Brookhaven, GA, May 11, 2016 – By Trey Benton – There are three Republican candidates in the May 24th primary vying to represent Georgia’s District 80 in the House of Representatives, a district which covers most of Brookhaven, parts of Chamblee and a sliver of Sandy Springs. They were sent a list of questions we feel are relevant to local and State issues.
The candidate responses, listed below alphabetically by their last name, will hopefully provide voters with insight on how the candidates align with their own personal views on these topics.
One of these candidates will challenge Incumbent Democrat Taylor Bennett in the upcoming November General Election.
Question 1: Why should voters choose you over your opponents?
Catherine Bernard: Voters should choose me because I have a proven track record of ethics, experience, and effectiveness in seeking community solutions and defending taxpayers against ill-considered legal schemes. I represent the independent-minded, common sense approach to politics favored by virtually everyone in our district – we’re fiscally conservative, but take a live-and-let-live approach to the private lives of others. Other candidates are dependent on the approval/funding of a party caucus and attached special interests, but I’m free to work for our district’s best interests without worrying about currying favor for future partisan endeavors. That’s why I’ve been the target of well-funded attack campaigns; I’ve already proven to be effective and independent in defeating the Redevelopment Powers Law referendum and attempts to legalize dangerous no-knock search warrants.
As the only candidate in the race who has already been serving in that capacity, I’m the best choice for voters who don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
Alan Cole: Having lived in this District for over 40 years, I worked diligently on the impact our District. Because of this, I have the best chance of winning House Seat 80.
Meagan Hanson: For the last several years, I have been on Fox 5’s The Georgia Gang consistently calling out corrupt county governments; I have been involved within the community to improve our schools and protect our children; and I have advocated for fiscally conservative legislation to save taxpayers millions of dollars.
I am a fiscal-conservative who believes that government should be limited in its power and accountable to the people. I believe in transparency, accountability, and the adherence to the highest ethical standards in government. I am the proven conservative who will work every day to rein in corrupt county governments, reduce the tax burden on our citizens, improve education, and promote freemarket principles to grow our economy.
Finally, I am the only conservative candidate running in a Republican primary—one of my opponents voted for Obama and refused to support Mitt Romney, while the other voted as a Democrat for 10 years.
Question 2: What have you done or accomplished that uniquely qualifies you to represent District 80?
Catherine Bernard: Founding and leading the committee that defeated the Redevelopment Powers Law in 2014. It was a classic example of the biggest threat that our desirable, dynamic district faces: obscure but powerful laws being snuck into our lives that would have dangerous impacts like increasing debt, expanding eminent domain property seizures, forcing us to subsidize development that reduces our quality of life and doesn’t serve market interests, and increasing traffic congestion. www.brookhavenreferendum.org
I’ve also studied legislation and political science for decades, served in many positions in the Republican Party (from national delegate in 2012 to district executive committees to president of North DeKalb Republican Women to current president of DeKalb Young Republicans). I’m an active volunteer through Rotary, literacy organizations, my justice non-profit, and other community events. I practice as a public defender all over the state, so I know how we can get things done for the metro area while expanding our blessings to the rest of the state.
Alan Cole: I understand servant leadership! As a small business owner, Infantry Captain in the U.S. Army, Crew Chief of the Peachtree Road Race and ALTA captain for the past 12 years, I have a proven track record of working with a variety of people and issues to get the job done. I have served as the Republican Precinct Chair for the Montgomery District and as the Republican Sergeant of Arms at the State Convention.
Meagan Hanson: I am the only candidate who has actual experience creating real solutions to the problems facing our district. For example, I worked with Senator Hunter Hill, the Legislature, and other stakeholders to pass conservative legislation enabling public-private partnerships for transportation projects. This legislation has saved taxpayers over $400 million in the bidding of the 285/400 interchange project.
Additionally, as a member of the Junior League of Atlanta, I was given the honor of serving as the Chairman of the State Public Affairs Committee for the Junior Leagues of Georgia. In this position, I worked with elected officials and Junior League members across the state to promote and organize children’s literacy event and awareness to the social epidemic of the sexual exploitation of women and children.
Question 3: What is one promise you can make that you will absolutely deliver on if elected to Represent District 80?
Catherine Bernard: To read every bill before voting on it.
Alan Cole: To be the best full-time representative of the constituents of District 80.
Meagan Hanson: The job of a Representative is to represent the needs, opinions, and principles of her constituents. In that regard, my door will ALWAYS be open to listen to my constituents.
Question 4: What is your position on development in the Brookhaven area – as a Brookhaven resident? Explain.
