Six Democrats and one independent running for a variety of local offices gathered Thursday for a virtual political forum.
Despite no Republicans accepting an invitation to speak at the only known candidate forum in the Golden Isles for the Nov. 3 general election, candidates shared their positions on different issues and their qualifications to hold public office.
John Richards, forum moderator for the event hosted by A Better Glynn, said the goal of the event was to help people make informed decisions on who should represent them in public office.
Taylor Ritz, a Democratic candidate for the Glynn County Commission at-large Post 2 seat, said she was running because of her frustration with the lack of transparency and accessibility with the current elected officials serving on the board.
She criticized commissioners for the restrictions limiting the public to speak at meetings.
“You can’t make decisions without hearing from the people,” she said. “Their job is to be public servants.”
Ritz said local issues are rarely partisan and the needs of everyone should be considered by elected officials.
Another issue with the commission is the lack of age diversity and new ideas from a large constituency in Glynn County.
“We need young blood and new ideas in our county commission,” she said.
Ritz also addressed the response by commissioners after the protests and criticism about the way the Ahmaud Arbery shooting death in February was handled.
“We’ve had issues this year that show commissioners are not prepared to lead,” she said. “We are past the question about if racism exists in Glynn County.”
Ritz is running against Republican Walter Rafolski for the commission post.
Julian Smith, Democrat candidate for the Glynn County Commission District 2 seat, said there are too many consent agenda items at meetings that he believes need public discussion instead of approval with no discussion.
“I will be a real pain in the (buttocks) to county commissioners,” he said.
Smith said he would like to allow the public to have more opportunities to speak at meetings.
“The county commission needs to hear from its constituents,” he said.
Smith said commissioners seem uninterested in doing anything to address the income inequities that exist. He expressed concerns about low-income residents being forced to move because they can’t afford to live in their homes.
Smith said he supports the incorporation of St. Simons Island to give residents there the ability to determine their own fate.
“St. Simons Island is not allowed to run itself,” he said.
Smith said he would bring a different perspective to the commission other than one that has helped make St. Simons Island a “cash cow for the county.”
Smith is running against Republican Cap Fendig for the commission seat.
Julie Jordan, the Democratic candidate for State House District 179, said she plans to be highly visible and accessible to voters if elected.
“I will represent all of us,” she said.
She vowed not to draft bills the county does not support and to hold town hall meetings quarterly to ensure she understands the concerns of constituents.
Jordan said she would also be an active participant in local events.
The ongoing pandemic and the impacts it’s having on many residents is a concern Jordan said has to be addressed. Some people haven’t returned to work and have lost their health care.
She said affordable day care, a higher minimum wage and criminal justice reform are important issues that need consideration by the General Assembly. A justice for all legislation proposal is planned by Democrats that will address no-knock warrants, citizen’s arrests, non-violent arrests, a district attorney oversight commission, anti-chokehold legislation and body camera requirements.
Jordan is running against incumbent Republican state Rep. Don Hogan.
Keith Higgins, the lone independent candidate taking part in the forum, is running for district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.
Higgins said he is running as an independent to show he can serve everyone, regardless of political affiliation. The goal is for positive change in the office by adding more full-time prosecutors to reduce delays, operating more transparently and being available to the public, including holding regular public meetings in each of the five counties in the judicial circuit.
“I want to serve everyone,” he said. “How can you serve someone if you don’t know their needs?”
Higgins said he wants to find ways to reduce recidivism and ensure criminal justice is doled out equally.
“I’m seeking to unite, not divide,” he said. “Criminal justice should not be a partisan issue.”
Higgins is running against incumbent Republican district attorney Jackie Johnson.
Regina Johnson, the Democrat seeking the Glynn County Board of Education Post 2 seat, said her experience as a former teacher qualifies her for the job on a board filled with people with business backgrounds. Johnson said she wants to bring a “global perspective on teaching” that will provide a quality and relevant education to all students enrolled in Glynn County schools.
She said regular meetings with parents, educators and partners will help open communications and improve the school system.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a concern because it affects the safety of staff and students and their families. For students trying to do class work from home, Johnson said there is a “digital divide,” where some students don’t have broadband access at home.
“It’s a chasm we have to address,” she said.
Racism in the community is a concern, but Johnson said none of the current school board members has addressed the issue.
“I’m coming in as an educator,” she said. “You have to address the needs of all. We must address the issues that divide.”
Johnson is running against Republican incumbent Jerry Mancil for the post.
Joyce Griggs, a Democrat seeking the U.S. House District 1 seat, said her experience as a retired Army lieutenant colonel, Bronze Star Medal recipient and service as an Airborne Ranger has taught her about working with people from diverse backgrounds. That experience makes her well-suited to deal with the needs of residents living in the 17 counties of the 1st Congressional District.
“I am a fighter for our district,” she said.
Accountability and accessibility are important to be able to understand the needs of residents, she said.
“I’ll be there for the people,” she said. “How can I articulate their needs if I don’t talk to them?”
Griggs said there is a racial divide despite the common issues everyone shares.
“It’s unfortunate we’re divided,” she said. “We have to find a common goal.”
The ongoing pandemic underscores the need to help small businesses and protect health care.
“We have to be sure we get people back to work but follow the science,” Griggs said.
She also called for eliminating private prisons, changing sentencing guidelines, community policing, a database to track bad cops, and rehabilitation instead of jail as an option in some cases.
Griggs is looking to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Buddy Carter.
Trina Rankin, the Democrat challenger for the Glynn County Tax Commissioner office, said she has been a county employee since 2013, starting in the tax commissioner’s office before promoted in 2015.
Rankin said she has the qualifications to manage the department and a plan to improve public service. Her role as tax commissioner would be to be accessible to help people understand all the exemptions they are eligible to receive and have her staff trained well enough to help if she is not available.
“I plan to be visible as much as possible,” Rankin said. “People are unaware of the exemptions from the state.”
Rankin said she plans to have a good working relationship with employees and promised to work with the city of Brunswick’s tax office if needed.
Rankin is running against incumbent Republican Jeff Chapman.