MOULTRIE -- At Thursday night's political forum, state office candidates talked of the intertwined subjects of water, economics and education that have long been the knot in South Georgia's stomach.

Incumbent District 11 Sen. Harold Ragan, D-Cairo, is banking on his experience, seniority and political clout.

"It took me six years to become the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. It took me four years to become to become a member of the appropriations committee, and it took me 12 years to become a member of the Senate budget writing subcommittee, sometimes referred to as the Green Door Committee," Ragan said, pointing out that Southwest Georgia would lose these leadership positions should someone new be elected.

Contender Murray Campbell of Pebble City has an expertise in water -- South Georgia's ace in the hole. Campbell has been involved with water issues for five years with service on several boards and committees that address water usage. He also serves on the National Peanut Board and, as a farmer, understands the value of water to that industry.

"It's real simple, folks. Water in Southwest Georgia means jobs," he said.

Campbell is a great supporter of technical colleges which, in his opinion, give a second chance to students lost along the way.

When questioned by the forum's mediator about what to do with Georgia's increasing illegal immigrant population, Ragan said immigration is a federal issue, but services to this group are the responsibility of the counties. The state does have a role in that to help the counties meet the pressures that are brought to bear on the services of the community, he said.

"We need to treat them, with all due respect, as human beings and participating in our community and in the economic life of the community," he said.

"Our state does have an obligation to help the counties," Campbell said. "We have a tremendous influx of new workers coming in that changes very rapidly the amount of infrastructure that the county can support."

In response to a question about how blaming teachers would help student performance, Campbell said it wouldn't. Teachers have been made to feel like they're part of the problem and, at the same time, are being left out of the decision-making process. Teachers are the cog in the machine that actually works, he said.

Ragan, a former educator, said the perception of blaming teachers is a result of a breakdown in communication. H.B. 1187 was on the right track, he said, but it was not properly marketed.

"I don't believe in blaming the teachers, but we must have accountability," he said. "I have said that education reform is a lot like being a Christian. You're never quite where you want to be, and that's where we are. I think we have a good framework, and I think there is need to involve people more. ... Certainly, the teachers and the administrators who deliver the program to our children, they need to be the ones to buy into it. Certainly, we need more communication and certainly we don't need to bash teachers, or we don't need the teachers to think they're being bashed."

In the state House District 13 race, candidates Kerry Clabaugh and Carden Summers fielded a question regarding the struggling HOPE scholarship program.

Commitments to students that have already earned the scholarship must be upheld, both candidates said.

Expansion of HOPE to technical college students is over-tapping the program, they said. Clabaugh recommends after the first year, rather than give HOPE money to the college and not have the students make the grade, have the students make the grade first before giving out the scholarship. Summers called the strains on HOPE "another unfunded mandate" handed down from the state. For new students, an accountability check needs to be in place, he said.

"We should not be running out of money with the HOPE scholarship if accountability is there," Summers said.

On the topic of attracting industry, the Cordele realtor said the focus of economic development in District 13 sho

uld be shifted to attracting a larger number of companies providing 100 to 200 jobs rather than trying to land one employer that hires 1,500 people, he said as an example. That way, if that one large employer pulls out, the local economy wouldn't be devastated.

Summers also wants tax reform and to cut the fat in pork spending.

"This $100 million pork spending has got be eliminated and given back to the local level," he said.

Clabaugh, who owns several temporary employment agencies, plans to use his skills as a salesman and recruit industries into District 13 by contacting them directly.

Economic development councils in the district work separately from each other, he said, advocating banding together "like a school of fish" to market the area.

Carden wants to bring unity of representation to Colquitt County, protect South Georgia's water, put education back into local control, eliminate unfunded mandates and eliminate income taxes on senior citizens.

A lifelong Republican, Clabaugh embraces the conservative line. He is endorsed by the Georgia Right to Life organization.

Clabaugh looks to protect teachers from frivolous lawsuits and get politics out of the classroom, he said.

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