Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Senate Candidates Discuss Issues

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Senate Candidates Discuss Issues

Article excerpt

Two years ago, Tommie Williams, a candidate dismissed in some circles as a Lyons pine straw farmer, did the unthinkable.

He beat two heavyweights, Willou Smith and incumbent Ed Boshears, in the Republican primary for the Senate District 6 seat. He then easily defeated Democrat Kathy Keith in the general election.

Now Williams is the incumbent facing a challenge from Democrat Eric Wilson, a Brantley County native who lives in Montgomery County.

It turned out that Williams was far more than a pine straw farmer. His Lyons business, Georgia Pine Straw Inc., is only one of his businesses. Because of previous jobs as an onion farmer and high school teacher, Williams had something in common with many voters and his conservative Christian roots gave him an instant constituency in Glynn County, the most densely populated county in the district.

Wilson is a partner in a business that sells pagers, cell phones and radios. He is actually Williams' second opponent. Nahunta nursing home owner Joe Sears had qualified to run against Williams but dropped out of the race in July for personal reasons. The Georgia Democratic Party Executive Committee replaced Sears with Wilson.

Like Williams, Wilson is a Christian who opposes abortion on demand.

When he entered the race, Wilson quit his job with the state Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Wilson and Williams share some concerns and list education and economic development among their highest priorities.

Both have experience in the classroom. Williams, who has a master's degree in education, taught high school while Wilson taught history to grades 7 through 12 at a small Christian school.

Williams said it's his opposition to portions of Gov. Roy Barnes' education reform that has made him a target for defeat among state Democrats.

Barnes' plan will not work because it has withdrawn funding for programs that help children learn to read, Williams said.

"We need to focus on teaching kids to read in the early grades," Williams said. "Those who can't read by the third grade are likely to drop out by the ninth."

Williams recently arranged a well-attended meeting of businessmen and communications company executives on St. Simons Island. The state should do all it can to encourage companies to speed up the movement of data, Williams said.

"We need DSL [digital subscriber line] in all counties so we can recruit companies and personnel," Williams said.

"There are people on St. Simons Island who telecommunicate with IBM, but IBM is upset with the lack of speed," Williams said.

Faster communications would be beneficial for the rural small cities, he said.

"Blackshear, for example, is a beautiful town. We could persuade people to move there because it has such a great lifestyle. But we have to give them the ability to communicate rapidly," he said. …

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