Closing in on 20 years as a lawmaker, state Sen. Ed Harbison is seeking another term, but his opponent David Brown believes it's time for fresh ideas.
Harbison, a Democrat, will square off against Brown, a Republican, in the Nov. 6 General Election to select a leader for the seven-county district that includes part of Muscogee and all of Chattahoochee, Marion, Schley, Macon, Taylor and Talbot counties.
Harbison, 70, of Columbus points to his years of service.
"I'm trying to help our troops and trying to help our children and doing the things that are responsible for our constituents as I think any public servant should be able to do," said Harbison, chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. "Over the years, I have been introducing legislation and I passed various bills, but passing the bills is not the bottom line of the story. The story always should be how do you relate to people."
Brown, 43, said he stepped forward because America is changing and he wants to have a positive influence. In some areas, Brown said incumbents haven't had to face real opposition, and he didn't actually set out to run for office.
"I tried to encourage other people and actually went to the Republican Party and said if no one else will run then I'm going to step forward," said Brown, an electrical engineer and Baptist minister. "So I did."
As the nation recovers from a recession, Harbison said key issues are dealing with a tight state budget, keeping teachers in the classroom instead of on furloughs and caring for veterans returning from war.
"We've had a downturn in the economy, but we are slowly coming back," Harbison said. "As we get back, we should put our teachers back at least on an even keel in that category, cut out the furloughs and make them whole again."
Harbison said he has supported efforts to start a Drug Court for veterans, but the state faces problems with budget constraints. In a special court, he said, a judge would understand that a veteran could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, joblessness or homelessness.
"They are trying to raise their children and they've had a myriad of problems," Harbison said of the homeless. "It's not easy. What's complicated is a lot of veterans are coming back home because of the Iraqi situation, and they are having an impact. We have a responsibility to be timely with our veterans."
Brown said key issues in the district are jobs and the economy. He supports growing the economy to provide jobs for everyone who wants to work.
"It's important we don't get in the way of businesses that want to improve," Brown said. "When businesses grow, they hire more people. What I would like to do is take away some of the inhibitions to grow to allow business to thrive. If businesses are growing strong, we thrive."
If re-elected to the Senate, Harbison said, he'll work with other House members to consider a way to help veterans relocating to the Columbus area after retiring. Veterans aren't taxed on income by the state of Alabama, but they are in Georgia.
"I think to put us on an even keel with the state of Alabama we need to make sure we give them some kind of tax credit to make sure they are not burdened with something in Georgia that they are getting a break on in Alabama," Harbison said.
A military exemption was in place for veterans, but it was thrown out in the court because all federal employees in the state weren't included.
"Since that time, we have not been able to put the military in this exceptional category as opposed to putting all the federal retirees in the same category," he said. "We are trying to determine if we can't do both. Ideally, it would be an attraction to do both of those."
The American system was set up for people who want to do well. If elected, Brown said he would uphold those traditional values that made America great.
"I also have a very strong faith," Brown said. "You can count on me to stand up for traditional values that were there for the founding, helped encourage growth and sustained it. I'm not out to reinvent the government, not out to reinvent the way that system works. I'm saying the system was good."
Harbison said voters should return him to the office because his record speaks for itself. "Most of all I think I have been very effective and responsive to the voters," he said. "I tend to be focused. Every year that I'm elected I'm gratefully humbled by the responsive support I get from the community and I intend to work even harder. I intend to be effective."
Brown said voters should select him because there are fundamental issues in the country, state and region that need to be addressed.
"The ball is not being moved forward," he said. "With a fresh perspective and as a citizen of the district, I believe we can prosper and continue to thrive and grow. I think it's time for someone else with a new set of eyes and ideas to come in instead of retrying the same ideas for the next 20 years."