On Wednesday morning, farmers, Future Farmers of America members and Decatur County Farm Bureau members gathered at the Cloud Livestock Building in Bainbridge for a forum featuring District 173 state House candidates, incumbent Darlene Taylor and challenger Don Clark.
“We have a strong legislative branch for agriculture at the local, state and national levels. That’s the reason we are here today, and we are thankful for the two candidates we have for this position,” said Alan Davis, Decatur County Farm Bureau president.
Moderator was Jeff Nunnery, Ninth District Georgia Farm Bureau field representative.
A series of questions compiled by a Decatur County Farm Bureau committee on agriculture and education were presented for each candidate to answer.
Taylor said she is on the House Agriculture Committee and Appropriation for Healthcare.
She said, “My beliefs are of the founding fathers’ beliefs. My job is to help you succeed. People in this area are in my best interest. Farming is a family business, so I understand the importance of it. I welcome the opportunity to continue serving you.”
Clark recently completed a 30-year career with University of Georgia agriculture extension services in Grady and Thomas counties. Growing up, he was active in FFA and 4-H. He has managed farms and cattle production.
“I knew what farmers faced on a daily basis. I chose to run for representative in this area because I want to serve the people of the district and help the people full time,” said Clark.
Taylor believes there are several issues with agriculture in South Georgia. Some of the issues she touched on during the forum were preserving the family farm, young people’s interest in agriculture, inheritance taxes and immigration.
She said, “With the young people, I believe we have great programs set up for them in Georgia schools that keep them interested.”
Clark felt the greatest issues with agriculture in South Georgia are the availability of water, ag commodity associations to increase markets to continue, value added to commodities that are grown closer to home and economic pest management.
“All of these things work together and are critical in sustainable agriculture,” said Clark.
In Georgia, some animal rights groups are working to regulate certain aspects of farmers’ animal production.
Taylor does not agree with the animals rights groups and thinks there is too much regulation. She explained that she and her family raise donkeys.
“There is no way I would want these groups interfering with my small business. This is only on a very small scale. I could not imagine raising a crop and have someone come in who does not understand it and dictate to us what is wrong. I will do everything I can to stand up against these groups and keep these folks out of our farm business,” said Taylor.
Clark explained that the abuse he sees towards animals usually comes from non-farmers rather than farmers. To Clark, animal agriculture versus animal rights is something farmers have been dealing with for some time.
He said, “Farmers are the best stewards of their land and with their livestock and animals on the farm. Personally, the abuse I’ve seen when I have been pulled in by the county several times has come from non-farming people. Most of the time these people get animals that they can’t afford, and that’s the type thing I’ve seen over the past 40 years.”
Clark believes animal rights groups grab the media’s perception of cases that only happen about 10 percent of the time.
“They blast it all over social media trying to convince people that farmers are treating their animals like this — which is not true. Anyone in the livestock production business knows how important it is to take care of your livestock,” said Clark.
Nunnery asked candidates about their stance with property rights.
Clark does not believe property owners should be watched.
He said, “I think private property rights ought to prevail.”
An issue Clark sees that is related to property rights is something he has been exposed to over the years and he thinks should be improved — property owner liability on injured trespassers.
“If someone is trespassing and they know it, there needs to be some legislation that the property owner is not held liable. Right now, they are being held accountable for injured trespassers,” he said.
Taylor said she is a strict believer in the constitution and in her mind there are few issues that will ever “trump” private property rights.
The question of immigration was presented to the candidates.
Taylor began with, “This is a big can of worms that we have to open up, dump on the table and observe.”
She claimed the issue of immigration has no one good answer — and the federal government has failed miserably.
“I’ve been trying to get legislators to come here and get familiar with rural area. They need to see what life is like on the farm. For fruit and vegetable farmers, they were hurt by the legislation passed by the federal government (The Immigration Bill). We fought hard to get it weakened, but it is still not what we needed,” said Taylor.
Clark agreed that farmers need the immigration labor.
He said, “It’s critical to us. We don’t have local labor available to us anymore. We’ve got to protect the labor we have.”
After the farming questions, the candidates were asked about education.
Nunnery asked, “Funding for education was increased in this year’s state budget, but we are still short from where we were five years ago. Would you support funding increases to public education, and how would you work with other legislators and educators to make this a priority?”
To Clark, education funding is a priority, as well as youth development programs, such as 4-H and FFA.
He said, “To free up money for education, we are going to have to free up money from somewhere else. We’ve got to have a balanced budget and look for other sources of income. No one wants to see taxes go up, however.”
Taylor responded by saying, “I’m a steward of taxpayers’ money, and I will always stand up and speak loudly and forcefully for our children.
“I was a big part of the force to increase education funding. This budget is the biggest increase in education funding within the past seven years. The smartest investment our state can make is in education. We need to spend wisely for our children.”
“I’m not a politician, but I understand the problems in this district. I’m familiar with it, and I want to solve some of its problems,” Clark said in closing.
Taylor believes everyone has a purpose, and hers is being the representative for District 173.
She said, “Why do I do this? To repay the community. I have competence I can continue to serve you. I hope this forum has shown you who I am. I have the strength and character to stand up for you.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.