On July 22, south Fayette voters will have two choices to make for the next state senator for the 16th District to replace the retiring Ronnie Chance.
To help those voters, The Citizen asked each candidate what makes them stand out from the other. Ironically, though their replies were different, the answers from Marty Harbin and David Studdard were essentially the same: “my background.”
The district stretches from Fayette County into Spalding, Lamar and Pike counties. Harbin was the leading vote-getter with 26.3 percent and Studdard wasn’t too far behind at 21.57 percent.
The other five candidates who split the vote to force the runoff are automatically off the runoff ballot, as only the top two finishers are chosen. That leaves out W.G. “Bill” Johnston of Griffin, who narrowly missed second place by a margin of 73 votes.
Voters will choose between two Fayette candidates in the runoff. Both are local businessmen: Harbin runs an insurance agency with financial planning services, while Studdard runs his own law firm as a local attorney.
Though both have been active in the Republican Party, Harbin can boast Tea Party credentials as a founding member of the South Atlanta Tea Party in 2009. Studdard, meanwhile, has a background of 17 years in law enforcement with the Atlanta Police Department and has served for five years as a prosecutor as part of his 10-year legal career.
Harbin said one of the important qualifications he considers part of his candidacy is his family, having been married for 36 years and raised six children. He also touted his role as a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist in Fayetteville and his efforts in 2008 working on the Mike Huckabee presidential campaign.
“I’ve had 37 years in business,” Harbin said. “I’ve worked with businesses and individuals. … I have a pretty good idea of tax regulations, what goes on there for businesses and families, and I realize we have a lot of regulations we really could do without, and that Uncle Sam seems to want to stick his nose in all our business.”
Studdard said his career has focused on public service, starting back in the Navy from 1984-1988 and being one of the early members on the “Red Dog” unit before working on the SWAT team and retiring as a homicide investigator.
“I have been a public servant most of my life, the better part of 25 years, to my community and country,” Studdard said, noting that he previously served as chairman of the Fayette County Republican Party and has been active in the party’s 3rd district as well.
Studdard said he too benefits from being a small business owner.
“I run a small company, and I have the same expenses, the same payroll and the same need to meet overhead, all the same concerns any other business person would have,” Studdard said. “I understand what it takes to run a small business and be successful.”
Harbin said the state needs to cut back its reliance on the federal government with 32 percent of the state’s revenues coming from the feds, which will allow Georgia to “say no” to the strings that are attached to that money.
“There’s an old saying that if you take the king’s money, you’ll do the king’s bidding, and to some degree I think we’re faced with that as a state,” Harbin said. “We need to become independent of the federal government.”
The largest two costs in the state budget are education and transportation including roads, Harbin said, noting that transportation money is drying up due to lower fuel sales tax revenue as vehicles are getting more gas mileage.