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VOTE SMART Voter’s Guide: Candidate Questions and Answers

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

(A Crossroads Exclusive)

By Deanna Ryan

The beautiful thing about a general election is voters can pick candidates from any party. To help our readers determine the best candidate to meet their concerns, The Crossroads Chronicle has asked district candidates in contested races along with the candidates for state superintendent to answer three to five questions. We’ve posted all responses by their names.

If the candidate did not respond, we’ve listed the following link which provides the general viewpoints of each candidate. All candidates were contacted.

Rick Allen - House of Representatives District 12 - Republican Incumbent


1. Do you believe rural and metropolitan wages should be competitive? If so, how do you propose wages could be raised in Emanuel County?

All politics aside, most Americans share the same goals: we want to keep more of the money we make, and we want to make that money go a little bit further. We want to earn enough money to support our families, and we want to give our children a better life.

The unfortunate reality is that inflation is eating away at workers’ paychecks every month, and it’s affecting people no matter where they live. As a businessman, I know that starts with reining in wasteful government spending, and I am committed to doing precisely that during the 118th Congress.

But thankfully, Georgia was just ranked the #1 business state in the nation for the ninth year in a row because our legislators have embraced pro-growth solutions that foster investment and bring higher wages into our communities.

Emanuel County in particular has made great strides in attracting new business and growing wages. Earlier this fall, I toured a manufacturing facility in Swainsboro that recently increased employee pay, citing a need to keep wages competitive.

I’m excited to see this economic growth in our rural communities. Additionally, I serve on the House Agriculture Committee, and through continued investments in rural broadband and supporting Georgia’s #1 industry, agriculture, I am confident we will restore a robust rural economy.

2. Where do you feel strides are being made in public education? What do you feel needs to be done to improve education in our community?

In the last several weeks, research has confirmed what many parents already know: prolonged school shutdowns during the pandemic cost America’s students two decades’ worth of progress in math and reading scores.

With this in mind, the question is not only, “how do we improve education,” it’s also “how do we recover that lost learning?” And while there’s no easy answer, I believe that empowering parents to have a say in their child’s education is a crucial first step.

Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve served on the House Education and Labor Committee, and more specifically, I’m on the K-12 education committee. I have introduced bills and proudly advocated for parental choice in education because every student deserves a chance to succeed, regardless of where they live.

As a father of four and a grandfather of 14, I believe that families are the most fundamental units of our society, and America’s parents should play a central role in guiding their children’s education.

That’s why, in the 118th Congress, I hope to advance a Parents’ Bill of Rights that guarantees parents access to information regarding their child’s curriculum, so they know what their children are being taught at school.

I will continue pushing for policies that put Georgia’s students first.

3. With the Georgia Port expansion underway, what do you see as an economic benefit for District 12?

Ensuring the expansion of the Savannah Harbor was critical, not only for the 12th District, but for the state of Georgia as a whole.

Georgia’s ports provide nearly 500,000 jobs and they generate $29 billion in annual wages for workers in the Peach State. Additionally, it’s been reported that Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will deliver the greatest benefit to the nation of any project in the entire southeast and will return a whopping $7.30 for every dollar spent on its construction.

I was proud to secure funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in Congress. Through the appropriations process, I supported the project every year to ensure we could get the job done.

Not only will this help stabilize our supply chain, but the project is also estimated to deliver $282 million in annual savings for shippers and customers alike. Folks, over the course of 50 years, that’s over $14 billion. That’s not to mention the additional industries that will locate in Georgia due to the expansion.

We’re already seeing the benefits and I was proud to do my part to secure funding.

4. Are there any major health care changes on the horizon, if so, what are they?

This Congress, I was asked by Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve on the Healthy Future Task Force, which was focused on developing solutions to make health care more affordable for the American people.

As a small businessman, I know what it’s like to sign the front of a paycheck. Nationwide, health insurance inflation has increased premiums by 17% over the past year, making it harder for job creators to offer their employees quality benefits at an affordable price.

