ATLANTA — Jason Carter’s candidacy gives Georgia voters the starkest differences between major-party candidates for governor in decades.
Consider that Roy Barnes has been on the gubernatorial ballot three times as the Democratic nominee, and he was once a Young Republican. Carter, a second-term legislator has never been anything but a Democrat, inheriting it as the son, grandson and great-grandson of Democratic politicians.
He differs from Gov. Nathan Deal in other ways, too. He’s a generation younger, grew up in Chicago, served in the Peace Corps instead of the military, and has a political philosophy significantly to the left of Deal.
Carter has taken conservative positions in the Senate, like supporting the death penalty, voting for legislation liberalizing where guns can be carried, never having voted for a tax increase and voting to put the income-tax-cap constitutional amendment on the November ballot. But he wasn’t part of the Senate conservatives pushing to eliminate the state income tax, to require drug testing of welfare applicants or calling for a constitutional convention to require the federal budget be balanced, for instance.
In his campaign for governor, his platform is to the left of Deal’s.
His entire campaign centers around the idea that increased funding for education is the key to economic development.
“I believe this state has everything it needs to be an absolute powerhouse,” he says on the stump. “If we put our minds to it, if we educate our people and invest in them, if we open up the door to our technical colleges and colleges to give people the skills that they need for the future, if we invest and pay attention to the middle class and the small businesses of this state, we will have the ability to have a growing, dynamic, forward-looking economy.”
His promise to invest in education and supporting teachers has won him the endorsements of the Georgia Educators Association and the AFL-CIO while business groups like the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business gave theirs to Deal.
GAE President Sid Chapman said in August, “We believe the next leader of our state government needs to see public education for what it means for our children as well as what it means for the health and welfare of our state and society. We believe that next leader should be Sen. Jason Carter.”
Paramount to Deal is holding the line on taxes and balancing the budget within the current tax rates. Paramount to Carter is increasing spending on schools, healthcare and transportation, promises that will be difficult to keep without more revenue.
All of this added spending can come from cutting waste and improved tax collections, Carter vows. Critics dispute it by suggesting that nearly a decade of tight budgets since the recession have wrung out all of the waste and that tax deadbeats aren’t a reliable or consistent funding stream.
The biggest are of investment by Carter would be schools. He said K-12 education should get about $1 billion more per year. He also wants to restore bonuses to teachers who earn national certification and return a special scholarship for them.
Scholarships are integral to his education vision and represent a departure in themselves from Deal’s. For one thing, Carter believes the HOPE Scholarship should be based on a student’s financial need as well as on achievement rather than the current basis solely on achievement. And he wants it to cover the full cost of tuition for all recipients, restoring benefits that Deal cut to keep it afloat. Carter has said the lottery-funded scholarship could be more generous if the state used tax funds to support the Pre-K Program and increased its funding of universities.
“I do believe that we should make sure that we are maximizing the number of students who are able to afford college,” he said. “That’s how we get the kind of economy we want, and that’s how we get the kind of people that are prosperous and fully employed.”
Carter also supports Medicaid expansion, disputing Deal’s claims that state taxpayers can’t afford it by arguing those same Georgians should get something back from their federal taxes.
Besides the philosophical knocks against Carter by Deal is the issue of leadership experience.
“Sen. Carter, you’ve never had a leadership position in the Senate or the delegation from DeKalb County you’re a part of, and you’ve never had a leadership position in private business,” Deal challenged. “You’ve never passed a bill, never offered an amendment to many of the bills you are now criticizing. Why should Georgians vote for you with this absolute lack of leadership experience?”
The 39-year-old Carter, whose grandfather moved from the Senate after just two terms to governor — and eventually the White House — says his effectiveness has come from working behind the scenes, noting that he cosponsored 21 bills that Deal has signed into law.
“The attacks on my leadership, frankly, are just an attempt, I believe, to pass the buck,” Carter said.
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