By Arielle Robinson
The Courier spoke with Seth Synstelien, one of several Republican candidates who is challenging US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in the 14th district.
Synstelien is one of the candidates of both parties who hope to unseat Greene.
To read about the other candidates, click here.
Talk about your background. Who are you and why did you decide to become involved in politics?
“A lot of politicians say ‘I’m not a politician’ but I truly am not a politician. I have been in government for a while. I am a US Marine, I’m a former law enforcement officer, I’ve worked for the University System of Georgia, and I’ve been a small business owner.
“And so I know what it’s like when bad policy is enacted, because I’ve been the rubber that meets the road for politicians and bureaucrats. I’ve seen how it affects the public and those who serve the public.
“[How I got into politics] really started with when the incumbent said that there was fraud on the ballots, and then she didn’t bother to step down or call for a special election or anything. In fact, she capitalized on what she said was fraud, and so that was an inconsistency of action for me. That’s one thing about me, I believe that words and actions should be consistent.”
What are three top issues you see affecting residents within the 14th district and how would you aim to fix them?
“Well, as a veteran, I’ve been both a victim and a beneficiary of the VA. I have had great experiences and horrible experiences with the VA. I know I’m not alone there. My work as an academic has been advocating for veterans. I’m on the board of directors of a veterans service organization, we work with legislative advocacy there, and I’m trying to make sure that one of my goals is to streamline the VA process.
“There’s plenty of people here in the 14th district who depend on the VA for their medical care, and yet they’re driving down to Decatur for appointments, possibly just to not get seen and so there’s something else there. Our VA system is not doing well at the moment. Our claims inventory has increased from about 325,000 in 2018 all the way to 587,000, according to this last fiscal year report.
“I think we need to streamline the process. In fact, that’s one thing that I plan on doing is streamlining that process. The way you do that is opening access to things like community care, allowing veterans to go get seen as soon as they’re sick, so that way, they’re not waiting six months to actually get seen for what ails them. There’s folks who have suffered from toxic exposure and they’re not being cared for.
“We need to make sure that people who have been exposed to toxic substances are cared for regardless of the war, regardless of where it was. You have people [exposed to] burn pits in Iraq, yet the VA and the Department of Defense are going back and forth administratively on whether or not those veterans deserve care, or they rate care, I should say. And it’s not like their claims are being heard, because of the ginormous claimant inventory.
“So we need to remove some of the back and forth with the VA and the DOD. They both have their own unique medical systems and it’s a political nightmare trying to get them to communicate with each other with good data. So we need to start bringing in outside data that’s available already because we’re footing the bill for this laundry cycle of going back and forth with veterans’ medical records. That’s not a smart use of our money. We need to actually be taking care of the vets — because funding isn’t an issue, we have plenty of funding to take care of veterans — it’s a matter of getting them the help they need.
“Another thing that we can do for that is presumptive service connection. That means if a person has served in an area and a bunch of veterans from that area have the same kind of symptoms, get them the medical care they need right away and make sure that they don’t have to wait until it’s too late to actually treat them. And we can do that, we truly can do that. That’s a major topic that affects the people of the 14th, our residents, our grandparents, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins. We need to make sure that they’re taken care of.
“Second, we need to bring broadband internet out to rural Georgia, to northwest Georgia. There’s a shocking number of folks here in the 14th district that don’t have reliable, quality internet and that is a necessity these days. One of the things that I do is work for a program for the University System of Georgia that gets people trained for financial technology jobs in Atlanta.
“If you didn’t know this, Atlanta has 71 percent of the financial transactions in the United States, they’re housed there [Editor’s note: the figure is even higher than the candidate states. Over 70 percent of global transactions reportedly go through Atlanta]. So there’s a good chance that if someone swipes their card somewhere in the United States, it goes through Atlanta. Our financial technology sector is booming and just through the lens of financial technology, if we can get internet to these places in northwest Georgia that otherwise don’t have it, we’re able to bring some of the same training and quality of life that people who live in or near the perimeter have where these opportunities just might not be there.