The Healthy Future Task Force’s plan would lower prices by promoting competition, innovation, and transparency.

Unfortunately, Democrats are continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to health care. I believe we must instead focus on patient-centered, cost-effective, and market-driven solutions to provide the best quality care.

We must also invest in lifesaving cures and innovative medicines and devices that patients can access without government interference.

Finally, we must continue to improve access to telemedicine. Our seniors and rural America should be able to continue utilizing telehealth services and have flexibility when it comes to their health care. That’s why I was proud to support the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act, which would extend telehealth flexibilities.

5. Should the current mental health care crisis in our country be a priority in the health care changes?

Without question. We have a mental health crisis among our nation’s youth, and the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures have taken a toll on our students, only worsening this tragic situation. We should be doing more to help Americans live fuller, healthier lives.

That’s why I introduced legislation this Congress that would empower school districts to use existing grant funds to improve mental health services offered to students and provide students with more resources and services so they can succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.

It has been frustrating to me personally to see Americans’ mental health used as a political tool by officials in Washington. Under the false guise of helping Americans in crisis, House Democrats have spent countless sums of taxpayer money on efforts to instead expand the size and scope of the government.

Enough is enough. Mental health is not a game—we need to get serious about allowing Americans access to the care they need when they need it. Political gamesmanship will only hold us back.

Elizabeth Johnson - House of Representatives District 12 - Democratic Candidate

Elizabeth Johnson did not respond to our questions. If you would like to read her responses to similar questions, click on and search the candidate’s name.

Madeline Ryan Smith - State House of Representatives District 158 Democratic Candidate


1. Do you believe rural and metropolitan wages should be competitive? If so, how do you propose wages could be raised in Emanuel County?

Yes, I believe we can do more to incentivize our young population to grow their roots in our community. Raising teacher pay, and funding work-readiness programs in our public schools is a good start. Growth of any area begins with our youngest population. We need to ensure that we are giving our local schools resources to allow students to become proficient in trades, skills and professions. We need to move toward investing in our own communities so we do not have to rely on the young population in Atlanta to invest for us.

2. Where do you feel strides are being made in public education? What do you feel needs to be done to improve education in our community?

We are improving slowly in the value we assign to educators and teachers, but they are still significantly underpaid. We need to invest more in our teachers and raise their pay to begin to be competitive with salaries found in other fields and areas of the state.

3. With the Georgia Port expansion underway, what do you see as an economic benefit for your district?

With Georgia's port expansion, we will begin to see business expansion, and the need for new infrastructure and warehouses. Because of our district's amount of underdeveloped land, we are an area of 'prime real estate' for these expanding companies. This in turn will bring economic growth, jobs, and people. Therefore, we must make sure we are prepared for the population increase we will see through affordable housing and public transportation.

4. Are there any major health care changes on the horizon, if so, what are they?

With hospitals all over the state closing, there will be a continuous need for care and care workers that we currently cannot support in our district. Additionally, the cost of drug prices are at risk to become much more expensive, especially without the expansion of medicaid. We need to create opportunities for doctors and nurses to not only find jobs here, but also have the ability to sustainably grow our access to all types of healthcare in our district.

5. Should the current mental health care crisis in our country be a priority in the health care changes?

Yes, we need to continue making metal health care a priority. Especially in our district, we need to address the substance use and abuse issue we see among our young population. We need to expand access to mental healthcare in this state, again by incentivizing individuals who live in our district and are mental health professionals to open practices and aid the population inside our district, while keeping healthcare affordable for people who need care the most.

Butch Parrish - State House of Representatives District 158 Republican Incumbent


1. Do you believe rural and metropolitan wages should be competitive? If so, how do you propose wages could be raised in Emanuel County?

I believe wages should be determined by the job that you do. The way you get higher wages is that you have expertise in training and education and then your higher wages will follow. The key to higher wages is education, training, and becoming an expert in particular areas. With the high speed internet connectivity we now possess in Emanuel County someone can do a job just as good sitting here in Emanuel County as someone could in Atlanta or New York or any other city in America. We are also very fortunate here in Emanuel County to have Southeastern Technical College, East Georgia State College and also Georgia Southern over in Statesboro, so anyone wishing to get higher education expertise and training opportunities are in our backdoor.

