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Capitol Watch 2013 session
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Forsyth County News

The 2013 Georgia General Assembly got under way Monday. As the session approached, Staff Writer Jennifer Sami visited with the seven members of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation, all Republicans, to discuss voters’ expectations for the proceedings.

There appears to be a lack of trust in government across all levels. How can the 2013 General Assembly earn the trust of Georgia citizens during the upcoming session?

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, Cumming

“I think citizens have an obligation to look and see any time we’re spending money or proposing to spend money within the state and federal government. They need to look at that and see where the money is going.

“And if they don’t like what they see, then they have an obligation to question us as senators and representatives and as U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives. They have a right to question us and an obligation to question us to tell us what they would like to see, so that we can tell them what may be happening and what may not be happening with expenditures.

“I also think we just have to keep on talking to our constituents and try to explain to them the best we can about what’s happening in the state and why we have to do things so that they understand it and hopefully most of the time they’ll agree with us.

“But there are going to be times they don’t agree with us either because they don’t fully understand or they just don’t agree with us period. And as a taxpayer and a citizen, that’s their right.”

District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch, Dahlonega

“That is a very big concern I have as well. I do believe citizens have lost confidence in the federal and state government and government as a whole. We need to start doing things that are open and transparent to the government. We need to keep our promises and we need to deliver on those promises and not over-promise.

“That’s something a lot of politicians are caught doing is telling people what they want to hear and then not doing it. But we’ve got to earn people’s trust again and rebuild our reputations with the constituency and I think you have to do that with ethics reform and communication with the constituents and that’s something we try to do weekly. We put out articles, send e-mails with just generic information on what’s happening in Atlanta and when we come back to the district also, we go to various meetings like Republican Party meetings, town hall meetings, tea party meetings and anywhere we can get a gathering of citizens that are concerned or interested.

“We want to meet with them and talk with them about what’s going on in Atlanta and how it’s going to affect their lives. So that’s a big concern and it’s a challenge we all have to take very seriously.”

District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner, Dawsonville

“One of the things I think is there’s a lack of communication with our constituents. I think many people get elected to office and they forget to talk with the people who sent them there.

“Having been involved in government service for 20 years, people who know me will tell you I’m always looking for ways to reach out and talk with people, to get their input to seek their guidance and counsel on issues and to make informed decisions.

“One of the things we’ll be doing is a [radio program] … on Fridays during the session, and I’m developing a contact list that I’ll be doing a weekly e-mail update. I attend local meetings and I’m also going to be hosting a weekly breakfast during the session. I’m looking for two-way communication and I’d like for folks to contact me and tell me what they think on bills and issues prior to us voting on them … I’m looking forward to always trying to reach out and help the constituents.

“I think that’s the No. 1 thing is that if people know you, know your values, have a personal relationship with you, they trust you. That’s why you see greater trust most of the time at the local government level, because there’s a personal relationship. There’s less trust at the national level.

“I’m going to work hard to continue to build those relationships and to listen to those constituents who elected me into office.”

District 22 state House Rep. Calvin Hill, Canton

“I don’t know, in my district, what the question of trust might be. I’ve always held many town hall meetings throughout the year and am open to talking with any of my constituents at any time and working with them in any way.

“Since the Republican Party became the majority 10 years ago, one of the first things we did was to install cameras and recording equipment in our chambers so any citizen that has access to the Internet can look at all of our sessions live while they’re happening or actually go back and look at them in the past because they’re all archived.

“We were the first state to do this, by the way, in the country so we do have the most open government that exists in the 50 states and I think this type of transparency builds that trust.

“And if you combine that with things like my regular town hall meetings and my open access of e-mail and phone, and I don’t know that there are any trust issues. And I’m not speaking for the federal government at all.”

District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, Cumming

“Well it’s my feeling that it’s the federal branch of government right now that has the least amount of trust. We at the state level have the support and trust of some of our constituents and there are some that might be wary of what we do.

“And I think the biggest cause of that is when we, as elected officials, don’t honor the trust and commitments that have been placed on us.

“We will continue to work and try to be as transparent as we possibly can and be as straightforward as we possibly can and to engage our citizens as much as we possibly can. If we do those things, then there really is no reason for the people of Georgia not to trust us and what we do.

“Now, that’s very different from the category that they don’t necessarily agree on what we’re doing because we can never please 100 percent of our citizens. I plan to do what I’ve done in the past and that’s to send out regular communications, to return phone calls and to respond to e-mails and listen to the constituents to find out what it is that’s on their mind, and be very straightforward in how I vote on legislation and the things I get involved with at the state Capitol. I think if we do that, we’re doing everything we possibly can.”

District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, south Forsyth

“After the [Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax] and the November elections, I think that’s probably the most important strategic goal we need to have as a legislature is to repair that trust bridge between the citizens and the legislature.

“There are a lot of details, but I think that we need to take another stab at doing even better on ethics laws. Our laws right now are not that bad, but need to do even better, and we especially need to give more authority to the ethics enforcement.

“One of the reasons I’ve been a major advocate of no taxpayer funding for the [new Atlanta] Falcons’ [football] stadium is the same thing. It’s because it’s very hard for the average citizens to trust the legislature when we say there’s no money for schools, no money for transportation, no money for anything else, but there is somehow money for a stadium that nobody particularly thinks we need right now. So that’s a huge issue to me because of the trust.

“We need to make sure we’re evaluating the kinds of bills that we pass based on this is what the public really wants and that we’re not doing sweetheart deals for favored people, and to make sure that we are truly acting in the public interest and not doing things for political gain or political purpose.”

District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan, south Forsyth

“I think the best way to approach earning the trust of the citizens is to vote and act as though we are citizens of the community.

“I look at the opportunity to go down to the Capitol and vote each and every day through the eyes of a father, a husband, a small business owner and a Christian.

“And I think if we go down there and act and vote just like our citizens, the folks we represent, that is a great first step in earning the trust. Because at the end of the day, we have to earn the trust of the community.

“Personal responsibility is the cheapest, quickest, most effective way to get this country back on its feet. And as a legislator I strive to be a great example of personal responsibility.”