GOP hopefuls pledge smaller government

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Republican primary is filled with candidates for the state House of Representatives who pledge to uphold conservative values.

Many have said they support zero-based budgeting and aspire to revamp the tax code. They want to cut spending but protect essential services like education and public safety, crack down on illegal immigration and stimulate job growth.

The candidates have a range of political experience -- some are new to the political scene, while others have years of elected experience. Their reasons for seeking office and ways in which they'll be effective also differ.

Here's a look at the seven contested House races in the Republican primary:

House District 51

A political newcomer is challenging incumbent Tom Rice for his seat in the House.

Rice, a Republican from Peachtree Corners, is running for an eighth term in the House.

"I've done this seven times, and there's always unfinished business," Rice said. "There's work to be done."

For example, Rice said he wants to continue working on a bill that will replace the "birthday tax" on vehicles with a one-time title fee.

"It'll be a hard slog," he said, "... but hopefully we'll be able to pass that this coming year."

Rice said he also wants to give residents of Peachtree Corners the chance to vote on becoming an incorporated city.

His opponent in Tuesday's primary election, Peachtree Corners resident Neal Towey, said it will take new blood to make the changes that need to be made in the state legislature.

"I'm a Constitutionalist who believes the federal government should confine itself to its enumerated powers. There's no incumbent who's suddenly going to adopt that philosophy," Towey said. "I don't see any way out of this economic crisis beside limiting government to its constitutional authority."

If elected, Towey said he wants to fight federally mandated health care, get rid of No Child Left Behind and establish a FairTax system.

The winner of the primary election will face Brooke Nebel, an Independent, in the Nov. 2 general election.

House District 98

A self-proclaimed history buff and a former Gwinnett County Commission chairman are running for the House seat that is being vacated by Bobby Reese, who is running for U.S. Congress.

Josh Clark, a Buford resident who owns a business in Suwanee, said his interest in history began in high school. He said his passion for learning about the Founding Fathers created a drive for preserving the nation's liberty and freedom.

"I believe we need a fresh, bold and conservative voice to fight for us," he said. "I believe I can be that for the citizens of this district. ... We need at all levels of government public servants that are capable and willing and free to serve to people and not special interests."

If elected, Clark said he would support legislation that would fight illegal immigration, promote job growth and reduce unemployment rates.

Wayne Hill, a Suwanee resident who served as the Gwinnett County Commission chairman for 12 years, said he learned a tremendous amount as the top elected official in Gwinnett County government and he'd like to have the opportunity to serve the residents again.

Hill said he's prepared to address several issues in the legislature, including getting the economy going again, addressing the cuts to education and working on the state water issues.

"I think the House needs leadership," he said. "With me, there won't be on-the-job training. I've been involved, and I think that's what's needed right now."

House District 101

The former chairman of the Gwinnett Republican Party will face a political newcomer in next week's primary. They are running for the seat formerly occupied by Mike Coan, who decided to take a sabbatical from politics after being tapped by Gov. Sonny Perdue as administrator of a worker's compensation-related fund.

Lawrenceville resident Buzz Brockway said he's been active in Republican politics for a while. He led the Gwinnett Republican Party from 2003 to 2005 and has managed several campaigns.

"Politics has been a passion of mine for a long time," he said.

Brockway said he wants to focus on encouraging job growth and prioritize state spending.

"The biggest thing is we've got to change the way we approach spending," he said. "Just like families do, we've got to prioritize spending. ... I want to instill that mind-set in our state government."

Jesse Jones, a graduate of Collins Hill High School, said he decided to run because he wasn't happy with the way things were going at the state level. The major issues he'll pursue are implementing term limits for legislators and reorganizing the state budget while protecting funding for schools and emergency personnel.

"I'm not a party follower," Jones said. "I'm running on the Republican ticket because I'm conservative, but I'm not a member of a party."

When making decisions, Jones said he's willing to listen to both sides of an issue and "figure which is the better way to go."

House District 102

Four Lilburn residents are vying for Clay Cox's House seat. Cox is leaving the state legislature to run for U.S. Congress.

Steve Allen said his experience in lobbying for the Georgia Power Co. will be useful because he knows how things work and how to get things done at the Capitol.

"I've got the background to represent the people in my district effectively," he said. "I feel like I can get good committee assignments and get started on day one. I understand the issues that are important at the Capitol, and I understand the issues of the district.

"Plus ... I have the time to take a part-time job to work full time for the people of this district."

Linda Carsten, a business owner, said she's passionate about Lilburn and will truly represent the people. She said she's lived in Lilburn for 30 years and is invested in her community.

