By Joel Hall
Candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2008 have already started to make their presence known in the Southern Crescent.
Former Puerto Rico state representative and television broadcaster, Maggie Martinez, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination this week in Jonesboro. And incumbent senator, Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), will be hosting an informal meet-and-greet at Butch's Restaurant in Jonesboro on Tuesday.
Martinez, a resident of Hampton and a teacher at Memorial Middle School in Rockdale County, launched her candidacy from the steps of the Historic Clayton County Courthouse. In a prepared speech, she introduced her platform, which includes more honest and open government, energy independence, immigration reform, investing in stem cell research, and preventing the privatization of Social Security.
If elected, Martinez said she would be the first Hispanic woman elected to the Senate.
First elected in 2002, Chambliss is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. According to Justin Tomczak, a spokesperson for the Chambliss for Senate Campaign, Chambliss believes that his "common sense conservatism" will appeal to both Democrats and Republicans in Clayton County, a county which is overwhelming Democratic.
At 8 a.m., on Tuesday -- free of charge -- Chambliss will host an information session at Butch's Restaurant, located at 192 Jonesboro Road. Tomczak said the event will be a "good chance for the community to come interact with the senator," and for Chambliss to take his message to the Southern Crescent.
"A lot of the issues that Saxby talks about are not Democratic or Republic issues, but common sense issues," said Tomczak. "He's not somebody who rails on Democrats just because of their party, but he really runs on his values and principles. His focus is on representing everybody in the state."
Tomczak said Chambliss' platform consists of keeping taxes low, improving education, personal choice in health care, proper health care for veterans, strong national defense, and strong support of Georgia agriculture.
Martinez, however, believes there is a disconnect between the Republican party and citizens of Georgia, and that a Democratic senator can more adequately address the needs of the state.
"The best ideas come from people," Martinez said. "[Republicans are] not connected with the people ... they aren't listening to the people. When you start listening to just the people who help you, instead of the people who want to talk to you, you fail as a politician."
Martinez, a Clayton County resident for eight years, believes her experience as a politician in Puerto Rico and a teacher in Georgia gives her insight into the needs of Georgians, who she says are becoming more diverse.
"When you are a teacher ... you see how society changes," she said. "A lot of teachers are working two jobs because they can't make ends meet."
The two candidates for senate differ in their positions on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), also known as PeachCare in Georgia. Martinez was against President George W. Bush's recent veto of an expansion of the SCHIP program.
"People are under the impression that PeachCare is for poor kids," said Martinez. "PeachCare is for the working class people. You don't have to be an expert economist to know that people are living from paycheck to paycheck. If you take that health care away from them, what else do they have?"
While an advocate of PeachCare, Chambliss voted against the expansion, because he believed it "was a big step towards universal health care," according to Tomczak.
"PeachCare in Georgia is a great program, but we have to make sure that it's focused on those who really need it," said Tomczak. "We don't feel that the taxpayers should be funding health care for everybody."
Martinez will be on the ballot for the Democratic primary on Feb. 5. Tomczak said that at this time, the Chambliss campaign is "not commenting on the Democratic primary."
On the web: www.maggieforcongress.com; www.chambliss.senate.gov