Senate hopefuls sound off
by Jon Gillooly
June 13, 2012 01:23 AM | 3628 views | 12 12 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left, Senate 6th District candidates Josh Belinfante, Drew Ellenburg and Hunter Hill listen to questions presented to them during Tuesday's forum. <br> Photo by Todd Hull
From left, Senate 6th District candidates Josh Belinfante, Drew Ellenburg and Hunter Hill listen to questions presented to them during Tuesday's forum.
Photo by Todd Hull
slideshow
MARIETTA — Candidate Drew Ellenburg of Buckhead, one of three Republicans hoping to unseat state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), called his race the most important state Senate race in Georgia.

That’s because if a Republican beats Stoner, Senate Republicans will hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate and thus be able to issue constitutional amendments without assistance from Democrats.

Ellenburg made his remark at a Cobb County Republican Women’s Club’s candidate forum at the county government’s chamber on Tuesday evening.

Joining him at the front of the room were his Republican opponents, Hunter Hill of Smyrna and Josh Belinfante of Sandy Springs.

The audience of about 80 listened quietly and politely as the candidates made opening statements and were asked two questions, the first by Joe Dendy, chairman of the Cobb Republican Party.

Dendy said Georgia is expected to grow by 5 percent over the next year, yet projected funding for county governments and county school boards is dropping because their funding comes from property tax collections, which continue to fall.

“What should the state do to assist the county government and county school boards from a funding standpoint?” Dendy asked.

Ellenburg, a Marietta High School graduate who is in the wholesale furniture business, said the answer lies in small government.

Georgia is wedged between Tennessee and Florida, two states that don’t collect income tax, he said.

“Georgia has a 6 percent, so I just think we’re in an unequal playing field with government … so we’ve got to figure out a way to cut and be equal on the playing field,” Ellenburg said. “The ad valorem tax is another tax that is a major issue where we’re not competitive. This should be offset, and that’s how we should limit our government and create growth.”

Under a state tax reform bill passed this year, the ad valorem tax will be phased out next year in favor of a “title tax,” a one-fee paid on vehicle purchases.

Next to answer was Belinfante, who grew up in Smyrna and served as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s chief counsel.

Belinfante said the General Assembly should remove the burdens that the state places on local school districts, which drive up their operating costs.

“If we can remove the cost of operating the school from the state side and the mandates we impose, that’s a step in the right direction,” Belinfante said.

The second step is to increase property values by getting people to buy homes again, he said.

“We have got to make Georgia a competitive place to live,” Belinfante said. “For me, that means sun-setting state regulations … It means reforming our tax code to make sure we’re incentivizing small business and making sure they have a playing field that works for them. And it means resolving issues in the metro area like traffic. If we do those things, people will move back, school taxes will be back up.”

Third to answer was Hill, a retired Army Ranger who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hill said if the state does indeed continue to grow as Dendy said, he would advocate for using more of the general fund to spend on transportation infrastructure.

“That makes the TSPLOST more irrelevant as whether it passes or not,” Hill said.

As for helping local communities, spurring economic growth is key, he said.

“The No. 1 thing is to reduce the size of government and allow entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and want to see organic growth out of Georgia, and the best way to do that in my opinion is to eliminate the income tax in Georgia.”

Hill said many of the donors to his campaign also have homes in Florida.

“And the reason they do that is because they’re trying to protect their capital,” he said. “I want to keep those successful people in this district and in this state so they can invest in their community, and that’s what eliminating the income tax will do.”

The only other question the three candidates were asked was from Cobb State Court Clerk Diane Webb, who said that it seemed to her that many who were elected to office no longer believe the rules applied to them.

“Have you taken the time to know what we the people expect of you, and will you make sure that you comply with all the rules that are set out for this office?” Webb said.

Belinfante said while he didn’t believe in signing pledges, he had imposed a $100 lobbyist gift cap on himself.

Ellenburg said he had agreed to sign the pledge inked by Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Tea Party Patriots and Georgia Conservatives in Action, which states that lawmakers will not accept lobbyist gifts worth more than $100.

“Frankly, I have a job, and I run a business and I don’t want anybody buying my lunch and giving me presents,” Ellenburg said. “It’s pretty simple.”

Hill said ethics rules should be reformed to put more of an onus on lawmakers.

“Currently lobbyists can give to legislators an unlimited amount of gifts that only they report,” Hill said. “I am for proposing that legislators also have to report any sort of gifts they’re given, who gave it to them and what is the value of that gift is. … Whether the gift ban is $100 — which I’ll support — or if it’s $50 or $25, it’s irrelevant. … you can hold us accountable. You’ve elected us.”

Given that the General Assembly recently redrew District 6, expanding the boundaries into Buckhead, the winner of the Republican primary on July 31 may be the winner of the seat, Kennesaw State University political science professor Dr. Kerwin Swint said.