"I decided to run because I really feel that I can make a difference," she said. "I consider myself the citizens' candidate. ... I think we need a business woman (in the seat) with a business woman's mind-set. (And that's) if we don't have it, don't spend it.

"I think we'll benefit greatly from having a common sense business woman's approach."

B.J. Pak, a partner at a law firm, said he wants to work toward a transformation of ethics in state government.

"In government at every level, citizens have lost confidence in elected officials," he said. "I've worked in public service (as a federal prosecutor) for a long time, and the idea of doing public service has been ingrained in me since 9/11."

Pak said he's in favor of term limits and, if elected, he pledges to run no more than three terms. Having term limits will eliminate the incumbency advantage and bring new people and new ideas into the legislature.

Keith A. Royal, also an attorney, said he thinks he would be effective in office because he was able to build a successful law firm by working hard, treating people with respect and dealing with them honestly.

Royal said his engagement in community during the 16 years he's lived in Lilburn and the support he has received from other elected officials and community organizations will benefit him.

"When I take office in January, I can hit the ground running," he said. "I don't have to spend six to eight months cultivating relationships. ... I'm willing to go to work for ... reasons that are pure in heart."

The winner of next week's primary -- or an Aug. 10 runoff if no one receives a majority of the votes -- will face Democrat Porter Deal in the general election.

House District 103

Incumbent David Casas is being challenged for his seat by a political newcomer.

Casas, a Lilburn resident who works in educational reform, said his experience as a legislator is beneficial, as he understands how the legislative process works and has built relationships with other legislators.

"I'm still doing the work as far a representing this district for our conservative values," he said.

Casas said one of his top priorities is bringing jobs to Georgia and reducing taxes to make Georgia more attractive to new businesses and those looking to relocate. He also wants to work to improve education by vertically aligning testing in schools, which will provide data that will allow schools to measure how individual students have progressed from grade to grade.

Steve Ramey, a Buford High School graduate who lives in Lilburn, said he decided to run because he's tired of the cronyism at the state level.

"I'm a true conservative who will adhere to the Republican policies of lower taxes and smaller government," he said.

Ramey said he will work toward lowering corporate taxes to bring more jobs to Georgia, removing illegal immigrants from the state, and implementing a local option sales tax to remove the tax burden from homeowners. He said he also wants to make English the official language of Georgia.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Allan Burns in the general election.

House District 104

Two first-time candidates -- a retired educator and a small business owner -- hope to challenge Democratic incumbent Lee Thompson for his House seat.

Valerie Clark, a 31-year resident of Lawrenceville and former principal of Central Gwinnett High School, said she decided to run because she really cares about the people in her district and wants to promote prosperity and maintain quality of life.

"I really feel I'll have a partnership with the voters," she said. "I know I'll be fiscally conservative, address illegal immigration and promote free enterprise."

The longtime educator also said she'll work to support schools, protect funds for teachers and students, and increase the graduation rate.

Timothy Swiney, who works in real estate, said he's "pretty much just an average guy that's just had enough."

"I'm sort of outside the inner circle of the party," he said. "I have no allegiance to anybody but the voters. ... My interest is in taking care of the voters -- the average people who work for a living."

Swiney said his top priorities are addressing illegal immigration and abolishing the property and income taxes in favor of a consumption tax.

"I'm anxious to get up there and make some waves," he said.

A third person on the Republican primary ballot, Gary Webb, declined to participate in interviews, as he has suspended his campaign.

House District 106

A former Snellville mayor and a former city councilman are facing off for a seat being vacated by Melvin Everson, who is running for labor commissioner.

Snellville resident Warren Auld said his experience on the Snellville City Council, the skills and training he has as an attorney, his understanding of the law and his commitment to the community will allow him to be effective in office.

If elected, he said he'll work to pass legislation that requires more transparency and accountability on the local level for land deals and zoning, address illegal immigration and support zero-based budgeting.

"This (economic) crisis is in fact an opportunity for us to tear down government to the limited level and build up private enterprise to bring prosperity back to the state and county," he said.

Brett Harrell, a former Snellville mayor, said it can be difficult to get people united behind a goal and a vision, but he said he was able to do so as mayor of Snellville and later as the executive director of the Evermore Community Improvement District.

As mayor, Harrell said he united Snellville to build City Hall, the senior center and a recycling facility, all while cutting taxes. When he led the CID, he said he united 469 property owners along U.S. Highway 78 to work with the state Department of Transportation on a $60 million safety and improvement project.

"I'm the only candidate in this race that's demonstrated effectiveness," he said.

The winner will face Democrat Steffini Bethea in the general election.