Last fall I, like many of you, sat here scratching my head trying to figure out why Jeff Chapman was running for Governor. To many of us the name wasn’t even familiar. It was not until last month, when I had a chance to sit down with Senator Chapman that I began to understand precisely why he was in this race.
Like most great epiphanies, this one did not occur in some grand fashion with pomp and circumstance. Rather it occurred in the back room of a seafood buffet one June night, while my County GOP Chairman and I talked with Senator Chapman and his son. For Jeff Chapman, it has never been about playing the political game – it’s been about standing up and doing what is right.
Chapman hasn’t run a traditional campaign – he described it himself as “neighbor-to-neighbor” campaign not relying on large expenditure of capital. And while he is considered a dark horse, his numbers have been moving up recently. I left that meeting several hours later than usual, we talked until the local restaurant closed – but I knew when I did that I had not met a politician, but a hardworking, ethical, and honest man. I have struggled with how to present this post for a few days. And while I realize posting an interview like this in a “raw” format is likely to cause a number of people to skip over it, I feel that a certain level of sincerity is retained in this form.
Senator Chapman, in the past several people – including some here – have suggested that you entered this race at the urging of others who may have ulterior motives in helping other candidates. I’d prefer to not be tremendously blunt, but – Why are you in this race? What does it take to make a man like you leave a relatively safe Senate seat and run for Statewide office?
First and foremost, for those that know me, I believe the suggestion that I entered this race for anything but to serve the people of Georgia is clearly ridiculous. I’ve never done anything for the sole purpose of getting elected or to play politics, and I have no intention of playing that game now.
The reason that I entered the governor’s race is simply because, with all due respect to the other candidates, I believe that I can serve the people of Georgia better than they can. We need leaders who are committed to serving the public interest, and never with how they can use their elected office to enrich themselves or their acquaintances. In all times, but especially in times of crisis, the people need elected officials who understand that there is no right way to do the wrong thing.
It is simply impossible to make the necessary cuts and adjustments in our state government without strong guiding principles and a solid ethical foundation. I fully believe that I have that foundation, and I will not deviate from it regardless of the position I hold.
It appears to me those who allege that I entered the governor’s race with “ulterior motives” are being disingenuous. First of all, whenever you take a stand and bring to light unsavory dealings, there will always be those who seek to “punish” you for that act. I was prepared for that, and although I’m disappointed, I am not surprised that some would try to misrepresent my motives and what I’m trying to accomplish by running for governor.
In terms of how I’ve run my campaign, I believe that the most important and powerful tool in reaching out to voters is simply personal contacts. As I’ve traveled across Georgia, I have been encouraged and humbled time and again as people have taken up the mantle for my campaign and spent hundreds of hours of their personal time to discuss my candidacy and vision for Georgia.
Particularly interesting and encouraging are the results of the most recent gubernatorial poll. Despite spending several times less money than other candidates, I’ve consistently narrowed the gap between my poll rankings and that of the frontrunner. Three months ago, I was trailing the frontrunner by 32 percent in the polls; in the most recent WSB-TV poll that gap has narrowed to 12 percent, with 34 percent remaining undecided. I am determined to close that gap even more, if not erase it altogether, between now and the July 20th primary.
I believe that, come July 20th, the people of Georgia will reject politics-as-usual as well as those elected officials who confuse public service with self-service. If that happens, then I will consider my campaign to have been a success.
Several other candidates have opined that “Job Number One is creating more Jobs.” However, that is more than a daunting task – the economy is impact by a number of other issues such as education, business friendly tax environments, infrastructure, etc – so beyond simple campaign rhetoric, how would Governor Chapman help Georgia in regard to the economic situation?
