ELLIJAY, Ga. – Less than a week remains until the final ballots are cast for contested State House District 8 – a region which encompasses Rabun, Towns, Union, and a portion of White County in northeast Georgia – with the two Republican candidates vying for the state seat meeting to debate at FetchYourNews (FYN) headquarters in Ellijay, GA.
Broadcasted live, the debate is available for viewing in its entirety.
The highlights of discussion involved Gurtler’s voting record while serving the district – which has consisted of the most “no” votes from a Georgia representative – and the ample funding and support that his opponent, Cummings, has received from state-level officials in return.
Pritchard noted that during the 2018 legislative session, out of a total of 188 votes, Gurtler voted “no” 74 times, and 20 of those times, the representative was the sole “no” vote in the House.
Gurtler reiterated that he believes the election is between himself and the establishment, due to his reluctance to waiver on principle.
“My opponent is a pawn in a chess game,” the incumbent asserted, “I think people can see through that.”
Gurtler cited District 8 as the most conservative district in the state, and himself, the most conservative representative in the State House. Gurtler stated the attacks launched against him are the result of his ultra-conservative values and “no” votes against the state budget, leading to “establishment tactics” and “disingenuous ” campaigning on his opponent’s part.
Later in the debate, Gurtler broached the subject of HB-146, also known as the firefighter cancer insurance bill, which he rejected. Cummings repeatedly stated his support for first responders. Gurtler insists the decision of whether to implement the insurance should have been weighed on city and county levels, rather than state, claiming that certain rural areas would face financial hardship in funding the program. Gurtler acknowledged the passed legislation stirred emotion, saying however, that it has been used to falsely paint him as opposing firefighters in general. “It’s totally untrue,” Gurtler explained, “I support firefighters, one-hundred percent.”
When Cummings was asked to explain campaign contributions by House officials, along with the support of Governor Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, both of whom plan to attend an election rally for Cummings on Wednesday, May 16, the challenger referred to what he described as “public spats” between Gurtler and state-leaders, claiming the House “wants someone willing to work with the people.” Cummings says Gurtler is “having a hard time getting along with people down there.”
Cummings claims the accepted campaign funding will not cause compromised values if elected, promising to listen to the concerns of District 8, adding that he hopes “to go to Atlanta, get along, and gets things accomplished.” Cummings says it was the people in the district who encouraged his run for office, not a prompt by leadership. “I’m not going down to be governor, speaker of the house, or whoever,” Cummings said, “I’m going to vote the way the people of the 8th District want me to vote.”
Pritchard asked Gurtler if it would have made more sense to vote in favor of the budget, thus returning to the Capitol with a newly-elected governor and lieutenant governor in office. Gurtler agreed that while it would have been simpler to side with the “go-along, get-along crowd” in Atlanta, stating, “it’s not about being popular, it’s about doing the right thing,” adding it would have “compromised principles, and the district.”
Both candidates said they are advocates of religious freedom – specifically pertaining to the protection of faith-based adoption agencies – as well as the constitutional carry of firearms, a bill introduced by Gurtler in 2017. Cummings says he supports Gurtler’s opposition of the transportation bill, believing it would benefit Atlanta more than rural counties.
The candidates disagreed on the measures that should be taken to establish rural broadband internet, however, with Cummings saying he feels rural areas are entitled to internet access comparable to that of Atlanta, and Gurtler stating the bill limits competition by weakening free-market enterprise.
On the evening of the debate, Cummings took to social media, rehashing speaking-points from earlier in the day.
“(Matt Gurtler) voted alone against budgets that put money towards increasing school security, fully funding public education for our school district, public safety, and raising wages for law enforcement.
“This morning during our debate, my opponent was asked how he would have voted if the deciding votes on the budgets had come down to his vote alone. He refused to answer the question clearly,” Cummings wrote.
Pritchard indeed inquired whether Gurtler would have voted against the budget, had he hypothetically been the deciding vote, given the fact that schools in District 8 would benefit from the proposal. Gurtler stood firm, saying, “we should always do the right thing, all of the time,” noting that prioritized spending is necessary, maintaining that the budget should be separated by department to eliminate wasteful spending, and in turn, create additional funding for specific sectors in need. Gurtler noted his introduction of House Bill 1075 (HB-1075), which would divide expenditures into 49 departmental divisions.
The fully-funded QBE amounts to a total of $879,498 dollars for District 8 as a whole, with $165,404 allotted for school security.
The sensitive issues that Cummings has repeatedly targeted were lodged within the $26 billion dollar state budget, an increase of $1.3 billion from the previous year.
Update from previously published article:
In an email sent to FYN on May 14, six days after a request for comment was issued in regard to state-sponsorship, Cummings writes, “I think House leaders are supporting me in this race because they view my opponent as an ineffective legislator who refuses to work with members of his own party for the good of the people in this district. People here know that I will be a reasonable voice of leadership for the 8th District.”