2012
10.17

This is the second of three planned Candidate Q&A’s for the upcoming November election. Questions were e-mailed to both candidates for GA House District 1, Tom McMahan and John Deffenbaugh. The candidates are competing to replace Rep. Martin Scott in a district representing all of Dade County plus communities in Western Walker – Kensington, Lookout Mountain, Flintstone, and Rossville. While residents of LaFayette cannot vote in this race, it does matter to many LU readers and will impact the future of Walker County in several ways.

This is the second Q&A Mr. Deffenbaugh has refused to answer in 2012.

LU: What is your full name, and what name do you generally go by?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Thomas A. McMahan. “Tom” is fine.

LU: What is your age?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: 45. I’ll turn 46 on Election Day (Nov 6)

LU: What is your address? (We will only publish the street, not your house number.)

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Rising Fawn GA, New Salem community in Dade County on Lookout Mtn

    Mr. Deffenbaugh has a Lookout Mountain address but lives in Dade County just past Covenant College off Hwy. 189.

LU: How can voters contact you or stay in touch with your campaign? (Please include info like e-mail, phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc. if applicable.)

LU: How long have you lived in the county, and (if applicable) where else have you lived?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: I grew up in Dade County, spending most of my childhood years living on Sand Mountain. After a few years of working/college, I decided to join the Navy. I moved back into the area to begin teaching after receiving my Masters Degree, living in Chickamauga from 2000 to 2003, until I purchased the home I currently live in.

    Deffenbaugh’s campaign Web site says he has “lived over 40 years in Dade County.”

LU: What’s the best thing about living in this community?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Both of my parent’s families have lived in this area since the early 1800s, so I grew up with that heritage. I didn’t really appreciate all that in my youth, wanting to get away and travel, see the world, serve in the Navy as my father had, get the GI Bill to better afford college, and so forth. After over a decade away, however, the combination of family and beautiful environment that I had taken for granted in my youth began to really be missed. Basically, this area is “home” in every sense of that word, and that’s what is best to me.

LU: Starting as early as you want, what kind of education do you have?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: I have a Masters Degree in History from Old Dominion University. I also did my undergraduate work there. I graduated from Northwest Georgia (Dade County) High in 1984. In between, I went through the Navy’s Nuclear Power School, and became a trained nuclear reactor operator, serving on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Persian Gulf War.

    Deffenbaugh’s Web site, again, says he graduated from Covenant College in 1970 with a degree in physics.

LU: What is your current occupation?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: I’m a high school teacher at the Catoosa County Performance Learning Center in Ft. Oglethorpe. I’m a social studies teacher, primarily US History and Economics. The school is Catoosa County’s alternative school.

    John Deffenbaugh is a sales manager for Horizon Electronics in Chattanooga.

LU: What previous jobs or elected positions have you held?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: I have never held elected office. My two primary occupations have been the Navy and teaching, as I’ve already mentioned.

    Deffenbaugh served a single term on the Dade County commission and chaired the Dade Republican Party. He is also retired from the Navy.

LU: Will aspects of your education or job experiences make you a better State Representative? If so please explain.

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Yes. Being an active-duty Navy person and a teacher have given me many years of public service, which is the heart of being a state representative or any elected official. Being a teacher specifically gives me the “boots on the ground” experience that is so lacking in our state legislature concerning our state’s primary purpose. My primary focus while earning my history degree was in southern political history.

    Mountain Valley Independent, 10/12/12: “Deffenbaugh said he has learned as a salesman that you cannot go in and tell people what to do. You have to present what you want done in the best light so they want to do it. That is Deffenbaugh’s plan for Atlanta and he feels it is the most helpful way to get things done. Deffenbaugh also said he has experience working with budgets both professionally and personally and that he was ‘your man’ for professionalism and experience.”

LU: What would you say is the greatest accomplishment of Georgia’s current legislative body?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: I think the penal law reform completed during the last session was a significant achievement, one that was long overdue and hopefully will alleviate a lot of the expense and over-crowding in our state’s prisons.

LU: What would you say is the biggest failure of the sitting legislature?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: A dual failure – Many legislators decided to do the bidding of outside pressure groups while passing HR 1162, the law establishing Constitutional Amendment 1 on this year’s ballot. Also, the failure to tackle Georgia’s transportation problems in a comprehensive way, leading to the T-SPLOST vote in July.

