State Rep. Debbie Buckner hasn't had opposition in three elections for the House District 137 seat, but now she's in one of the most crowded races for a state office.
In the Democratic Primary on July 31, Buckner of Junction City faces challenges from Travis Chambers, a real estate broker and Columbus business owner, and Ku'Wonna Mahone Ingram, a mental health counselor and adjunct professor. There is no Republican opposition in the district which includes parts of Muscogee, Harris, Meriwether, and Talbot counties.
Buckner said she is running for re-election because the district needs someone who is a lifelong resident and really cares for people. "I feel like it needs someone like me who understands the area and will stand up for issues that are important to the people in our district," she said.
For Chambers, his No. 1 reason for running is to promote regional economic development not only in Muscogee,but Meriwether and Talbot counties.
"I just want to try to push economic development, trying to bring businesses into those areas where people can have job opportunities but making sure they are equipped and have the tools and resources in performing those jobs," said Chambers, who lost a bid for a citywide Columbus Council seat in 2010. "Regional economic development is definitely a key."
Ingram, a newcomer in the race for a public office, said she's running to re-establish the American dream.
"That is the bottom line," Ingram said. "I believe that everyone should be able to have their quality of life restored. It has deteriorated over the years."
People should be able to get a good education, good job, to own a home and give back to the community. "All of that has deteriorated over the years," Ingram said. "It's almost seems impossible to do so."
Key issues in the district are jobs, improving education and water planning for the region, Buckner said.
With many workers unemployed or under employed, Buckner said the state must find a way to give incentives for business to put people to work.
She is also concerned about the impact of job losses. Buckner sponsored a bill that would require the state to contact local governments before any parks are closed. No vote was taken on the bill as the session ended.
Education plays a major role in employing workers even amid reduced budgets and furlough teachers. "We can't keep increasing class sizes, furloughing teachers and decreasing the number of days of instruction and improve education," Buckner said.
"I understand budgets and trying to figure out how money goes to the classrooms but education is the foundation for everything good in a community."
With the district located downstream from a growing metro Atlanta, Buckner said there is a concern about the region not getting the water flow it needs to be economically viable. "I think it means somebody up there making a stand," she said. "I have been doing that for years. I'm committed to continuing to do that."
Like Buckner, Chambers agrees about the need for creating jobs, improving education and protecting water rights in the region.
Chambers said if you visit people in the region, they need jobs whether they are in a grocery store or at the Kia manufacturing plant in West Point.
"It's really a domino effect," he said. "When people don't have jobs, it affects home ownership, the foreclosure rates go up and the crime rate goes up. We need to get people back to work."
Education is key to getting a job, Chambers said.
"We need to make sure these kids are getting the tools and resources they need to be able to one day to open up a small business, to be doctor or to be a lawyer," Chambers said.
Ingram said she also would focus on jobs and education. She is also concerned about public safety and restoring a quality of life to families.
She said the state does a good job in creating jobs but doesn't fare as well in keeping jobs in Georgia. She favors spreading out incentives over time to make sure businesses stay.
Teens dropping out of school impacts jobs in the state. "If our children are not finishing school, that impacts poverty and so on," she said. "We need to make sure the quality education is there."
If re-elected, Buckner said she will work on a bill to buy American to create jobs. "That translates into jobs in Georgia and the entire nation," she said. "Whenever possible, the state government is buying something that is American or Georgia made. That increases our potential for local jobs."
Chambers said he'll look at the entire region if re-elected. He will build a partnership with the Greater Columbus Chamber of commerce to make sure jobs are going to the region not just Muscogee County. "I'm going to make sure we are partnering with local chamber and making sure each county is given a fair opportunity for economic development," he said.
To represent the district, Ingram said she will be a voice for the people and their vision.
"I think something we forget is who we are representing," Ingram said. "The people I'm representing will know who I am. I am accessible, will be active in their community and work very hard for them to get the things they say they want."