I completely agree that economic recovery will require a holistic approach. The first and most pressing need is to create a growth-oriented tax environment. This has been discussed by several candidates of late, but abolishing the income tax and the property tax have always been legislative goals of mine. The difficult question, of course, is how this can be done while securing adequate revenue for our state government. One step we can take in this regard is to reexamine sales tax exemptions. We currently have 9.6 billion dollars in uncollected revenue, much of that established years or decades ago without sunset provisions or periodic re-examination. I would ask that all stake holders come back to the table and justify the need for whatever sales tax exemptions they have received. Those who cannot provide a valid justification will have their exemptions rescinded. I predict that this alone will bring in several billion dollars in additional revenue. Another step is to carefully examine the collection of sales tax. Many assert that we lose over one billion dollars in revenue through a lack of proper collection. If that figure is even close to being accurate, we must take immediate steps to correct this abuse.
I also think we can help place Georgia on the path to economic recovery by depoliticizing the budget process. This is no simple matter, but I believe we can take a major step in the right direction by adopting a strict policy of prioritizing each and every budget item in accord with its value, as determined by objective standards and/or measurable results. Those items that fall on the low end of this prioritized list would be the first to lose funding in a trimmed down state budget; those on the top, such as public safety and education, would be the very last to suffer cuts. In this way, I think we can fund vital programs and services without tax increases, which I see as a dead end street for economic recovery.
I also agree that a key component to economic recovery and growth in Georgia is the improvement of the quality of education. There a number of steps that I think we can take in this regard.
First and foremost, I believe we need to reduce government interference in our schools, particularly with regard to how best to promote accountability for educational outcomes. I firmly believe that locally-devised systems of accountability which make use of extensive school-based evidence of learning provide a fine measure of school success with less intrusion by government, less cost, and without inducing the state-inspired test mania that has infected our schools. By insisting on repeated grade level and subject area testing, and using test scores as the ultimate measure of school success, the state has encouraged teachers to devote large amounts of classroom time to test prep. Such a practice is, in effect, a negative investment in our children’s education, for it shifts resources away from instruction and detracts from authentic learning. Truth be told, we can no more test our way to quality education than we can tax our way to prosperity. Just as state regulations do not ensure better schools, tests do not create better students.
Second, I believe we can improve classroom learning conditions by fully supporting the efforts of teachers to maintain a high level of discipline so as to ensure the best educational environment for all children. The best of intentions for improving education may amount to little if unruly students are allowed to disrupt the classroom, interfere with learning, and diminish the authority of teachers. I’m not referring to isolated incidents of students acting up but serious misbehavior and acts of violence that affect too many of Georgia’s schools. This is a significant and complex problem. It doesn’t have a single cause, and there isn’t a quick fix for it, but I believe we can improve discipline in our schools if all stakeholders – teachers, parents and administrators – make this goal a top priority, day in and day out, week after week throughout the school year, and work collaboratively with students in laying down clear rules and the consequences of misbehavior. We must recognize the fact that children’s respect for legitimate authority and acceptance of accountability for their own actions are not just a matter of behaving in class; they are ethics with lasting application beyond the school ground.
Third, I think we should take full advantage of Georgia’s top schools and most talented teachers by further promoting the sharing of best practices and exemplary learning programs among educators across the state. Establishing a clearinghouse of the best and brightest ideas in education and providing the means to broadcast this resource to the educational community would be a positive step in this direction. We should also provide the means for master teachers to mentor new ones, and for schools of excellence to mentor schools seeking improvement. By facilitating ways for the best of the best to become models for the rest, we can encourage the systematic replication of Georgia’s success stories in education.
Fourth, we need to provide opportunities to increase the involvement of parents in their children’s education, whether it be through individual meetings, parent workshops, community forums, or other means of communication. I recognize the critically important role played by teachers in schooling our children, but teachers are just one component in the complex, multi-faceted process of educating Georgia’s youth. If we are to build a world class educational system in Georgia, teachers, parents, administrators and the community at large must work more closely together to establish goals, encourage students to achieve academic success, and evaluate the progress made toward securing a quality education for all public school students.
Fifth, school vouchers have been widely discussed as one way to achieve this goal, but, while the voucher concept is interesting, I think more needs to be known about vouchers if we are to fully understand the effects that they might have on schools that receive them and on the quality of education in Georgia. For example: If voucher schools receive tax dollars, would they have to conform to the same government mandates and be held accountable for student outcomes as public schools? If so, would private schools risk falling under government influence if they accept vouchers? Would the use of tax credits for families that send their children to private schools or home-school be preferable to vouchers?