LU: What are your priorities for the 2013-2014 legislative sessions if you’re elected?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: 1) Working to restore funding for public education so all school systems will have a full, 180-day year restored. Currently, 2/3 of Georgia’s school systems are operating on a reduced year, some as low as 120 days. This is a major embarrassment and failure on our state’s part.
    2) Changing the HOPE scholarship so that qualifying students of families making less than $120K/yr will once again receive the 100% full scholarship previously given to all. Qualifying students from families making over $120K/yr will also be eligible, but the level will be gradually reduced until available funds are exhausted. This will stem the loss of college students our state is currently seeing, and that will continue to grow if HOPE funding drops to 50% as is currently being discussed.
    3) Giving our two counties a representative that can be easily reached and who will actively represent us at the state capital.

    Dade Sentinel, 10/03/12: “Both candidates were asked what they would do first if elected to the House. McMahan said he would lobby Georgia to furnish once-a-month driver’s license sessions in Dade. Deffenbaugh said the first thing he would do is get better acquainted with his fellow representatives. ‘As a freshman, I’m going to have very, very little input until I get to know them,’ he said.”

LU: Is there any criteria, philosophy, or overall guideline you will use when deciding what legislation to support or oppose?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: 1) Is it constitutional?
    2) Is it necessary?
    3) Is it cost-effective?
    4) Can it be applied fairly and effectively?

LU: What are the biggest problems faced today by residents of Northwest Georgia, and what (if anything) can you do as a state legislator to make those problems easier to overcome?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: The greatest economic problem is the prolonged high unemployment rate our area has had, which means there are a lot of folks who have effectively lost the skill sets they once had. Developing effective training programs for these workers is something our state needs to begin exploring in order to get our area back to full employment.
    Our greatest political problem is the internal dynamic of our state. From the metro area south, the state still has a competitive system between the two parties. However, north of Metro, for the past decade or so, it has not. This leads to a situation where one party assumes it has us “in its back pocket” and the other party doesn’t offer many significant challenges to that. This causes our district and all of north Georgia to be relatively neglected, even though there are a significant number of experienced legislators from our part of the state. That situation will continue until some kind of competitive balance is restored between the two major parties.
    Otherwise, our district shares most of the same issues as the rest of the state, the ones I mentioned above in my priorities section.

LU: With TSPLOST effectively dead, what will you do as a state legislator to ensure road maintenance is adequately funded in House District 1?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: First, vote to overturn the penalty that came attached with a ‘No’ vote. Our 2 counties as well as most in Georgia now face the prospect of having to pay 30% toward any road project vs. the 10% they previously paid. This was put in to simply “bully” counties into voting Yes on T-SPLOST and needs to be removed.
    Second, develop a state-wide infrastructure program. Infrastructure is something that binds the entire state together, and while Georgia for many years had a fine one (roads especially), it is obviously in decline. Taking a regional approach to this problem never made much sense to me, and I hope now that T-SPLOST has failed in 75% of the state, our legislature will be willing to tackle this in a comprehensive way.

LU: Many in Walker County are concerned about cuts to school budgets and new insurance rules putting the squeeze on local libraries. What are your thoughts on funding or reforming education and keeping libraries around the state accessible to citizens?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: On schools, restore funding to the levels that QBE demands. This can’t be done all at once, but it is a state law, one the state legislature has ignored, and by doing so, it has also violated the state constitution, which explicitly states that education is a primary function of the state.
    On libraries, I think the state can relax or even suspend the matching local funds requirement, giving regional systems like Cherokee some breathing room without having to worry about losing state funding. We can at least do this for a couple of years until the economy is restored and regional systems have developed adequate funding arrangements with their county or counties. I do NOT want to see full-time employees losing insurance or other benefits.

LU: Georgia was recently ranked last out of 50 states in regards to ethics laws. Do you feel the state’s ethics laws are adequate and properly enforced, or should legislators work to beef up the rules and add teeth to agencies that enforce them? How do you feel about the proposed $100 gift cap for state legislators?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: No, ethic laws are inadequate and not enforced enough. Yes to “beefing” them up, and I have signed the $100 cap pledge. It is a good beginning.

    As of mid-June Mr. Deffenbaugh had not signed the gift cap pledge.

LU: Another issue that we’re concerned about is accountability for local government leaders and law enforcement. Do you feel local elected officials like judges, prosecutors, commissioners, city leaders, and sheriffs are held properly accountable under existing state laws, or are reforms needed in those areas? If so what reforms would you like to see put into place?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Accountability should always be a concern, and I’m certain can always be improved. However, it will have to be state agencies that do that, and therefore cleaning up our state government’s act will have to take place first in order for effective oversight of local officials to occur.

