Thompson, who owns several businesses in Northwest Georgia, said he would use his business experience to improve efficiency at the labor department.

“I’m the only one on the panel with the experience as a business person who has gone in and turned companies around,” he said.

Libertarian candidate Emily Anderson agreed with her opponents that the leadership of the labor department “dropped the ball” during the pandemic. She conceded she lacks the government experience of either Boddie or Thompson but is a “quick learner.”

The current labor commissioner, Republican Mark Butler, is not seeking reelection.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.