If public schools must educate all students who come through their doors—including those who are less talented, under performing, or misbehave in class—and voucher schools can be selective and expel underperforming students, how meaningful are comparisons between student performance at voucher schools and public schools? Would the use of vouchers force public schools to improve in order to compete with private schools, or would a voucher program make public schools less able to compete with private ones?
Lastly, we must provide adequate funding if we hope to make Georgia’s public schools among America’s best. As I have already stated, I believe that we can take a major step in this direction by depoliticizing the budget process and prioritizing every expenditure within the state budget in accord with its value. By removing the waste and pork from the budget and establishing education as a top high priority budget item, we should be able to fund education without resorting to new sources of revenue.
Another issue which I believe has serious bearing on our economic situation is illegal immigration, which costs the jobs of many of Georgia’s citizens and strains public services to the breaking point. A major contributor to this problem has been negligence. There are businesses and other entities that benefit from the availability of illegal immigrants as a source of cheap labor, and as such they have disregarded the Rule of Law. I believe that many have willfully forgotten that the rule of law is one of the foundational principles of the United States, and that is simply unacceptable. I propose that the best course of action is to demand that the federal government secure the border and enforce the law, and that we develop a mechanism in Georgia to ensure the enforcement of existing law, work with top experts such as D.A. King to find ways to prevent businesses from hiring illegal aliens, and put into effect measures to identify and remove remaining illegal aliens such as Arizona has done. Our tax dollars and employment capacity going to those illegally here is insulting to those who worked hard to legally immigrate and those of us who pay our taxes out of hard-earned income.
While you are respected by many of your colleagues in the Senate, you have been known to go against the grain – while you have been standing up for what is right, often times to get things done you have to concede some ground. Is there a threat of gridlock in government if you are elected Governor, or do you think you can sway the other elected leaders of this State to fall in line with your superb ethics? How as a Governor do you reign in some of the ethical problems our state faces?
I do not think my adherence to sound principles of public service would interfere with my ability to work with others and compromise when there is good reason to do so. I am more than willing to work with others and to concede ground on how to get things done that will serve the public interest. I am also wide open to being schooled by experts in fields of study related to the major issues that Georgia’s next governor must deal with.
I believe that if Georgia has a governor who openly insists that high ethical standards must be practiced, not just preached, by elected and appointed officials and that ethical lapses will not be tolerated, we can make significant progress toward reining in the ethical problems that we face and restoring public trust in state government. I know that the replacement of a political cultural of corruption with one that is moral and ethical will not be easy. I also know from personal experience that Georgia is served by a good number of elected, conservative officials who truly have strong character and the people’s interests at heart. These principled conservatives are waiting for an environment in which they can boldly represent those interests. I am determined to provide that environment as Georgia’s next governor.
In the past some Governors have held “fish frys” or what have been refereed to as “Little Big People” days when anyone could bring their problem to the Governor – is this something you would continue? And speaking more to a general trend, with reapportionment coming up – how will you tackle that issue? The metro area is growing, and with both the House and the Senate apportioned by population the people of the more rural areas are loosing their voice in both houses. How will you as Governor see to it that every Georgian has a voice.
You may remember the story of Mark and Regina Meeks and their battle with eminent domain abuse. Their flower shop in Stockbridge was in danger of being seized by the local government. They sent letters to every State Senator asking for help. I was the only one to respond to their appeal. I spent a long time fighting for their property rights out of my own pocket until the city backed down and respected their rights. If you don’t recall this, it is probably because I didn’t publicize it beyond making the incident available as part of my history.
The reason I tell you this is because I want you to truly understand my views on listening to the public. I will have forums and “fish fries” to get the people’s input. I want to hear what Georgians have to say not out of a sense of political expedience, but because I honestly want to ensure that if there is something that public servants are doing incorrectly, insufficiently, or unethically, I can find out about it and rectify the problem. One of the fundamental purposes of government is to protect our inalienable rights and ensure that justice is served. There is no way for that purpose to be honored without listening to people.