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District 26 candidates Smith, Trent debate state issues
Third candidate Marc Morris unable to attend
District 26 debate
Democrat Steve Smith, left, and Republican Tina Trent discussed why each felt they should be the district’s next representative during a debate Wednesday night. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Two of three candidates vying for the vacant House District 26 seat met to discuss issues facing the state this week.

On Wednesday, Republican Tina Trent and Democrat Steve Smith laid out why they felt they should be the district’s next representative. Republican candidate Marc Morris said he was not able to attend the debate due to a scheduling conflict.

The debate was co-sponsored by the Forsyth County Tea Party and the United Tea Party of Georgia. Moderating the debate was Lucretia Hughes, a member of the Lanier Tea Party Patriots and a candidate for state Senate District 47.

The evening kicked off with the candidates talking about themselves. Smith, a retail manager with Barnes & Noble, said he wanted to represent working-class families and to help tone down the divisiveness in politics.

“I want to try to help bring some kind of common ground to this political discourse that has turned rather toxic in the last few years,” he said. “Even between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, I think there is a lot of common ground and we can find that and work together.”

Trent, a political organizer, consultant and writer, said she had a unique perspective from her experience as a consultant and wanted to take a strong pro-life stance and represent the will of the people.

“I want to bring control back to the district,” she said. “I want the people of Forsyth County to make every decision from transportation to development to whether they want to see (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) being supported by the people representing their district, and I think only I can do that.”

Morris, a Navy veteran and president of the Talmadge Group, said on Thursday he had made another commitment before the debate was picked and worked unsuccessfully with the Tea Parties to find a date that worked.

“We made commitments and I think we should honor our commitments,” Morris said.

The election will be held on Nov. 7, and in-person absentee voting began Oct. 16. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote plus one vote, a runoff election will be held on Dec. 5. 

The first week of advance voting, Oct.16-20, was off to a sluggish start, with only 116 of the district’s 40,000 voters, about .3 percent, casting ballots.

The special election is to fill the seat of former District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan, who announced in August he would step down from the seat he was first elected to in 2012 to focus on his campaign for lieutenant governor.

His term was set to expire at the end of 2018, and he was already not seeking re-election next year as state rules only allow candidates to declare for one position. Duncan’s replacement will serve the remainder of his term and be up for re-election next year.

Terms for state representatives are two years.

Throughout the debate, the candidates were asked to give their opinions on a range of issues, including immigration and sanctuary cities, the second amendment removing Confederate statues and others. Below are their positions based on some of their answers.

Immigration and sanctuary cities

When asked about illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, Trent said the problem mainly affects the middle and working classes, while Smith said he supported taking away incentives for businesses making the hires and allowing those who came to the country as children to stay.

“Illegal immigration is an issue that impacts the middle and lower-middle class and working class more severely than anyone else in terms of their pocketbook,” Trent said. “Both with healthcare and education, the people who are paying for the huge population of illegal immigrants we have in this country are not people who are benefitting from having cheap labor.”

Smith felt that “in a lot of ways … Forsyth County is a sanctuary city. I think as long as … we incentivize business to employ undocumented labor, it’s going to be a problem,” Smith said. “The flip side of that is … I would like to see (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) become law.”

Added Smith: “I don’t believe the children who are brought here at a very young age deserve to be punished for that.”

Income tax

Both candidates were asked about removing the state’s income tax. Trent said she was in favor of removing income tax and moving to a fair tax model, and Smith said Georgia would need to make up the revenue. 

“The Fair Tax group has, I think, a very, very intelligent plan that would completely eliminate the income tax while maintaining our tax revenues,” Trent said. “They have made interesting allowances for low-income people. It will not impact low-income people negatively and it will make up the same sort of tax revenue we have now.”

 “I know that one thing that is kind of controversial here is casinos; I told you I lived in Las Vegas and worked at a casino, so I’m a little biased about that,” Smith said. “If we could see fit to bring something like that here it would do wonders for our tax base.”

Question for each other

Near the end of the evening, both candidates were allowed to ask the other one question. 

Trent pressed Smith on what he would like to do legislatively if elected. Smith said he would like to see improved wages through increase minimum wage and other factors.

“The productivity of workers has been on a 45-degree incline for the longest time, but for about the last 40 years our wages have been flat,” he said.  “An idea that I would like to float to people is that we could tie the minimum wage somehow to the increase in productivity.”

Smith then questioned why Trent became a Republican after working for liberal causes.

“When it came to the issue of life versus abortion, that was a moral journey I took and it wasn’t instantaneous, it took several years,” she said. “In terms of other issues, how you tackle poverty, how you deal with the absence of fathers in communities, what do you do about crime and especially recidivist criminals. I was never comfortable on the left.”