Nolen Cox drove all the way from Valdosta with his family to support Dalton Mayor David Pennington in his quest to be Georgia’s next governor.
“He didn’t know I was coming. I called him to tell him when I got here,” he said.
Cox, who was one of about 200 people who attended a fundraiser for Pennington Thursday night at the trade center, met Pennington last year.
“He came down to speak to the tea party when we were fighting the TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax),” Cox said. “He drove from Dalton to speak one night, then we did a radio show the next morning. I told him then that I owed him one.”
Pennington campaigned vigorously last year against a set of TSPLOSTs the General Assembly placed on the ballot in 2012. Voters rejected those taxes in nine of the state’s 12 regions, including both locally and in the region including Valdosta.
“We need a real conservative in there. Democrats are running Georgia now. They are all Democrats who switched to the Republican Party, but they still think and act like Democrats,” said Cox, who noted that both incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal and former Gov. Sonny Perdue were Democrats who switched to the Republican Party.
Pennington plans to challenge Deal in the Republican primary. The date of the primary has not been determined. No Democrat has announced for the race. Deal held a private fundraiser in Dalton earlier this month and also met with local business leaders. Pennington’s event was open to the public.
Many of Dalton’s most prominent business leaders attended the event.
“He has a solid base of support in the local business community,” said Norris Little, one of the hosts, who worked for Shaw Industries. “We aren’t supporting him just because we think he will be good for Dalton and Whitfield County. He’ll be good for the state. If he wasn’t good for the state, it wouldn’t be good for Dalton.”
Little cited Pennington’s background running his own insurance firm as well as his record as mayor of Dalton, where the City Council has cut taxes and spending each year since Pennington took office.
“He has really revitalized Dalton, and I think it shows,” he said.
Businessman Smith Foster, another of the event’s hosts, said he thinks Pennington will find support among business leaders outside Dalton.
“I know people all over the state,” Foster said. “I’ve offered to introduce him and tell them about him. I think they’ll like what they hear.”
Pennington said he was pleased with the turnout.
“This gives me a great deal of confidence,” he said.
Pennington outlined his vision for Georgia.
“This state has tremendous resources. I’m talking about our ports, our airports, the best interstate system in the South, the best railroad system in the South, competitive utilities, a great university system” he said.
But he said that state leaders haven’t capitalized on those resources and created an environment that nurtures business formation and fosters job growth.
“We have got to get serious about tax reform,” said Pennington, who called for cutting the top income tax rate to 4 percent from 6 percent.
“And we won’t do that by shifting it to the sales tax. We’ll do it by cutting government like we have done here in Dalton,” he said.
He said the state also needs to allow businesses to write off 100 percent of capital purchases to spur the growth of manufacturing in the state.
“The jobs that can bring Georgia back the quickest are manufacturing jobs. Those are the jobs that can pay $14, $15, $16 an hour plus heath benefits,” he said.
Pennington also said that he would push to return more control over education to local school boards and teachers.
“You can trace the decline of public education to the centralization of authority first in the state capitals and then in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “There’s no other workforce I’ve seen out there that is better educated than teachers. Any other industry would kill to have a workforce with that sort of education. But other industries are listening to the employees who are the front line about how they can do their jobs the best, while education may be the most top down drive system I have ever seen.”
Pennington also said that be would push for stronger ethics laws and more transparency in government.
“It’s amazing to see how much better government gets when the sun shines in,” he said.
Pennington noted that when he tells people he is running for governor they often ask him if he has a chance of winning.
“You don’t have a chance of winning if you aren’t in the game, and we are in the game,” he said. “I grew up in this community and watched the carpet industry grow. We didn’t go somewhere else and try to bribe a plant to come here. We built our own world-class industry. From that, we built one of the finest hospitals in America, one of the finest school systems in America, one of the finest recreation systems in America and one of the finest utilities in America. If this community decides it wants to elect a governor, I’m not going to bet against them.”