Speaking Thursday night to a farm-friendly audience at the V-Plex in a forum sponsored by Farm Bureaus of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding counties, the candidates discussed the issues involving local agriculture and how they would support farmers.
The candidates are due to meet again at a League of Women Voters Carrollton-Carroll County forum Monday at 7 p.m. at the county commission auditorium on College Street in Carrollton.
Seeking the Senate seat formerly held by Bill Hamrick, a Carrollton Republican, in the Nov. 6 special Republican primary are Mike Dugan, a Carrollton general contractor and former military officer; former House Rep. Bill Hembree, a Winston insurance agent; Jim Naughton, a Carrollton business consultant; and Glenn Richardson, a Hiram attorney and former speaker of the Georgia House.
James Camp, a Libertarian candidate from Temple and an information technician, is not running in the Nov. 6 race. However, he qualified to run in the Jan. 8 special general election and will face the winner of the Nov. 6 Republican primary.
Hamrick resigned last month to accept a position as a Superior Court judge in the Coweta Judicial Circuit.
Carroll County annually ranks among the top beef cattle and poultry producers in the state.
“Agriculture is the foundation of which America’s sole sufficiency and independence is based on,” Camp said. “Without that, the rest of the our freedoms and liberties would come crashing down. I would be a very ardent defender of agriculture in the Legislature.”
“We have a long history of agri-business and manufacturing in District 30, and a great relationship between the two,”said Dugan. “You see both chicken and beef production. It’s the largest industry within our district. So obviously, it’s not something we want to take lightly, not something we’d want to sacrifice. We want to make sure to continue to hand it down to our children.”
“Farming is absolutely the most important thing in this district,” Hembree said. “It’s the number one industry in Georgia and also number one in District 30. We have to do everything we can to protect the farmer, because we know the value of the farm. The farmer feeds and clothes our families, so we have to do everything we can to assure that continues. We want Georgia’s number one industry to be agriculture. As your state senator, I’ll try every day to make sure it stays that way.”
“Agriculture is important because it’s a way of life for so many people,” Naughton said. “It’s the number one industry in the state.”
Naughton recalled a recent visit to a Coweta dairy farm, where the sixth-generation dairyman was honored as operating one of the two remaining dairy farms in the county.
“It (agriculture) is important for many people as a way of life and for everybody as a food source,” he said. “It’s important to the state, region and individual families.”
Richardson agreed that agriculture is the number one industry and said timber is the number one component of the agricultural industry.
“The question is what we can do to promote agriculture,” he said. “I will tell you what continues to be a problem. We see people forced from their farms because they can’t pay the taxes. We continue to have tax assessors who do everything they can to make it difficult for farmers. We have to quit doing that. We have to think of ways to move things to market. We should end property taxes. We should have never taxed property. Farmers shouldn’t have to think about selling their land to pay their taxes if their crops don’t come in.”
The candidates were asked Thursday night to outline their thoughts on private property, eminent domain and public use of lands.
Dugan said one of his concerns is finding ways to keep property that has been passed down through families for generations from being taken away through taxes. He gave the example of a family farm that will likely be lost due to taxes.
“When he (farmer) is gone, taxes are going to be applied to the property that is being transferred down to family members,” Dugan said. “They’re not going to be able to sustain it.”
Hembree called the right to own property “one of the fundamental American rights.” He cited a Henry County case in which the Legislature acted to prevent a city from taking over property.
“We had to go in and change the law,” Hembree said. “Again, it’s a fundamental right that everybody should have to own their own property and do with it the best they see.”
Hembree said he has worked closely with the Farm Bureau on the issues of taxes and difficulties of operating a farm.
“We passed House Bill 386, which is an expansion of the sales tax exemption on agriculture,” he said. “What it does is to broaden the tax exemption for all agricultural industry, on equipment, energy use and farm tools. We worked closely with the Farm Bureau for two years to get the measure passed and was finally successful. It says to the farmers that we want to help you do what you do best and that is farm.”
Naughton said there’s many examples in which government agencies have used their rights of eminent domain to help private property developers take property from people for profitable purposes.
“I’m against that,” he said. “I think it’s fundamentally wrong and not American. We need to protect our private property owners and rally against it.”
Naughton praised a recent case in which the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 not to use eminent domain to take someone else’s property.
Richardson called private property “sacrosanct” and said owners should be able to do what they want with their property, within zoning regulations. However, he said, there’s often conflicts.
“As more and more people have moved into areas and intruded on agricultural property, they have started complaining about things that happen on a farm,” he said. “We should never let zoning change the use of a farm for agriculture purposes.”
Richardson said another intrusion into farm use is when the Georgia Environmental Protection Division starts doing indirectly what no local government will do directly.
“They start picking and nitpicking and we have to stop that,” he said. “You can’t run a farm without having fuel and you can’t run a farm without animals doing what animals do. While you have to have some restrictions, you have to be reasonable.”
He said as the Georgia population grows and the state becomes more urban, “we have to always fight and be aware that we keep that agricultural component if we want to be successful.”
Camp said private property rights are a basic component of individual freedom and liberty.
“I would like to see the Legislature affirm 10th Amendment rights,” he said. “It should introduce bills to prevent private property from being taken and used at the behest of private developers.”
Camp also called for an end to inheritance taxes.
“I’ve talked with farmers and one of their burdens is when they pass on and leave their property to family members, they’re burdened to have to pay inheritance taxes,” he said.
All the candidates spoke in favor of the University of Georgia Extension Service and said they would support keeping it going.
“Yes, I would continue to support the UGA program,” Naughton said. “That program in a tremendous resource, and by its charter, helps our farmers and agriculture throughout the whole state. It’s a big part of why we’re successful in agriculture in this state.”
Richardson said he “absolutely” supports the Extension program and spoke of his own experiences with an Extension agent.
“The county extension agent knows more about agriculture than anybody you can find,” he said. “The county Extension agent for us in Paulding and Douglas County was Scott Daniel. I could think of the most obscure question and Scott would know the answer. I once asked him about lemon trees growing in Georgia and Scott knew about it. The University of Georgia had him there, trained him and kept him on the ground.”
Richardson praised 4-H programs and the way they put university knowledge back into the community.
Camp said he would support the extension program and funding it, and added that there’s no encouragement now for students to become farmers.
“We need to start bringing programs back into grade school, showing how to plant seeds and cultivate crops,” he said. “When they get to high school, we should offer certificate programs. We need more farmers and we need to nurture them.”
Dugan said he understands there has been cutbacks but he feels the extension service is something that should be kept.
He recalled a blue FFA jacket as being the “coolest thing” to wear in high school.
“I don’t see that much anymore,” he said. “It’s a shame. It’s like part of our heritage has gone away.”
He called for more emphasis on training both on the farm and in technical schools to support agriculture.
Hembree said he supports the community extension program fully and said, as a 4-H dad, he was going to have to brag a little bit about his son.
“Thomas is the secretary of the 4-H program at Mason Creek Middle School (in Douglas County) and he just got the award for Outstanding 4-H last year,” he said. “So I fully support the extension program and the 4-H program.”
Hembree said he, himself, is a product of vocational education and the 4-H and FFA programs help students get started young as leaders.
“You go to an FFA meeting and see those young people and hear them speak, you’ll be proud to be an American,” he said. “You’ll be proud of everything about those young people.”