LU: Georgia is the only state which legally allows sole-commissioner county government. Do you feel a government led by a sole leader can adequately represent the needs of twenty or forty thousand people and remain ethically accountable? As a member of Walker County’s delegation to the General Assembly, would you be willing to propose legislation giving Walker County a board of commissioners if the people request it?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: I much prefer a board of commissioners to a sole commissioner. That decision should be left up to each county, however. Having lived through the same process Walker County is now undergoing many years ago in Dade, I can understand the frustration felt by many within Walker County who want a board. However, the administration of counties should be treated largely as an internal issue for the citizens of those counties to determine. I would not prefer a state-down approach.

    A “state-down” approach is necessary to change the form of government in any sole-commissioner county, because county charters can only be revised by the state legislature – specifically, the legislators from the county being changed. Walker County citizens are essentially at the mercy of Jeff Mullis, Jay Neal, and either Mr. Deffenbaugh or Mr. McMahan to pass a resolution changing the county’s system of governance from a sole commissioner to a multi-member commission, or a resolution allowing the people to vote for which they prefer. That’s why this HD1 race matters for the entire county – it’s become obvious that neither Rep. Neal or Sen. Mullis are willing to take the necessary steps.

    We don’t know Mr. Deffenbaugh’s feelings about a commissioner vs. a commission, but he has served on the multi-member Dade commission and should understand the advantages found with that type of government. However, in past years, only legislators or candidates from the non-dominant political party (in this case the Democratic party of Mr. McMahan) has been willing to rock the boat over having a sole commissioner. Hopefully both men would listen to their constituents, but it seems more likely the people of Walker will get answers they seek on this issue from Mr. McMahan than from Mr. Deffenbaugh.

LU: You and your opponent are both residents of Dade County, running for a district representing both Dade and Walker. Can residents on the Walker side of HD 1 trust you to treat their needs as seriously as the needs of your constituents closer to home?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Certainly. First of all, a political reality – Walker County still makes up approximately 2/3 of the voters in our district. Any representative who fails to treat 2/3 of his/her constituents seriously won’t be around for very long.
    Second, I have family and friends living in Walker County. I myself have lived there (Chickamauga). I drive through Walker County each and every day, I have colleagues I know and respect within the education community in Walker County. I would never fail to treat seriously any place that has so many people within it who mean a great deal to me.
    Third, my experiences and years away from our area have led me to think of NW Georgia as “our area” versus simply a collection of discrete counties. Dade and Walker have so many ties with one another it would be ridiculous to focus merely on one at the expense of the other.

LU: You’re running as a Republican candidate in a Republican-dominated state. Is party unity a high priority to you, or will you place the unique needs of District 1 voters ahead of party agenda/party loyalty if the two ever come into conflict? (Deffenbaugh only)

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

LU: You’re running as a Democrat candidate in a Republican-dominated state. Why should voters in Dade and Walker choose McMahan when a majority of locals normally finds their political views more in line with the party chosen by Mr. Deffenbaugh? (McMahan only)

    MCMAHAN: Most people I know talk about “voting the person, not the party.” I think those are good words to live by. I’m running as a Democrat because that is the party that I’m currently affiliated with and I would never feel comfortable trying to present myself to citizens as something I’m not. I am not a lifelong Democrat. I began my adult life leaning much more toward the Republican Party. Over time, I felt that the Republican Party had become far too ideologically driven and I began to part ways with it, but I didn’t begin to move toward the Democratic Party until after I became a teacher. Given that the state Republican Party began cutting funding to education from the moment it became the majority, and given the increasingly hostile tone and actions of some within that party toward public education, it became a much easier choice for me to move toward the Democratic Party. I don’t always agree with Democratic policies either (what thinking person agrees with any party or ideology 100% of the time?), but the Democratic Party is, without question, more education-friendly.
    I will also refer readers back to a previous answer (in the “biggest problems” question) on the political dynamics of our state and region, and how restoring political competition and balance between the parties will be a healthy thing for our area.
    Finally, the folks just to our south in Chattooga and Floyd have had a Democratic representative for some years in Barbara Massey Reece and seem pretty satisfied with her and her performance.

LU: Please summarize in a single paragraph why residents of GA House District 1 should vote for you in the upcoming election:

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: As a teacher, I have the experience sorely lacking within our state government to contribute to making wiser decisions regarding education, our state’s primary concern. I have deep roots within our district, a great appreciation for north Georgia and the people of Walker and Dade Counties, and enough integrity to not present myself as something I’m not. I will be available and will communicate with our local citizens and local government officials to the best of my abilities. They won’t have to come to Atlanta to me, I will come to them here where we all live.

LU: Is there anything else voters should know about you? Family, faith, philosophy, inspirations, etc.?

