When Cherokee County voters arrived at a community center on Bells Ferry Road in Canton Wednesday night, they were expecting a debate between Senate District 14 candidates Matt Laughridge and Bruce Thompson. Instead they became involved in a question-and-answer period, with only Thompson.
Lori Pesta, president of the Republican Women of Cherokee County and the organizer for the event, said Laughridge’s campaign called Tuesday afternoon to cancel his involvement, citing a scheduling conflict.
“Yesterday we had a surprise announcement from the Matt Laughridge campaign, and they told us that he would not be here this evening. We tried to get the message to as many people as possible, and if we didn’t reach you I apologize for that,” she said. “But the idea is now to change the format and listen to Bruce and find out what this candidate, who did take the time to show up, and tell us about himself, about what he wants for this community and have him explain where he stands on some of the important issues.”
Laughridge himself failed to return a call seeking comment on his non-involvement. Campaign Manager Melanie Collier, however, said Cherokee County organizers were informed a week ago Laughridge would not be able to attend the debate.
“They were well-informed last week that Matt could not participate in the event, and at that time had the option to cancel or to reschedule. She made it clear to me, at that time, that she could not set another date,” Collier said. “There was no other date for her to have it. That was the only date she could have it. Then we called to make sure she was aware that Matt would not be able to be there, at which time she proceeded to move forward with the event knowing full well Matt Laughridge would not be there.”
During the Q-and-A, Pesta said Laughridge confirmed last week he would be there and canceled at the last minute. Collier said she told Pesta that Laughridge would not be able to attend due to a busy schedule.
“This is an extraordinarily busy time. We’ve had one thing right after another. We are very excited that we have so many opportunities to do so many things and see so many people and gain so much support, but that was not going to fit into the schedule this week,” Collier said. “We made it very, very clear he would not be able to attend last week, and they chose to move forward with the event knowing he would not be able to be a part of the event.”
For more than an hour Thompson laid out his credentials to a small crowd of Cherokee County voters and answered their questions. He emphasized his connections with Cherokee, citing three businesses he owns in the county and the fact his in-laws live in the area.
In response to questions, Thompson said he supported stronger ethics laws in Georgia, would like to see more protection for children under the law, enforce existing driving under the influence laws, would push for government and candidate transparency, would support some form of immigration reform, would support a form of fair or flat tax and would support the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which allows voters to directly elect U.S. Senators rather than the older method of state legislatures electing senators. He also said he supports choice in schooling, whether parents wanted their children to be home-schooled, go to a charter school or attend public schools.
When asked about taxes, Thompson said he did not support taxation for its own sake.
“I am a fan of less taxes, so let me state that. We have to be very careful about this, but in the times when we are trying to balance our budget, I would not be a fan of taking away something we didn’t replace. I say that to say I’m not a fan of just coming up with a new tax, but I can see if we were taking something away and replacing it so that it was balanced and would not increase the burden that would be on us as taxpayers,” he said.
Thompson also indicated support for small government and state sovereignty.
“The responsibility of a state senator is to make sure that the laws that we have currently in Georgia are not only followed, but we have to make sure our constitution is not superseded by our federal Constitution. Here’s what I mean by this. We have the federal government continuing to impose their will on our state,” Thompson said. “You elect your legislative people to go down and with their governor and lieutenant governor to protect our state and the laws that we have there. Yes, some of the responsibilities are to pass new legislation and protect the people, but I think, personally, the overarching responsibility is to make sure the federal government does not continue to impose their will on us as a state.”
As the Q-and-A neared its end, Thompson encouraged District 14 residents to get out and vote. He believed the only way to have legislators who properly represent their constituents is for voters to exercise their rights. He railed against voter apathy, saying more votes should have been cast in the general election. As people left the community center after the discussion, he asked them to vote.
District 14 voters will decide whether Laughridge or Thompson goes to the Georgia Legislature on Dec. 3.