“See, this is a big deal also because the FCC spent $9 billion — with a B — on bringing internet to rural areas. And yet we still have all of these folks — too many of my neighbors — that don’t have access to that. [With broadband] we will be able to get more people more internet, which will bring in new training opportunities for promotions at their current job, new remote opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. It’s a critical part of infrastructure today, because our economy is becoming more and more digital.
“Third, we need accountability in governing. That means things like term limits. We have people who start their career as a politician and end their career as a politician. And every time they run for reelection, it becomes less and less about their constituents and more and more about special interest money that they take that helps them with reelection. We need to ensure that there’s term limits, that members of Congress aren’t getting rich at our expense.
“For instance, if someone is about to pass a law that affects defense spending, if they end up investing their money in a defense contractor right before they shape the law, that just by itself is a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, our incumbent did that recently, where we were going to decide on sending more Javelin missiles to Ukraine and yet, we have members of Congress investing in Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors right before passing laws that decide that.
“If anybody else did that outside of Congress, that’d be called insider trading. If you or me or any other person outside of Congress conducts insider trading, we’d go to prison. For them, it’s just a Tuesday. So they are legitimately getting rich off of us and that affects our district, it affects the nation.
“And I could go on and on about making sure that small business owners aren’t the ones who have to take the undue burden of decisions like that, but that would be a completely other topic. We need to make sure that our small business owners are not getting squeezed while those who can afford to pay their fair share are not paying taxes, or not paying a fair share of taxes. Anyway, like I said, that could be a whole other topic.”
How do you feel about Georgia’s economic and medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
“It’s really easy to Monday morning quarterback this in hindsight, however, we do need to make sure that government is not overreaching. I think this tax season shows that we did some really good things economically. We had a budget surplus and that directly translated to I believe it was a $500 tax rebate on every Georgian citizen. Financially and fiscally, we made sure that our small business owners did not take as bad of a hit as they absolutely could have.
“But the pandemic was hard for everybody and not everybody fared well through it. So there could always be improvement, but that’s where we need to take data, we need to take facts, and we need to learn from those. It was a travesty that the disease was politicized. The sickness should not have been one that was used for fearmongering or virtue signaling.
“A person who took precautions during COVID should not have done so out of fear, should not have been bullied into it, it should have been out of compassion. Still today, anything that people do, it needs to be out of compassion, not because it’s what an overreaching government says they should do, or what a bullying neighbor says they should do. It needs to be something that they’re doing out of compassion for their neighbor.”
Republican lawmakers in the state have passed laws loosening gun-carrying restrictions, also known as constitutional carry. They say it can deter crime. Do you support constitutional carry? Why or why not?
“I mean, it’s already been signed into law. I think that being a responsible gun owner is guaranteed by our Second Amendment, and I support the Second Amendment, period.
“That said, I also think that it’s necessary for the public to know what it is to carry a firearm. It’s a force multiplier. There’s a saying that when you’re carrying a firearm, you lose every argument. Because what are your options? Are you going to use that firearm against someone because you just simply have it there? No.
“Georgia’s use of force policy is across the board for both private citizens and law enforcement. There’s a test of what would be considered just use of force and folks need to know that, that needs to be public information, because it’s a serious responsibility to carry a firearm. But it’s one that everybody should have the right to.”
Would you support tighter measures on abortion?
“I’m pro-life, I believe life is sacred. That said, I don’t believe that pro-life ends after birth. I believe that kids need to be preserved, the child’s life needs to be preserved. And that means when they’re born and after they’re born. We need to make sure that kids whose parents give them up are able to get to a family.
“It is so hard and so expensive for an average family to adopt a child. We need to make sure that we protect those children while they’re in an institution, but that also we can get them into a family and get them a family who loves them and wants to take care of them, so they don’t end up being in the foster care system for their entire lives.
