David Pennington’s supporters know he has an uphill battle to win the Republican primary in his bid to become Georgia’s next governor, but they’re not worried about his abilities, his vision or whether his message will resonate with enough voters.
“We can defeat (incumbent Republican) Nathan Deal,” Phil Neff, a local businessman and Pennington’s campaign chairman, told about 200 supporters at a rally in Dalton hours after Pennington signed qualifying papers in Atlanta to run for governor. “Nathan’s not our problem. The power of the incumbency is the problem. David will win this race for one reason — because he believes he is doing the right thing.”
As of Tuesday, Deal and Pennington, the former mayor of Dalton, were the only Republicans who had qualified to run for governor. State School Superintendent John Barge has said he intends to run for governor as a Republican. The winner of the May 20 Republican primary faces the Democratic primary winner in the November election. As of Tuesday, no Democrats had qualified. Democrat Jason Carter, grandson of former president and former governor Jimmy Carter, has said he plans to qualify.
Pennington spoke briefly to supporters at the Outdoor Living Center near the Carpets of Dalton campus Tuesday evening, telling them he believed in Dalton, that the city is well thought-of in the state, and that he knows Dalton residents can do anything they put their minds to.
He reiterated his plans to focus on improving Georgia’s economy, education and ethics in government if elected. Those plans include requiring state elected officials to adhere to the same open records and open meetings laws the same way as locally elected officials do. He’s also emphasized lowering the state’s 6 percent income tax with an eye toward eventually eliminating it altogether.
“Tennessee and Florida seem to make do without it,” he said of the income tax, “and they don’t have near the assets we have.”
Bryan Peeples said Pennington’s economic policies are good for business.
“David being a businessman himself, he understands what it’s like,” Peeples said.
Pennington’s plans also include an overall focus on returning more control of public education to local decision-makers rather than state or federal officials. That area is one that resonated with Christine Rozman, who became Pennington’s campaign coordinator for Cobb County after she met him several months ago at an event where she spoke against the Common Core, a nationalized set of curriculum standards Georgia is working to implement.
Rozman said she believes Pennington would be a successful governor at least partly because of his experience in Dalton. Here, she said, he was able to develop approaches and plans that are able to be duplicated and can be done on a larger scale. On Monday night, Pennington resigned as mayor of Dalton so he could legally run for governor.
“He systematized that whole process,” she said.
Supporters tout some of the efforts the city achieved under his mayorship as evidence. Those include building and opening the Mack Gaston Community Center despite leading efforts in 2008 that led to ending a dedicated recreation tax, and cutting property taxes several years in a row without making any controversial moves to significantly cut city services, they said.
Supporter Cathy Holmes, who has been involved in city politics and affairs for several years, said she believes in Pennington’s vision.
“Sadly, the state of Georgia is not in a healthy situation from an economic standpoint,” she said. “We have so many people who are reliant on government programs, from food stamps to you name it. We need to reduce our tax burden so businesses will be interested in coming to the state of Georgia (and entrepreneurs can thrive).”
While Pennington has toed a traditional Republic Party line on many issues — he’s against abortion, opposes legalized gay marriage and does not support the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, for example — supporters say he’s different from other Republican candidates in that they see him as more of a leader than a politician.
“He’s demonstrated to the people of this community already what he is capable of,” said Shelby Peeples, a local businessman.
Ruth Lee Hair, a community volunteer, said she believes Pennington has a plan for the state as well as a track record of stating what he plans to do and following through.
Does she think he can win?
“I think he’s off to a very good start,” she said. “I’m optimistic.”
Pennington said that while he’s made campaign stops in the southern part of the state and has supporters there, 80 percent of the people expected to vote in the governor’s race live north of Interstate 20, which runs from Augusta and west through Atlanta to the Alabama line. He said that while he is the one running, the campaign is really about carrying Georgians’ desires to the capitol.
“I’m just sort of the instrument in this, the ‘pretty face’ if you will,” he said.