Glenn Richardson got started in politics almost as soon as he was old enough to run for something.
As a fifth-generation Winston native growing up on a street named for his family, Richardson ran for student body president at Winston Elementary School his last year there. It taught him a hard lesson.
Given time to speak to his classmates, Richardson made modest promises about things he would do as president, such as getting nice new curtains in the classrooms.
His opponent had other ideas.
“He said, ‘If you elect me student body president, I’ll cancel school every Friday!’” Richardson said. “I could hear the hooting and hollering up and down the halls, and I knew I was toast.”
Of course, school wasn’t canceled that Friday or any other.
“That’s when I learned some people running for office will say things they can’t possibly deliver on,” he said.
Having learned thousands of lessons since, perhaps the hardest in the past three years, Richardson feels ready to enter the political world again.
After crashing out of the Georgia House of Representatives due to an ethics scandal and divorce in 2009, he is one of four Republicans running for Georgia Senate District 30. The seat incorporates parts of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding counties, and was vacated when incumbent Bill Hamrick accepted a judgeship.
His opponents on Nov. 6 are Carrollton businessman Jim Naughton, Carrollton building contractor Michael Dugan and former House District 67 Rep. Bill Hembree, who resigned his seat to run for the position. The winner of the Republican primary faces Libertarian candidate James Camp of Temple on Jan. 8.
Once the most powerful member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Richardson proudly says he is entering this race as just another candidate, but one that still expects to be in office come January.
“My goal is to win outright,” he said. “I suspect that a runoff is the most likely scenario with four candidates, three counties and many cities.”
He also expects to be outspent, but has experience running tight, small-budget campaigns. Richardson engineered the Republican takeover of the Georgia House in 2004.
“I ran races all over Georgia on a shoestring budget,” he said. “That’s how I became speaker. We were the minority, we had no money. I traveled and maximized efforts running races on $10,000. I’ll do that in this case.”
Campaign signs are only now being put out by Richardson, who had to secure his own funding for them. It’s part of a campaign strategy: signs put out too long before the election are forgotten by the time votes are cast. Once, he took his signs down between a primary and general election.
Absent a warchest of funding, Richardson is focusing on the issues in this campaign.
A host of edgy positions he has carved out includes new ideas on the HOPE scholarship. Cut to paying for 90 percent of tuition for most recipients, Richardson feels the scholarship should be restored to its former glory.
“I think we lied to a whole generation of people,” Richardson said. “We misled a generation of students by saying that if you make B’s you get the HOPE scholarship. Now we are saying, ‘oops.’ I believe it’s patently wrong — they could have at least phased in changes over four years.”
His plan would see the scholarship restored, with funding changes to lottery-funded Georgia pre-K programs making the difference. Richardson would like to see some money allocated away from the program, perhaps letting private enterprise handle it. He also points out that the lottery is seeing heavy revenues right now.
Other money-saving plans for HOPE might include ensuring recipients are Georgia residents.
“There are people who come to Georgia just to get set up and meet the two-year residency requirement for the scholarship,” said Richardson. “I would double and quadruple check that to make sure they are Georgia residents and U.S. citizens. If you live in South Carolina and come to Georgia, live here two years and say you are a Georgia resident, I’d question that.”
Also on the subject of education, Richardson plans to push for increasing high school graduation rates through job skills programs in high school.
“Current statistics say that one in three of Georgia high school students are not graduating,” Richardson said. “Our rate is 67 percent, what I think that means is failure. Some school systems will say that theirs is an 82, well that’s a B. Until our high school graduation rate is in the As we shouldn’t be happy.”
To accomplish this, he envisions 9th grade students choosing a career choice to follow after graduation. They could change later if they want, the goal is to get them thinking about life after football games and prom.
“I believe we are missing an opportunity,” Richardson said. “Let’s graduate more high school students with career and technical degrees. Let’s have more skilled workers with job skills, not liberal arts degrees.”
He sees classes like welding, electrical, plumbing, paving and mechanics. When someone is close to dropping out, the school should teach them a skill and try to get them to graduate with a technical degree.
“Educators say everyone needs to know chemistry and calculus,” said Richardson. “Yeah, right. Many students quit and get nothing instead. I’d start in ninth grade, you pick a track, and you can change it later. If you need to do so between 10th and 11th grade, you go to summer school, you can take a bridge class. You can’t tell me it can’t be done. But one in three high school students is not graduating, period. That is a failure.”
Repealing Georgia’s property tax, an idea touted in the past by Richardson, may be revived if he gets back in office.
Another wave-making idea involves making Georgia a judicial foreclosure state. This would slow down the foreclosure process and require banks to provide more documentation before foreclosing on a home. He feels it will empower homeowners against giant banks.
“People love it, big banks hate it,” Richardson said. “We need to slow down the foreclosure process. I would not have told you that five years ago, but the federal government changed the rules in the middle of the game.”
Richardson explained that the government bailed out five large banks with taxpayer money, and in doing so labeled them “too big to fail.” Because of this, the banks didn’t need to make good decisions with their money and it hurts average homeowners.
“We changed the rules in the middle of the game for big banks, now we need to do it for citizens to slow it down,” he said.
Critics have said the change would only serve to increase paperwork and fatten the wallets of lawyers. Richardson, an attorney himself, counters that his naysayers are not offering any alternatives.“I made a promise,” said Richardson. “Win, lose or draw, in January I will try and get that passed even if I’m just a citizen.”
Being just a citizen is something Richardson has experienced for the last three years. He found himself caught up in an ethics scandal after having an affair with a lobbyist who was pushing a $300 million pipeline bill he was co-sponsoring. A divorce followed, and later a suicide attempt.
From those dark days he is looking to rise and inspire others who have struggled. His name is well-known throughout Georgia, but overall he sees that name recognition as an asset.
“While my name has some things associated with it that aren’t good, it has a lot of good associated with it,” Richardson said. “I have a proven track record of getting things done.”
Richardson’s campaign slogan is “Conservative, Decisive, Proven.”
He enjoys talking about his family history. His daughter turned 18 last week and will cast her first vote for him on Nov. 6. This race, Richardson feels, is a second chance both for himself and the district.
“It is a chance to go home,” he says on his campaign website. “I was born in Carroll, raised in Douglas and now work in Paulding. I have over five generations of family from Douglas County on my father’s side and four generations in Carroll County on my mother’s side.
“There is a lot of work unfinished and I believe I have something left to give in public service. There would be no greater honor than to finish that work representing the people I grew up with in SD 30. As humbly as I know how, I request the people of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding counties give me a second chance to serve in this position as a leader of people.”