2. Where do you feel strides are being made in public education? What do you feel needs to be done to improve education in our community?

This past session the legislature fully funded Quality Basic Education (QBE) so that our local school system will have the money they need to do support our students as well as hire and retain quality teachers. I read somewhere recently that talked about the difference between young people that graduate from high school as opposed to someone not graduating from high school in a million dollars over their lifetime. This ties into the first question about wages where someone with higher training will make a higher wage. We have a good education system in place, there are areas to improve but as a whole our school system is doing a good job educating our young people.

3. With the Georgia Port expansion underway, what do you see as an economic benefit for District 12?

If you have travelled to Savannah lately on I-16 you can see buildings that have been built that are already occupied, buildings that are in the process of being built, as well as housing that is being constructed. Taking that a step further, the Hyundai project that is going to be located there is projected to produce 7,000 to 8,000 jobs. So for Emanuel County to take advantage of this, it goes back to people being trained so that they will be ready to take those jobs as they become available. The industrial park at I-16 is completed now, they are in the process of connecting the sewer system. I have been able to help, through the One Georgia funding, two or three times to assist with building lift stations and tie it into Swainsboro so that it can handle whoever comes into that park. I believe we will see some things happen there as far as job creation in the future that we need to be prepared for and again it goes back to having a trained workforce available for those jobs.

4. Are there any major health care changes on the horizon, if so, what are they?

We have had an increase in the number of people on Medicaid in Georgia. One of the things I’ve happy to say I’ve worked on is funding for our FQHC, Federally Qualified Health Care centers such as East Georgia Healthcare here in Swainsboro. They will take a patient regardless whether they have insurance or not or have the ability to pay or not. They do not turn anyone away. This to me is the safety net for those individuals who don’t have the resources to pay for healthcare. Every year since I have chaired the Health Sub-committee of Appropriations we have put in funding in the budget to start up at least a couple of health centers across the state. As of right now I believe that out of 159 counties where in Georgia there are such centers in over 130 counties. East Georgia Healthcare has over 8 or 10 offices scattered in our area as well as mobile units that go out to areas and schools to serve our citizens.

One other thing that I’ve been real involved with is that if we had everyone covered under insurance, medicaid or other means that if we don’t have healthcare providers to see the people we are no better off. In response to that, I have been involved in a couple of programs, one of those by Mercer University is an accelerated track called the “three plus three program.” The Medical College of Georgia also has the same program in that you go three years and graduate medical school, you then go straight into a residency program in Georgia, when you come out of residency you then agree to practice three years in an underserved area such as Emanuel County your loan for tuition is forgiven. This helps not only those students coming out of medical school but it also helps underserved areas like ours have quality healthcare. I have also helped start a midlevel program so that Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners and Dentists that work in underserved areas can also have their loans forgiven up to 10,000 dollars a year, which means some of those students can come out with zero student loans. I have worked over the last few years with others where we go out and visit the medical schools and get feedback from them and answer the question are we graduating enough nurses, physicians, dentists to take care of all of us that currently or will need healthcare in the future.

One of the things I made a promise about when I first ran was that I would not forget where I came from if elected. The second thing is I want to improve the quality of life for the people of Georgia and I continue to live up to those promises.

Alisha Searcy - State School Superintendent Democratic Candidate


1. Uvalde, Texas and other school shootings have made school safety a critical issue for parents, students and teachers alike. What do you see as a pathway to creating safer schools?

After Uvalde, I began hosting School Safety Roundtables across Georgia. Each community is different in terms of resources and what is needed. I always take the approach of bringing people together, listening, and then taking action. Overall, we want to first ensure that the conditions in our school make students, faculty and staff FEEL safe, physically, culturally, and emotionally. Physically, we want to ensure that there is a presence of law enforcement. Not in a way that criminalizes children, but in a way that they are partners in the community, have strong relationships with students and their families, and their physical presence serves as a deterrent to those who wish to cause harm. This requires training.