Catherine Bernard: All politics is local, and nowhere is that more true than House District 80. Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, and Chamblee are undergoing lots of exciting changes as metro Atlanta continues to grow – but there are also serious challenges, as residents seek to preserve our quality of life and financial stability against a seemingly endless stream of projects (with complicated taxpayer-involved financing schemes) that change neighborhoods and increase congestion. And the local control we thought we were getting with a new city seems to come with a lot of state strings attached.
We CAN make a difference on these issues – from rejecting the Redevelopment Powers Law to negotiating with developers, our community has shown that we’re serious about protecting property rights and infrastructure. But there is so much more to be done (do we really want MARTA to be the landlord for Brookhaven’s city center?), and for that we need a state legislator who can serve as a watchdog for taxpayer interests.
That means addressing zoning laws, the laws affecting how developers can sue cities, MARTA’s authority, the role of the Department of Community Affairs. More local control, less wasteful bureaucracy and subsidies handed down from unelected bureaucrats – that’s how we get development that makes sense for our vibrant, unique district.
Alan Cole: In Brookhaven, I am on record fighting development that threatens our quality of life. Having lived in Oak Forest Subdivision for the past 43 years, I have led the fight to keep single family homes a priority with both the County and then the City. I have negotiated with corporations such as Georgia Power Company making their substation acceptable to the area residents. I am currently serving on the Ashford Dunwoody Corridor Study Committee.
Meagan Hanson: We need to make sure that future development in Brookhaven, especially along the Dresden Drive and Ashford Dunwoody corridors, complements the character and infrastructure of our existing neighborhoods. When I attended the original MARTA presentation on their proposed redevelopment, I asked about the impact of the proposal on our police force—would MARTA or Brookhaven Police be responsible and how many additional officers would be needed. They didn’t have an answer, which is unacceptable.
Ultimately, development in Brookhaven is an issue for the citizens of Brookhaven to decide. I believe firmly in local control and do not believe it is appropriate for the state legislature to interfere in local issues. This is not an issue for which we want (or need) state interference. I would strongly encourage those who feel strongly about these issues to run for local offices, where they can actually make an impact on future development in Brookhaven.
Question 5: Would you “toe the party line” on a critical issue with Statewide ramifications if your constituency disagrees with the party position or would you side with your constituents?
Catherine Bernard: Side with my fellow HD80 voters, no question – the question isn’t whether it’s a party position, but whether it’s a correct position that serves the interests of our district. This is a tremendously difficult thing to do at the legislature, given all of the power structures and incentives in place to reward loyalty and punish non-lockstep behavior, but I’ve got lots of experience in standing up for the truth even when it’s initially unpopular. The wonderful thing about our district is that people here are serious about wanting to get things right, it’s just a matter of getting past the party/media PR to the facts on an issue.
Alan Cole: I will vote my constituents’ position!
Meagan Hanson: I will make all decisions while in office based on the merits of the issue under consideration and the views of citizens within the district. I am a conservative and will continue to follow those principles while in office. Under no circumstances will I be beholden to party over principle. While I certainly cannot predict future issues that may arise, I point to my position on RFRA as evidence that I am not afraid to stand up for what my constituents and I believe is right, despite significant opposition from other members of my party.
Question 6: Do you approve or disapprove of the way the GA Legislature does its job? What would you do differently?
Catherine Bernard: Disapprove. The legislature focuses on divisive social issues at the expense of core government responsibilities, and approves a budget that is going up by more than a billion dollars a year. The concept of separation of powers is almost lost – the governor’s office openly controls the legislative agenda both directly and through a system of floor leaders, in contravention of his constitutional role as the elected official responsible for executing the laws made by the legislature. The Georgia Constitution provides that bills should contain only one subject matter, but that is routinely disregarded. Also routinely disregarded: procedures for ensuring a fair and open committee process, when bills are held up for openly political reasons and others are pushed through by sponsors who also sit as the committee chair, and rules about giving legislators at least a certain amount of time (such as 2 hours) between the time a bill is dropped and when it is voted on. There are too many pieces of legislation (25,000+ last session) for serious consideration to be given.
To do it differently, more bills need to be pre-filed instead of dropped in the middle of the session when there’s no time for examination, rules and procedures need to be consistently followed, and they need to stop spending money like a billion dollars in taxpayer money is no big deal. HD80 voters are willing to invest in common goods like infrastructure, public safety, and education – but we need returns on that investment, not an ever-expanding money pit where 5% of the budget is spent just on debt service. And legislators need to be willing to do what their constituents want, not just the party caucuses.
Alan Cole: Being a part of the governing body will give me an opportunity to improve its functionality.
Meagan Hanson: I would like to see the General Assembly focus more on issues like education, transportation, and taxes that are priorities for citizens of House District 80. Too much time is spent grandstanding on high-profile issues while the real problems facing our communities are left to languish.