“The Republican should have the inside track,” Swint said. “That’s why they drew the district that way.”

But don’t count Stoner out yet. Melissa Pike, chair of the Cobb County Democratic Committee, said Stoner’s re-election is “job one” this year.
Comments
(12)
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Cobb Watcher
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June 13, 2012
Gifts for legislators? We are so corrupt that we can no longer separate right from wrong. No wonder

our nation is on the verge of collapse.
JJMule
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June 13, 2012
I think Hunter Hill has the right stuff, he has been Army Strong.

I would like for him to explain this remark. That makes the TSPLOST more irrelevant as whether it passes or not,” Hill said.

Do you support Tim's and Mark's TSPLOST?

Nathan Deal has shown his true LIBERAL COLORS QUITE OFTEN.

JR in Mableton
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June 13, 2012
VOTE FOR STONER!
anonymous voter
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June 13, 2012
It appears to me that the answers that Belinfante gave the moderator were succinct, well thought out, and in essence, were real methods to solve real problems that we in GA must resolve. It is one thing to say that the Braves (Ellenburg and Hill) must beat the Phillies (rah,rah) and it's another to give well thought out answers to dissipate a problem. The debate wasn't even close!
SG68
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June 13, 2012
Isn't Stoner involved with Croy Engineering?

Aren't they are the lead engineering firm managing the corrupt Alternatives Analysis being perpetrated on the citizens of Cobb County by the Cobb DOT.

How convenient.

Isn't Stoner a strong supporter of the TSPLOST scam?

Again how convenient.

Isn't Stoner on the Senate Transportation Committee?

How coincidentally convenient.

It seems to me that just these associations would raise suspicions about his objectivity when it comes to policy decisions transportation issues.

Is he going to represent the best interests of the citizens of his senate district or the financial interests of his employer?

Just wondering?
anonymous
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June 13, 2012
Drew Ellenburg is a peach of a guy. One of the best.
Rockthevote
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August 01, 2012
He is a fake...have you ever met him? Hello, I'm Drew.....yea douche, met you several times.....fake, fake, fake!

TIC
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June 13, 2012
Based on Stoner's record as a dedicated liberal and the fact that he is an avid supporter of the $7 billion TSPLOST scam means I am going to vote for one of the other candidates.

Cobb resident
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June 13, 2012
It is strange how Josh Belinfante, a long time registered lobbyist, was unwilling to sign a pledge to limit the amount of money he would take as an elected official.

He is right the voters will hold him accountable by not voting for him. We just do not need a young slick lobbyist representing Cobb in Atlanta... make you kind of wonder who he has promised to take our tax monies if elected.
Josh Belinfante
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June 13, 2012
The question should not be whether a candidate signed the pledge or not, but what are they promising voters they will do. I'm the only candidate in the race imposing the $100 gift limit on myself regardless of whether the law requires it, AND I have long-supported the legislation to make it law (topic of the pledge). I simply do not sign pledges, even ones I agree with. In addition, I'm the only candidate with a specific ethics reform proposal beyond the $100 gift limit.

I encourage you to visit my campaign website, see where I have stood on the issue since January, and watch some of the debates we posted. You'll see that my position on ethics has been clear, consistent and strong throughout the campaign.
imeanwhatever
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June 13, 2012
Josh,

Why does your job entitle you to any gifts at all, from anyone? I mean, don't you work for us? If anyone should receive a gift, it is us for electing you.

You are a lawyer. You know that perceived conflicts of interest can be just as damaging to relationships between you and your client as real conflicts of interest. Well, we are your client, and we have been screaming in the air that we think that our elected officials taking gifts creates a conflict of interest.

We are tired of the rhetoric (i.e. crap) spoonfed to us by you and your ilk that the lobbyists are a vital part of government relationships. that is a load of bull. If it benefits your client, i.e. us, then why does someone need to PAY YOU TO LISTEN?!?! Can't you listen without being offered gifts? seriously? I find that kind of thinking obscene and offensive.

For every dollar that you take from a lobbyist, that is a dollar that a company or organization has to take out of their budget. that is a dollar that could go to hiring, research and development, expansion, etc. By offering to accept any cash in order to listen to a lobbyist, you are forcing companies to take away from their profits to pay you off. you are propogating the very system that real conservatives despise. you are necessarily enlarging (and engorging) government.

What about the companies that cannot afford the thousands of dollars of payoffs? what about them? if they dont give you $100, do you still listen?

Truly pathetic how low our electorate, on both sides, has come. You are just as bad as the democrats. your statements are the very embodiment of crony capitalism, the very thing we are trying to move out of on the national stage.

In essense, you are business as usual, and usual stinks.
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