“Last I heard, folks who lived their entire life in the foster system and become an adult are more likely to be imprisoned, to commit crimes. We got to make sure that we take care of those kids before that happens, that that is not out of the reach of an average family.”
What is your view on Black Lives Matter protests and police/criminal justice reform?
“So like I said, I’m a former police officer, so I know what it’s like when you have a half second to make a decision that either makes you a victim in the headlines, or makes you a villain in the headlines.
“We need to make sure that our police are equipped to deal with unorthodox situations like mental health issues. Going back to the COVID and pandemic question, mental health issues have never been so prevalent as when people were locked inside for a long time. And we need to make sure that our police are equipped to deal with that.
“I was talking to the Paulding County DA recently, and he said that a violent offender in the jail that needs mental health [treatment] has to wait six months before they’re committed. The local government has to wait six months before they’re brought to a mental health facility, and that’s wrong.
“People who need mental health treatment, we need to get them there. Because jailers and deputies, they’re not mental health specialists. It puts an undue burden on them and no one’s being helped there. No one’s being served adequately — the people who serve the public, or the person who is incarcerated. So we need to make sure that there’s better measures in place, and that we support a culture of law enforcement that addresses and is able to adequately respond to mental health issues.”
What is your view on environmental issues like climate change?
“I believe that a person who professes their faith needs to live it. I believe that we are supposed to be good stewards, that we were put here by the Creator to be a steward of this environment.
“And so that means that we are to be good with what we’re given, that we’re not supposed to destroy it because we can. That means that if there are ways to reduce environmental impacts that are practical, that are pragmatic, that we should take those avenues.
“But that said, we are stewards of it, we are in charge of it. And so it is our prerogative of how we use it. But I do believe that at the end, that we’ll have to be accountable for how we use our environment. ”
What is your view on education?
“I believe that the American citizen has two ways of defending themselves. They have the way of defending themselves mentally — with our First Amendment — the ability to speak about what we want to, ask questions about what we want to, to believe things even if they’re not true. We have the right to learn about whatever we want to learn.
“Where our second defense is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, which is a right to firearms. That’s our physical right to defend ourselves. And I think if you take away either one of those, that the American citizen is vulnerable to attacks from enemies — foreign or domestic. So it is imperative that we have a strong school system and that we have strong access to firearms.”
What are your views onSB 202, the voting law which critics on the left say willrestrict voting rightsfor historically marginalized communities?
“I think that it’s really important that we have a secure election, specifically, we got to make sure that American citizens are voting, that people who are eligible to vote are voting. Now, if we don’t have a way of seeing that that person is eligible, then anyone could vote as many times as they want.
“The thing about that, though, is those who are economically challenged, they might not have easy access to identification. So we need to make sure that as a state, that as we secure our voting process, that we don’t let eligible voters fall behind or fall through the cracks.”
Do you think the 2020 presidential election was a free and fair election?
“So the 2020 election, there’s a lot of talk about fraud. There’s not a question of whether there was fraud. The question is, was there enough fraud to influence the election? And I believe that when we look at the court cases, the evidence that was brought to Trump-appointed judges, they did not see enough fraud to influence the election.
“People need to remember that poll workers are our neighbors. They are us. The people who are poll watchers, poll workers — they are people from our community. And so it’s not like they are some big scary, boogie monster of people who are not from your community. This is your own community that watches the polls, that conducts voting. So people need to remember that, too.
How would you characterize the people who overran the US Capitol last year?
“Ten people have been charged with seditious conspiracy — that’s a lesser charge than treason. There are a number of people who were there to subvert our free and fair elections. And then there are also people who were there to protest, people who did not go with the intention of subverting democracy.
“And we have to make sure that there is a distinction between those who would interfere with an election and those who believe that there was enough fraud to influence an election, because there’s a big difference.
