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Senate District 44 race to be hard-fought battle

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

First-term, State Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) will have her hands full in her upcoming bid for re-election in District 44.

In the July 15 primary, Davenport faces a political newcomer, a former county commission contender, and a veteran of 16 years in the State House of Representatives. They are, respectively: Artansa Snell, a real estate broker; De'Mont Davis, an information technology consultant; and Gail Buckner, a former state representative.

Davenport, 59, was born at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, but has resided in Jonesboro for 58 years. She has a long history of political and community involvement in Clayton County, particularly around issues affecting African Americans. She has served as the founder and president of the Concerned Black Citizens Coalition of Clayton County for the last 23 years, and was instrumental in establishing the county's long-running annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Prayer Breakfast and annual Ecumenical Service, in celebration of the national observance of the King holiday.

"I ran the first time because I felt I could make a difference ... I still feel that way," said Davenport. "As a long-term resident of Clayton County, and attending Clayton County schools, I believe I have the passion to serve the people of Clayton County."

Davenport describes herself as a "lifelong" member of Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church, who has worked closely with ministers in the community on voter registration and voter education efforts. She also has been active in bringing many cultural performers to the Clayton County Performing Arts Center, including the Morehouse College Glee Club and the African-American Philharmonic Orchestra.

Artansa Snell, 47, is originally from Macon, and has resided in Clayton for 23 years. She was appointed to serve a three-year term on the Clayton County Zoning Advisory Group in 2005 and has served as the second vice president and education chair of the Clayton County Branch NAACP. This is her first bid for elective office.

"My motivation for seeking elected office is to provide the citizens of Clayton and Henry counties with a voice to articulate their issues and assertive leadership that will pursue results," she said in an e-mailed statement.

"The citizens expect and deserve leadership from someone who will respond, listen, and cultivate open and honest government," said Snell. "With input from the citizens, I will respond to the major issues facing our state, and those unique to my constituents."

She said she is deeply concerned about the economy, transportation, the housing crisis, as well as the state of the education systems in Clayton and Henry counties.

De'Mont Davis said believes he has the ability to "bring back the credibility" that he said "has been lost" in the Senate by Davenport.

"We have no credibility, or respect at the State Capitol with our current state representative," said Davis. "You can't spit in somebody's face and ask them for money or help. We've got to basically go to the capitol and build some healthy and productive relationships with both Republicans and Democrats."

In 2006, Davis ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Commissioners District 4 seat won by Michael Edmondson. He is a former consultant for Accenture Consulting and the first African-American director of Oracle customizations for North America for Richter System.

Davis, 46, is from Los Angeles, Calif. He has lived in the Lake Spivey area of Jonesboro for 14 years. With bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from Prairie View A&M and Atlanta University, respectively, he owns and operates a private information technology consulting firm.

Gail Buckner, 57, served uner the Gold Dome as the representative for House District 76 from 1991 to 2006. She believes her 16 years in the House will serve her well in the Senate.

"The citizens of Clayton County have made a major investment in me for sending me to the generally assembly for eight terms," said Buckner, who resides in Morrow. "I can take that experience to the Senate and use that to bring home dividends. I can build coalitions that can then foster positive results for Clayton County."

Buckner served on the House Appropriations Economic Development Committee and chaired the House Appropriations Human Services Committee -- giving her budget oversight over billions of state dollars effecting thousands of state employees. An alumni of Clayton Junior College, Buckner also secured state dollars which jump-started the expansion of the Clayton State University School of Business.

In her spare time, Buckner has led local fund-raising efforts to bring the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta to Clayton County on a full-time basis.

"When citizens began asking me to run for this elected office, I put a lot of thought into the process," said Buckner. "I love Clayton County and we need elected officials who are part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to return Clayton County to a position of leadership within the state of Georgia and to use that position to solve problems in Clayton County and within our state."

Buckner said the most critical issues affecting the county at this time are education and "restoring the integrity of our school board."

In the senate, Davenport has advocated for children, seniors, and urban youths as a member of the Higher Education, Retirement, Public Safety, and Urban Affairs committees. She served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1988 for Rev. Jesse Jackson, in 2004 for John Kerry, and later this year, will serve as a delegate for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

As a senator, Snell said she will explore "incentives from the federal government and the banking industry" to help local businesses rebound, homeowners keep their homes, and new development take place. She would also work to "develop a world-class educational system that adequately prepares our children for the global economy." She said she also wants to enact "legislation that addresses the legal authority that should be extended to the State Board of Education, in the event a school district suffers loss of its accreditation."

Among her strengths, Snell said she has the "ability to work with all groups of people," and is able to "communicate effectively with elected officials, community stakeholders, pastors, and citizens." She said she is "determined to work harder than anyone ever has to create options for my constituents where others have failed."

Davis believes he has a better idea. "I've been trained and made my living by getting businesses to be innovative, productive, and efficient," he said. "I've been trained by some of the best to address situations. That gives me the training to reach across the aisle, and that lets me know how I need to be accessible to my clients, which are my constituents."

Davis promotes himself a "consensus builder," who can work on both sides of the aisle to enact legislation beneficial to the Southern Crescent. He described the incumbent, Davenport, as "divisive."

Among Davis' biggest concerns are helping create a regional transportation system, which will make metro Atlanta competitive with other metropolitan areas, establishing a "Teacher's Bill of Rights" to "give the power back" to teachers and allow them to better govern their classrooms, and establishing a "multi-pronged" approach to education in the Southern Crescent.

"We have a white-collar emphasis on education, but college is not for all," said Davis. "Some people love to work with their hands, so we need to recognize the plumber, the electrician and the bricklayer as equally important as the doctor, the lawyer, and the businessman."

Buckner criticized Davenport over her handling of House Bill 1302, which allowed for the creation of a code of ethics to govern the Clayton County School Board and the establishment of an ethics board to enforce the code.

"Saving the school's system's accreditation was the single most important thing that a member of the Clayton County delegation had to do in the last session," said Buckner. "[Davenport] played political games, dragging her feet, saying that she didn't see the bill when she should have been at the table to help write the bill."

Buckner continued by saying Davenport was "not responsive" to citizens who supported the bill and said after "she finally signed the bill ... she tried to get Gov. [Sonny] Perdue to veto the bill."

The criticism of Davenport over her handling of HB 1302 also was echoed by Davis.

Davenport said she supported the bill and that the idea that she encouraged Perdue to veto the bill is not a true statement. "[HB 1302] came to my desk in April before the session ended and I signed the bill," said Davenport. "The bill states that we must nominate people to be on the [ethics] board, and we are doing that. Why would I sign a bill and ask Gov. Perdue to veto it?

"I grew up in Clayton County schools and I will certainly fight for the children of Clayton County," said Davenport.

Marshall Guest, deputy press secretary for the office of Gov. Perdue, said the office did not have an account of Davenport making such a request.

"We save letters that senators send on topics they have an interest in," said Guest. "We don't have any letters on file urging Gov. Perdue to sign or veto that legislation. Generally, if the legislator signs onto it, that demonstrates their support of the bill."