LAWRENCEVILLE - Two-term state Rep. Pedro Marin has never faced a challenger within his own Democratic Party for District 98, but this a year young political newcomer Torry Lewis is changing that.
Marin, who is Puerto Rican, ran unopposed for the newly created district in 2002 and became one of the first three Latinos to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly. When he sought re-election in 2004, Marin had no competition in the Democratic primary race. He went on to defeat Republican challenger George Warren in the general election.
But shaking things up this year is Lewis, a Norcross High School graduate and loss prevention detective at a retail store. At 22, Lewis could become the youngest representative ever elected to the General Assembly if his campaign is successful. Lewis believes he can do a better job representing citizens of District 98, which includes most of Norcross and a small portion of Duluth north of Interstate 85.
The two candidates differ greatly in their stance on the new state immigration law, the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, which was passed during the 2006 legislative session.
The law is one of the strictest in the country, prohibiting most adult illegal immigrants in Georgia from receiving many public services. It also discourages employers from hiring illegal immigrants. Employers cannot receive state income tax benefits if they hire undocumented workers, and they must verify legal residency of any employees working on state contracts.
Marin was one of the few Gwinnett legislators who didn't sign the bill. He said the law will have a negative impact on the state's economy while doing little to correct the problem of illegal immigration. Georgia's economy is driven by agriculture, carpet manufacturing, construction, poultry processing, lodging and food production, all of which require a cheap labor pool, Marin said.
"SB 529 just addresses the symptoms of the problem, not the actual cause, which is the do-nothing federal system," Marin said. "I have always said this is a federal issue. I am just considering the economic implications, and this is a nation addicted to cheap labor."
Lewis, however, said the state has no choice but to address the symptoms of illegal immigration, since the state Legislature doesn't have the authority to close the Mexican border.
"I think SB 529 is a good way for states to take ownership of an illegal immigration problem because of the failing federal system," Lewis said. "Borders need to be secured, but in state government it's not up to us to secure the border. It's up to us to take care of the symptoms."
Marin and Lewis have a similar stance on another hot-button topic. They both are against HB 218, a bill which would allow more secrecy in local and state economic development issues by amending the state Open Records Act.
Marin signed HB 218 when it went through the House this year. However, Marin said he came to regret that decision and he was glad the bill got hung up in the Senate. The bill could be taken up again in the next legislative session.
"It had a harmful side effect of denying the people of Georgia knowledge of what their government is doing and how their tax dollars are being used," Marin said. "If a similar comes up in 2007, I will vote no."
Lewis criticized Marin for being careless with his vote when the issue initially surfaced in the House, and stressed that "all this bill does is bring more corruption to the government."
"People in my district don't want more corruption and they definitely want to be involved in their government services," Lewis said."
Lewis said if elected, he also will work to ensure that no arts or physical education programs are cut due to school funding shortfalls. Both candidates expressed a desire to fully fund education in the next term.