Question 7: Do you support or not support the Religious Liberty Bill? Why?
Catherine Bernard: I would vote no on a bill like HB757, which provided for public funding for organizations engaged in religious discrimination. I support the right of conscience for all persons and organizations, even if we don’t agree with the morality of their choices, but it is never appropriate to use taxpayer money to support discrimination of any stripe. I do support rolling back existing laws that allow individuals and organizations to be sued for discrimination, if they’re not using public funds or violating contracts.
Alan Cole: I support Governor Deal’s decision and his reasoning.
Meagan Hanson: There was more than one religious liberty bill proposed last session. While I strongly support Governor Deal’s veto of the final version of HB 757, I was in favor of the original Pastor Protection Act, non-discriminatory legislation that protected clergy from being forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. I did not and will not support any religious freedom legislation that can be used to discriminate against my fellow Georgians.
Question 8: Do you support or not support Campus Carry? Why?
Catherine Bernard: I support the entire Bill of Rights, which means that adults should be able to make the choice of how to responsibly defend themselves in a given situation. Working in the criminal justice system, I examine a lot of criminal activity and talk to a lot of people involved (criminals, victims, law enforcement, the falsely accused, etc.) – and the prospect of an armed victim is a powerful deterrent to crime in general. Since we all prioritize both public safety and individual rights, for professors and students and everyone else, we should make sure that our policies respect the goal of protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Please see my answer to #10 on gun control for further discussion.
Alan Cole: I support Governor Deal’s decision and his reasoning.
Meagan Hanson: I support the rights of lawful gun owners to bear arms under the Second Amendment; however, as Governor Deal noted in his decision to veto House Bill 859, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison prohibited students at the University of Virginia from “keep[ing] or us[ing] weapons or arms of any kind” while on campus. If our Founding Fathers did not believe that having guns at an institution of higher learning was a good idea, I have a hard time disagreeing.
Question 9: Do you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception? Are there any restrictions you would or would not approve of?
Catherine Bernard: I support keeping government out of health care decisions, including while a woman is pregnant. But I am pro-life: as a matter of science, life begins at the point of conception, and as technology improves and we see more of the gestation process it becomes easier and easier to understand why so many believe that abortion is murder. So, how to resolve these perspectives in a way that respects everyone’s rights?
My proposal: zero public funding for abortion or contraception, but all contraception should be available over-the-counter. And let’s fight for a culture that respects and protects everyone’s lives, and that doesn’t prevent women from getting the health care they and their doctors believe that they need, while also not forcing others to subsidize decisions that they consider deeply immoral.
Alan Cole: I support “Right to Life”.
Meagan Hanson: I believe a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body. I also believe in the sanctity of life and that we have a moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. When that obligation interferes with a woman’s rights, we must protect the unborn child. However, I do believe in the exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the health of the mother.
Question 10: Do we need more gun control in Georgia?
Catherine Bernard: No, but our laws could be improved. And it’s important to note that being elected as a representative isn’t an opportunity to advance a personal agenda, it’s a duty to represent the interests of the district. Since gun control is an issue on which HD80 is not united (though there are a lot of pro-2nd Amendment folks who feel like their position is not socially popular, so they’re quiet about it), it’s not appropriate as a signature legislative push from the HD80 representative – especially not when there are so many other important, principled priorities where we DO have broad agreement.
Taking on the corrupt structure of economic development laws in Georgia, bringing some sanity to health care and education spending, and reforming the justice system to improve public safety are going to be huge tasks. Gun laws will be relevant to some part of that (especially the justice/public safety aspect), so I’ll always be candid about my perspective (gained from lots of study and experience and discussion with a variety of people), but to my friends who oppose campus carry – one thing we agree on is that the Georgia legislature spends WAY too much time talking about guns. To my friends who, like myself, want to reduce unconstitutional restrictions on rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights: time spent talking about it does not equal good rights-protecting legislation, as we’ve seen – it’s more of a noisy smokescreen to keep everyone riled up and distracted while they pass more laws cramming subsidized development into desirable communities like ours.
Alan Cole: No.
Meagan Hanson: I strongly support efforts designed to make Georgia safer, but restricting the rights of lawful gun owners is not the answer. I believe that we should focus our efforts on keeping guns out of the wrong hands—convicted criminals and the mentally ill—not limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens.
- To learn more about Catherine Bernard and her campaign, please visit her website here.
- To learn more about Alan Cole and his campaign, please visit his website here.
- To learn more about Meagan Hanson and her campaign, please visit her website here.
The Post would like to thank Ms. Bernard, Mr. Cole and Ms. Hanson for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope the candidate responses provide insightful information to further educate the District 80 voters.