“Justice needs to be equal. Justice needs to be across the board. Whether it was a protester in Portland who burned down a police station, or whether it’s a rioter at the Capitol who was assaulting police, there needs to be justice applied equally to both. It doesn’t matter what party or what side they believe in. Justice is supposed to be blind.”
Would you have voted to certify the election of Joe Biden?
“I’m a data guy. I say show me the data and I would have made my decision based on the data available at that time.”
The 14th Congressional District has recently beenchangedso that Austell and Powder Springs — two majority Black and Democrat-leaning suburban cities in Cobb County have been added to the mostly white, rural, conservative areas of the 14th. How do you appeal to rural, conservative voters while also appealing to suburban, liberal voters?
“That’s an area that I have my earliest memories in, the Powder Springs, Lithia Springs, Hiram area. I grew up right near Brownsville Road. I think the biggest way to appeal to people is just to love your neighbor. When you love someone, when you love something, you protect it. You do what’s best for it.
“You don’t hate them or shun them because you disagree, you come together because they’re your neighbor. It’s important to point out that a representative represents all of their district, not just portions that agree with them. That’s one big difference between me and certain folks who are currently in Congress.
“I believe that we need to represent every single person — that we don’t hate them, and name call — that we show them what we can do for them. And if they don’t know what it means to be a good neighbor, we show them.”
How do you feel about transportation issues in the district?
“Well, I think we need to encourage economy. I think that we need to be considerate of those who live here when we make decisions on zoning and commercial areas, but that’s more of a local issue.
“However, we do need to make sure that economy is bolstered in this district. That means that if there needs to be changes in Congress to foster growth here because that’s what the people want, then that’s what we need to do.”
What is your view on healthcare issues in Georgia and what would you do to improve them?
“As I said before, the VA is something that I’ve dealt with and it is an issue that I am actively involved with, as far as folks getting served. Now, that’s through the scope of veterans.
“We need to make sure that healthcare is affordable, but that our government does not overreach in its decision making. And so we got to be really careful about that, specifically, because look at how the VA is handled.
“There is such a thing as too much government involvement. The government is there to ensure that things are on an equal playing field. And it should not be any bigger than the citizen, but it should not be any smaller than the largest business. So we got to make sure that we’re cautious about the way the government is used in industry.”
Can you talk a little about your endorsers/donors and how much your campaign has raised so far?
“I was the last candidate to register, and as people have heard about me, people have been very generous. And I’m very, very grateful to my volunteers and to those who contribute financially.”
How are you reaching out to voters to get your message heard?
“I’m making sure that I have a strong online presence, that I’ve been building. I’ve been visiting local events, going and approaching people in public, and knocking on doors.”
What makes you the best person to represent the 14th district?
“There’s six of us in the Republican primaries, and of those six, I’m only one of two veterans, and I’m the only one with law enforcement experience. See, the one thing that makes me unique is I have the ability to bring my experience to Congress and make it applicable.
“There’s a lot of good people running right now, but I don’t think as many of them have grit. And that’s one thing that people like about the incumbent, they like that she likes to stir things up. But it’s not enough to stir things up. You need to start scooping things out.
“You can’t drain a swamp if you don’t remove the features that make it a swamp. I know how to communicate and be direct with people in ways that are more than just shaking fists and stomping feet and name-calling. Also when it comes to doing the right thing, I’m very stubborn about that. And I don’t suffer fools gladly.”
Is there anything else important not mentioned here that you would like to make sure voters know about you and/or your campaign?
“I’m a dad. That’s what I am first and foremost. I don’t come from a line of politicians, I don’t have deep connections to political figures. But yet I am where I am. I’ve been able to earn my education and walk among social groups that are of varying demographics and financial backgrounds, and that gives me a unique perspective.”
To learn more about Synstelien, visit his website.
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She is the current president of the university’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and former editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records. She enjoys all kinds of music and reading poetry and non-fiction books.