By Johnny Jackson
The economy, jobs and the federal deficit were the main topics for Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, of Georgia's Third District, during his visit with constituents in McDonough Friday.
"We have got to have people to start to get involved," said Westmoreland. "We've got to hear the American people that gave us [Republicans] a majority in the [U.S.] House [of Representatives]. We're going to have a balanced budget within five years."
Westmoreland, on his latest visit to Henry County, concentrated his focus on residents, businesses, and officials, in and around, the McDonough area. The congressman spoke one-on-one with local manufacturers, government officials, and citizens. "What we're trying to do is get out, and get into the community, and learn what's on people's minds," he said. "The biggest concern right now is jobs and the economy. We need to do everything we can to empower small businesses where the real job creators are."
Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis was one of those who had a sit-down talk with the congressional leader. "I think one of the greatest concerns we have here -- and I think a lot of citizens have around the nation -- is the deficit," Mathis said. "We cannot keep spending like we are, and think that we're going to be able to get out of this economic crisis we find ourselves in."
The commission chairman expressed her appreciation of Westmoreland, who was re-elected in 2010 to his fourth term in Congress. "He's just an outstanding individual," she said, "and I enjoyed having the opportunity just to sit and chat with him for a while."
Westmoreland acknowledged the ever-present concerns about jobs, the economy, and the national debt. He said lawmakers in Washington have been able to trim $267 million over the past three weeks from the federal budget.
"We borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend," he said. "We've got to make sure we're prepared, as a country, to live within our means. Cutting 20 percent is going to affect everybody. [But] we hope everybody will stick with us."
Westmoreland gave his comments during an address before an audience at The Winsor Gallery in downtown McDonough. The setting of paintings, jewelry, and other art represented part of a local quality-of-life dynamic, according to Judy Neal, community organizer, and the membership chairperson of McDonough Arts, a community, arts organization.
"It was a way for us to showcase the arts and showcase what we're doing locally," said Neal.
Kathy Gilbert, mayor pro tempore and councilwoman-at-large in the City of Stockbridge, attended Westmoreland's visit. She pointed out that the region's quality of life, which includes the arts, impacts its economic development. "The arts in Georgia make up a $300 million piece of our economy," said Gilbert, who serves a constituency of roughly 25,000 Stockbridge residents.
Gilbert is the Henry County appointee to the Metro Atlanta Arts & Cultural Coalition (MAACC), and has two daughters with professions in the performing arts. She also helps govern a city budget of about $20.4 million, which she pointed out is affected by decisions of leaders on the federal level.
"Everything that happens on the national level affects local officials," she explained. "I'm here because I appreciate what he [Westmoreland] is doing for the state. We all share the same sorts of concerns when it comes to dwindling resources, and how to do more with less."
McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland said he spoke at length with the congressman on Friday about small business, and "responsible and balanced budgets at all levels of government."
"He was impressed that the City of McDonough has ended our fiscal year with a small surplus of reserve money for the past two years," Copeland said. "I think that he truly enjoyed the 'small-town atmosphere' and having the opportunity to speak to local constituents."