    DEFFENBAUGH: [no response]

    MCMAHAN: Youngest of four children, single (divorced a few years ago), Christian – Episcopalian (I attend Good Shepherd on Lookout Mtn), pragmatism/realism would be my philosophical approach to life, I’m inspired by those who give of themselves to serve others because I think that’s the noblest thing a person can do for others, I’m an avid reader of history, science-fiction, and classical literature, I’m a classic prog/rock fan musically (Rush, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Muse among my favorites), and a big baseball and college football fan! I have my strong beliefs and opinions like anyone else, but I’m a pretty analytical person in my approach to problems, and very even-handed in my dealings with people. If I make mistakes, and I will, I own up to them, learn from them, and move on.
    Thanks for your time, God bless!

This is a difficult race to figure out or take a position on. Neither candidate is from Walker County, yet both will represent almost half of the county’s residents in the Georgia House of Representatives. Likewise, House District 2 Representative Jay Neal – who represents the other half of the county – doesn’t live in Walker, either. (He has a Chickamauga address but resides in Catoosa.) That means in January, Walker County will not have a state representative living within its borders for the first time in history. And Senator Jeff Mullis, who does live inside the county, is more interested in representing his out-of-district campaign donors than his neighbors here at home.

There’s not much voters can do about Jay Neal or Senator Mullis this year since neither man has an opponent in the November election. But Walker County voters (at least those on the Western side) do still have a say about who will represent them in the 1st House District – making it important to vote for the man most likely to hear voices from the east AND west sides of Lookout Mountain. So which of these two men is that man?

John Deffenbaugh has been very general in many of his comments during debates and to the media, saying he wants to give the people adequate representation, but not detailing exactly how he would be better than his predecessor or opponent. A response to either of the Q&A’s he’s been sent would make a judgment about him much easier, but his rejection of both inquiries does say a bit about his character and willingness to communicate. Deffenbaugh has been somewhat elusive and hard to nail down or talk to, while Tom McMahan in comparison has been very visible throughout the year, communicates quickly and clearly via e-mail and social media, and has been more willing to take firm public positions about what he actually believes.

Tom McMahan’s better communication with voters/future constituents and status as an “outsider” from the majority political party make him more likely to listen when Walker County asks for a board of commissioners. If the current commissioner is reelected, she’s not going to ask for a change in government – but local delegates to the state capitol can bypass her and give the people a vote in the matter or just change it outright. Deffenbaugh may be too loyal to the current powers-that-be in Walker County to rock the boat with a major overhaul of local government.

The biggest concern about McMahan is his blind opposition to the state Charter Schools amendment. He seems to feel anything that risks competing with failed public schools (for students or funds) should be stopped by any means necessary, and has repeated several myths or falsehoods about what the amendment will or won’t do. (As a public school teacher his stance isn’t surprising.) However, his opposition to the measure doesn’t mean much since it’s already on the ballot and will pass or fail based on voter choice, not the current legislature. (Deffenbaugh has of course not taken a firm position on the issue.) Some have also questioned how McMahan plans to serve as a legislator every year from January to April while still teaching school in Catoosa County.

Ultimately the Underground cannot endorse either John Deffenbaugh or Tom McMahan for State Representative for House District 1. However, that said, voters are advised to be very very careful before choosing to vote for Deffenbaugh since so little is known about his positions. Stripping away party labels, citizens of Western Walker might find Tom McMahan to be what they want – especially if they want a change in county government or a state legislator willing to challenge the status quo.

LaFayette voters can’t vote in the HD1 race, but they can impact that election by sharing this Q&A with friends and associates from places that can. HD1 includes Kensington, Lookout Mountain, Rossville, and Flintstone precincts – voters in those locations will have this race on their ballot.

THE RULES:

Last week the Underground e-mailed candidates for 3 competitive local races (Commissioner, Sheriff, and House District 1) a series of questions. Candidates who have no opponent on the November ballot were not included in questioning.

Candidates were asked to respond to the questions via e-mail by a certain deadline, and were instructed not to share their answers with each other before we made them public. Every candidate in the same race was given the same set of questions except where noted above.

Candidates who did not respond by the deadline have [no response] after their name for each question asked, and candidates who responded but chose to skip certain questions are marked [no response]. Responses received after this point will not be accepted for a full post, but candidates are welcome to add to their responses, answer questions, or respond to our opinions in the comment section below.

Answers are copied directly from e-mail without corrections or changes except for redaction of addresses. Redactions or any editorial clarifications of questions or answers are made in [brackets]. Editorial thoughts are in italics beneath the responses.

More Q&A responses will be posted throughout the week up until early voting begins.

All LaFayette Underground 2012 Election Posts

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