Health Care, East Cobb cityhood key topics at ECBA candidate forum

Article on Cobb Swearing in of newly elected Cobb County officials illustrated byby photo of absentee ballot drop boxBallot drop at the South Cobb Government Center (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Health issues including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (how to safeguard both lives and the economy) was one of two dominant topics at a candidate forum sponsored by the East Cobb Business Association Tuesday.

The other was the for-now-failed East Cobb cityhood effort-with some participants saying that little support appears to exist for it and that it was unnecessary.

“We have had a failed leadership response,” said Luisa Wakeman, Democratic candidate for Georgia State House District 43, in response to a question about how Governor Brian Kemp has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. “We have a governor who prioritized opening tattoo parlors over protecting our students and teachers. We need to elect people who will listen to health care experts.”

She also charged that opponent Republican incumbent State Rep. Sharon Cooper told a legislative gathering in mid-March that “the novel Coronavirus was just like the common flu.”

 Cooper called the allegation “hearsay” and said that she never equated the two. She said Governor Kemp has followed the lead of “one of the best epidemiologists in the country.” And she defended him as working to get the economy moving again while also protecting vulnerable residents.

“Unfortunately everyone decided to be a nurse or doctor and put on a white coat and become an expert on the virus without looking at credentials.” she added.

State Rep. Matt Dollar, incumbent Republican hopeful in House District 45, also bore down on both health and economic concerns.

 His take? “I think the biggest issue is safely reopening the economy. We all need to be safe but people still need a job to go to.”

“We are doing great,” he said. ”We are primed for a fast recovery.”

Opponent and Democrat Sara Tindall Ghazal agreed safely navigating through Covid was of paramount importance but said “from all indications things are probably going to get worse before they get better.”

She said the crisis has highlighted health care deficits facing Georgia.

Ghazal said that while the state remains an economic success, it ranks 46th in health care, citing such metrics as maternal mortality rates and access to health services.

A pair of incumbents touted their initiatives and credentials in response to a question on how they would handle health care matters.

 Cooper stressed her success in securing support for a program aimed at increasing Medicaid for new mothers from two until six months to help prevent maternal deaths, getting 20 million dollars for the program in a tight budget year.  She also said she had backed the bill allowing the federal government to apply for waivers to the Affordable Care Act allowing for a limited expansion of Medicaid. A pair of waivers was recently approved by federal officials.

Incumbent Republican District 32 State Senator Kay Kirkpatrick invoked the health sector as well. Citing her more than 30 years as a “front-line physician” and business leader as enabling her to learn how to get things done.

Christine Triebsch, the Democrat who seeks the seat, criticized the lack of a broad Medicaid expansion, calling it  “heartbreaking and close to negligence.”

Kirkpatrick also spoke out against State Rep Matt Dollar’s introduction of a bill that would chart a path toward cityhood for East Cobb, saying she didn’t sense much support for the proposal. She added that if proponents made an effective case the question could be put to voters.

Dollar later stressed that the bill, which died at the end of the 2019 session, was not designed to create a city of East Cobb but could have resulted in a referendum.

He claimed that “I was not out pushing cityhood. I told the organizers that that had to be their role. When I saw that the support was not there…I killed the bill.”

Triebsch likewise delivered some stinging criticism of the proposal, saying “it was snuck in” at the end of the 2019 session.

“I believe it was a colossal waste of money and energy to have this bill drop without talking to the citizens,” she said. The proposal also drew little support from at least one other speaker who said that support appeared scanty.

Supporters have indicated they wish to push the idea again in 2021.

The debate also drew two candidates for the Cobb County District 2 commission seat, replacing Bob Ott. Democrat Jerica Richardson and GOP hopeful Fitz Johnson agreed on the need for extending the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that is up for a vote on the Nov. 3 ballot. But they disagreed on the most important issue facing voters, with Johnson saying that public safety ranked at the top. Richardson put COVID recovery first, urging a coordinated approach.

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