State Sen. Doug Stoner is the only Democrat seeking nomination for the District 6 State Senate seat. He'll compete against the Republican nominee in the November election. Stoner lives in Smyrna with his wife and two daughters.
State Senate District 6 has been redrawn. Are there any issues facing the “new” district that are different from the old?
The way that I look at it generally I would say the only difference is geography, but if you actually look at the overall district the communities being Buckhead and Sandy Springs have a lot of similar issues to deal with. Now each community has certain idiosyncrasies, but I find that there’s kind of an overarching theme of issues which go from basically revitalization, obviously traffic, and obviously how to maintain infrastructure and make those investments.
So yes, each community has unique issues unto them, but actually a lot of the communities have very similar changes facing them. So to me, yes, the district geographically has changed, but a lot of the issues I’ve dealt with over the years are very similar.
What are some of the most important issues facing District 6 in the coming years?
I think it goes back to those issues that I mentioned before. One of the biggest issues that we face is dealing with revitalization and redevelopment in these communities and keeping them economically sustainable. A lot of issues are tied into that from education to obviously transportation to simply quality of life issues where people want to come and live and stay and hopefully raise a family or retire here or whatever.
What is your position on the Affordable Care Act and do you support the expansion of Medicare in Georgia?
The issue is resolved as far as I’m concerned now that the Supreme Court has ruled. So the issue we as a state now have to deal with concerns the health care exchanges that honestly we should have dealt with previous to this year no matter what the Supreme Court ruling was. I think we should have taken care of that. Depending on what the Supreme Court ruling was we could have moved forward either way if the law had been struck down or otherwise.
Really for small businesses health care exchanges are an opportunity to have pools to have the purchasing power of large companies or to have purchasing powers on the level of the state of Georgia. I actually introduced a bill several years ago along with several other Senators to introduce the concept of health exchanges in the state of Georgia to allow small businesses to be able to pool together to create a large enough pool to negotiate with these insurance companies to get the best rates.
We have put ourselves in a situation now where it’s very likely that the federal government is going to set those rules and not us, which I think was a dereliction of duty in a sense. If the law had been struck down, then obviously the exchanges in the sense of the way they had been set up would not have moved forward. No harm done. I don’t think—unless the governor can show me differently—I don’t think we can get that done in time before the federal government can come in and decide how those changes are set up.
What’s your position on TSPLOST?
What I’ve told folks is we’ve created a process with local officials to get together who understand the issues best as opposed to us at the state level and work on projects that would impact the different regions. We’ve gone through that process and the voters are obviously going to have to make their decision on those projects.
At the end of the day I tell folks, well I’m supporting it and the reasons I’m supporting it is we have put off making transportation investments for 20 years. The last major transportation project done in this state happens to be in the new District 6. That was the opening of 400 south of 285. That’s been 22 years ago. That’s why to me it’s so important because we have put on the back burner so many projects over the years that desperately need to be done for our ability to compete economically. Those are the reasons I’m voting for it. Everyone else has to make their own decisions, but that’s why I’m voting for it
What’s your position on charter schools?
Well I’ve always been a supporter of charter schools and have over the years. For me, there is no issue with charter schools. If you’re referring to the charter school amendment proposal the issue simply comes down to local control. I really don’t think having a bunch of bureaucrats at the state who are not elected by the people making decisions in that local community concerning what to do with public education tax dollars, that should be left to local school boards.
I think here in Cobb we’ve had issues with some of the charter schools’ ability to be financially successful, but we’ve had other ones, for example the Imagine school here in Smyrna, who realized they had issues and got rid of their management company and was able to go back to the school board and say, ‘Hey we’ve got our act together,’ and they moved right on.
I don’t see why the state needs to now dictate to local folks and to parents exactly how their tax dollars in the sense of those should be spent. That should be left to the local school board in conjunction with going through the proper processes to create local charter schools.
What is something you accomplished in your last term that you’re most proud of?
I tell you what, it’s something you won’t hear, but the state of Georgia because unfortunately of our high rate of unemployment, had an opportunity to collect $175 million that we did not have to pay back to the federal government to help our long-term unemployment. Specifically, it’s not so much here in Atlanta that that impacted people, but it was particularly for places like Milledgeville and Dalton where they have extremely high unemployment. In working with the governor’s office and Senator Ronnie Chance we were able to come up with a compromise because we had to create a technical change in the law to be able to access that money. So we had to work together.
It wasn’t anything you read about in the paper. It could have been a political hot potato, but we were able to keep it not that. It took me as Chairman of the Democratic Caucus working with governor’s floor leader and working with Governor Deal’s office to put that together and make that happen. At the end of the day it was too important for a lot of those folks who are trying to find work particularly for our future manufacturing.
A lot of these people in Dalton and Milledgeville and other places like that have very good manufacturing skills. The worst thing for us is to lose them because eventually they leave. We’re trying to keep those folks here and this was part of the reason working with the governor’s office because it has a real impact on real people.
We talk a lot of rhetoric down there and at the end of the day that is something that helps people survive because that’s exactly what it is, while we hopefully try to bring new manufacturing jobs here in the state. As I said that money is not stuck in a 401K. It’s going to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker—communities. So it also helps those communities in the sense of the small businesses that depend obviously on the local folks.
So we were able to work together in a bipartisan manner to really help individuals who are unfortunately down on their luck. At the same time it helps Georgia long-term keeping those skilled workers here in the state.