After more than three decades in public office, Democrat Calvin Smyre faces Republican challenger Danny Arencibia, who wasn't even born when Smyre took office in January 1975.
The Nov. 6 election creates a first for both candidates in the District 135 race. It's the first time Smyre has faced Republican opposition since he took office and Arencibia is making his first run for public office. The district remains predominantly black, but stretches from south Columbus north to 54th Street since district lines were redrawn.
Smyre, 65, said he's been drawn to public service for practically all of his adult life and wants to continue. "Public service, I consider it a calling and something that I enjoy and love," said Smyre, completing his 38th year in the state House. "I get up every morning eager to do as I do every day."
District 135 is a state office, but Arencibia points to local crime and vacant buildings among the reasons he is running for office. As a resident of Sixth Avenue, Arencibia said 11 of the Columbus Police Department's high risk patrol beats are in his district.
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"I see who my opponent is and he has been there so long rubbing elbows with the biggest money in town and doesn't do anything to get jobs even on Broadway where my opponent works," Arencibia said of the vacant businesses downtown.
"He goes out, looks to the left and looks to the right and there are empty buildings.
"I don't understand that. Legislation I would love to introduce once elected is incentives for small businesses. We have to clean up some of theses buildings."
Smyre said he has always run for public office on his record.
"I think one of the major issues now in the General Assembly is always the budget," Smyre said.
"As a state legislator, our main duty to taxpayers is the budget. That is the only thing we are required to pass in the General Assembly of Georgia."
In the district, Smyre said he is concerned about senior citizens, veterans, secondary and higher education, tax relief for homeowners, conservation, water and transportation.
"I think those are key issues that provide a better quality of life for our community," he said. "Those are the fundamental things I have focused on in the last few years."
The state spends almost 52 percent of every dollar on education.
"Education is the key to all other quality of life issues," Smyre said. "We try our best to do what we can to fund education."
Arencibia, 37, said crime, jobs, education, charter schools and ethics are hot-button issues for the district.
"I'm running for office because I see for sale signs and for lease signs," he said. "I don't see any now hiring signs. That is the way I see it and that's just the way it is. No one can argue that. I feel that my opponent, as influential as he was in his prime, and the best days he could have, those days are just over. He is just there at the wrong time."
Arencibia said he supports charter schools, which operate under the terms of a charter with the state or local board of education.
If you can name a Muscogee County school to which you wouldn't want to send your child, Arencibia said, you must support charter schools.
"You talk about all those parents who have no choice but to send their kids to that school," he said.
If re-elected, Smyre said he'll focus on school drop outs and finding ways to keep students in school.
"Our drop-out rate has gone down in our state, but that is something I continue to work on to try to find measures where we can be productive and keep as many kids as we can in school," the lawmaker said.
If elected, Arencibia said he would like an opportunity to introduce special legislation to freeze taxes for a year after opening a new business.
He favors a similar incentive of giving teachers up to $2,000 a year to improve their classroom.
Smyre said over the years he has worked with the delegation to assist in a number of efforts to help Columbus, including Columbus State University, Columbus Technical College, the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts and the Liberty Theatre.
"All those things that are tangible and I work day in, day out, trying to make Columbus a better place to live," Smyre said.
"I'm no Johnny come lately to the community as it relates, not only to my community service, but my public service as well. I would ask people to look at the record of people that are running for public office."
As the representative for House District 135, Arencibia said he will deliver from Day 1.
He considers himself a regular guy, makes less than $25,000 a year, and lost two jobs in layoffs at Fortune 500 companies.
"I not only can relate to the everyday person having a hard time finding a job, I am that person," he said. "I know how important it is to have a job. My opponent works in an executive office, makes tons of cash, and although I feel I respect him for all he has done, it's time to actually move on and allow someone to come in who can make a difference."