The Cartersville-Bartow branch of American Association of University Women, together with the Georgia Association of Educators, is hosting a public forum featuring state school superintendent candidates Thursday at 7 p.m. in the library of the Georgia Highlands College Cartersville campus.
Slated to appear at the event are Republican John Barge, currently Bartow County Schools' director of Secondary Curriculum; Democrat Joe Martin, a former president of the Atlanta Board of Education; and Libertarian Kira Griffith Willis, a teacher from Roswell. Howard Miller of Pooler is also running for the office as a certified write-in candidate but will not be in attendance.
"Many years ago, 15, maybe 20 years ago, we had done a similar forum for some other office ... that involved some folks from the Rome AAUW also, but we had not done anything like this in a very long time," said Diane Sakmar, co-president of the AAUW chapter. "At our member meeting, we just said, 'It's about time we do something like this again, it's an election year, and since we have one of the candidates in the statewide race right in our backyard [Barge], we need to do that.'
"[And] we're an organization that promotes education, so education is key to us, and we felt really strongly that this race, though it's not as high profile, in a sense, that the gubernatorial race is, touches everybody's life," she added. "Either you're a student or a parent or grandparent or employer looking for the best-educated employees you can find -- business people are touched by it, everybody is."
Jane McElreath, program chairwoman for the AAUW chapter, echoed Sakmar's comments on the importance of the state superintendent election, adding that the group sees education as an issue with a far-reaching impact.
"Education is just vitally important for everybody, even if you don't have kids in school any longer," McElreath said. "The schools have been failing, and it's just imperative that the entire public take this on as a very serious problem, and something that we've got to tackle. We see this as vital to recovery from the recession and getting America back on its feet -- we really want to get the average Georgian more involved in educational issues."
While the forum will not be in a debate format, each candidate will have the opportunity to answer several questions posed to them. McElreath said the questions are aimed at getting to the "basics" of each candidate.
"Right at the top of this thing, we're going to ask them for their understanding of what the job entails, what they can accomplish," she said. "Politicians are great at making promises, but we want to know realistically what they can accomplish in the role and how well they understand what their constitutional rights and limitations are, and how they will work with either a Democratic or Republican governor."
Though election day is officially next month, early voting began last month and will continue for the next few weeks. County residents are able to cast their ballots at the Bartow County Voter Registration Office, 105 North Bartow St. in Cartersville, weekdays until Oct. 29 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advanced voting will be rolled out to the Cartersville Civic Center Oct. 25 and continue until Oct. 29, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
All county polling locations will be open on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 2, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.