Second, we must ensure that mental health resources are available so that students and educators feel emotionally well and safe at schools.

Finally, I believe we most foster strong relationships between educators, law enforcement, faith and community leaders, and students so there is a safety plan, that all agencies are coordinated and they are involved in a comprehensive plan that is about emotional and physical safety.

2. What do you see as the main reason(s) for the current teacher shortage? What are your plans to attract and retain more qualified teachers?

I believe the main reason for the teacher shortage is that teachers are burned out and sadly, the current leadership hasn’t done anything to address it. Teachers feel disrespected, overburdened, and are underpaid.

As State School Superintendent, here’s what I will do:

Create the Office of the Teacher Advocate. In this office, full-time staff will focus solely on addressing teacher burnout. They will listen to teachers, create partnerships with community and business organizations to provide resources to teachers, and they will ensure teachers are involved in EVERY policy-making process of the DOE.

Work with the legislature to raise the starting salary for teachers across the state to 65k. Teachers should not have to work two jobs, and I am committed to working with the state and local districts to identify the funds to do this.

Work with the legislature to enact three laws. First, a law that gives teachers uninterrupted planning time during the school day that cannot be interrupted with staff or other meetings. Second, a law that gives teachers with children time off so they can attend parent-teacher conferences or other school-related activities for their own children. Third, a law that will provide mental health days for teachers.

Create statewide celebrations and an award system for teachers to show appreciation constantly and consistently, including an annual event to celebrate teachers across the state.

Stand up for teachers, as a former state legislator (the only candidate for this office to serve in the legislature in at least 20 years), I will be a champion for teachers.

3. Emanuel County business employers often speak of the lack of a workforce with basic skills such as problem solving, collaboration, strong work ethic, and clear communication. What do you feel our schools can do to better prepare students for succeeding in today’s job market?

We must stop trying to deliver a telegram education to a TikTok generation. This requires us to change many things within our system to ensure our students are prepared for post-secondary opportunities. The first thing we can do is connected our systems from birth to post-secondary. Currently, these agencies have no formal relationship, no formal agreement or ways work together to streamline what it looks like for a student to enter our system, receive the education we envision, then be prepared for the workforce, or whatever post-secondary goals they may have or themselves. We should have formal relationships with the business community to have a clear understanding of the skills that are needed to succeed in the workforce. This would not only prepare students for those roles, it would also create an education system that is more relevant.

We also need to move away from the overemphasis of testing. We have come to a place where we are developing test takers rather than critical thinkers and world citizens.

Ricard Woods - State School Superintendent Republican Incumbent

Superintendent Woods did not respond to our questions. If you would like to read his responses to similar questions, click on and search the candidate’s name.

Nakita Hemingway - State Agriculture Comissioner

1. Do you believe Georgia’s agricultural products are in need of more regulations or more deregulation? Please be specific about the product(s) and why.

I believe Georgia Ag needs resized regulation, which will support free and fair economic opportunities for Georgia farmers but set boundaries and penalties for those who threaten safe and secure production of quality food and or those who seek to circumvent the laws to perpetrate illegal or unfair business practices.

2. What do you see as the biggest danger Georgia’s farmers face today as they grow their crops? How do you see yourself being an aid to Georgia farmers?

Biggest threat is state legislators who prioritize the needs of Big Ag and ignore the needs are smaller family owned operations. Georgia farmers need more resources and better market opportunities to help them grow their businesses and become profitable.

3. What have you learned from being a farmer that will help you best address the needs of Georgia’s farmers?

I understand what it means to feel invisible in this space or to feel like you’re drowning because of lack of opportunities. I want the farmers of Georgia to know that l see them and no matter who they are or where they are my number 1 goal. Is to help them become profitable, to provide them the support, community and partnerships to help them thrive and grow. And to help the preserve and protect their farmland for generations to come.