Candidate Q&A – Senate District 40

Vote sign in front of Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decaturish and Tucker Observer sent candidate Q&As to all candidates in our readership area running for state and federal office. The Q&As were sent to Senate District 40 candidates Sally Harrell (D, Incumbent) and Austin McDonald (R). The answers have not been edited.

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Sally Harrell (D, incumbent)

Candidate name and party affiliation:

Sally Harrell, Democrat (incumbent)

Candidate website:

sallyharrell.org

What is your occupation?

social worker

What neighborhood do you call home?

Unincorporated DeKalb County, Lakeside High School area

Why are you running for this position?

I am running for re-election so that I can continue the work I have begun, specifically in the areas of education and workforce training, closing healthcare disparities (including access to reproductive healthcare and abortion), gun safety, and ensuring Georgia meets its obligation to families living with disabilities.

What are your top three priorities if you are elected? 

Expanding affordable post-secondary opportunities, ensuring safe facilities for K-12 students, and meeting the needs of people living with disabilities, which includes closing healthcare disparities for minority populations as a preventative measure.

If elected, how will you work with members of the opposite party to accomplish your goals? 

As a member of the minority party, working with the opposite party is a requirement if you want to get anything done. Therefore, I tend to concentrate on issues that both parties can agree on, such as adequate funding to reduce waiting lists for services such as foster care, child protective services and community services for the disabled.

How will you work with the leadership of DeKalb County to accomplish their legislative goals?

I currently serve as Vice Chair of the DeKalb Senate delegation. As a leader of the delegation, we schedule regular meetings with DeKalb county leaders, such as the county commission and the school board.

What is your reaction to the closure of Atlanta Medical Center and how would you work to improve healthcare access for all Georgians? 

Sadly, for-profit healthcare companies do not compete to serve the uninsured. Georgia needs to expand Medicaid, as most other states have already done, and the legislature needs to set adequate Medicaid reimbursement rates.

If you are elected, would you support creating new cities in DeKalb County and Georgia? 

North DeKalb currently operates under two different models of government — county and municipal. This can negatively impact regional planning and equitable delivery of services. I believe north DeKalb needs to become fully municipalized so that everyone is operating under the same form of government.

Should the General Assembly pass a law that guarantees a right to have an abortion in the state?

All Georgia women should be able to make their own reproductive decisions.

What should the state do with any revenue surplus it receives? 

Revenue surplus does not exist as long as basic services are not funded at adequate levels. The list of underfunded Georgia services is long.

If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government?

I serve on the Senate Ethics Committee, which also oversees all voting laws, so I am interested in ensuring that all elected officials (including myself) and all elections are fair and transparent. All elected officials should file campaign finance disclosures (including myself) and should not be allowed to run for election if these forms are not up-to-date. Additionally, I hold regular Town Hall meetings and write a widely read newsletter while the legislature is in session.

Austin McDonald (R)

Candidate name and party affiliation:

Austin McDonald, Republican

Candidate website:

austin4Georgia.com

What is your occupation?

Realtor, contract teacher, and homemaker

What neighborhood do you call home?

Dunwoody

Why are you running for this position?

In 2020 I left education because I felt that I could do more for education outside of the system rather than within. Over the last few years, District 40 representation in the State Senate has been lacking. I’m running to serve, listen, and represent my community and the next generation of Georgians. District 40 has strong, independent people who are busy working, living, and raising their families. It is time that we have a representative focused on District 40 and its needs.

What are your top three priorities if you are elected? 

Education – Ensure that the educational dollars directly support students and teachers. District-level employees should not be getting bonuses and/or raises when students are struggling academically, and teachers are using their own personal money to provide the necessary resources for student success. Safety – To keep our community safe, we must strengthen partnerships between law enforcement and citizens. Economy – Keep taxes low and bring economic development to District 40.

If elected, how will you work with members of the opposite party to accomplish your goals? 

I believe that elected officials should put constituents first. Our current culture has a lot of talking and not a lot of listening. It is essential to listen to those we disagree with, find common ground, and work together to accomplish what is in the best interest of all the people in District 40. Both sides can work together.

How will you work with the leadership of DeKalb County to accomplish their legislative goals?

I believe that local governments know what is best for their communities. As a State Senator, I will listen to county leaders to better understand their needs. Based on those needs, together, we can set goals and work toward making Dekalb County and the rest of District 40 the best community to work, live, and raise a family in.

What is your reaction to the closure of Atlanta Medical Center and how would you work to improve healthcare access for all Georgians? 

The closure of Atlanta Medical Center (AMC) is unfortunate. Still, coordination between the Governor, DeKalb county, and Fulton county in support of the expansion of Grady to fill the void AMC will leave in Atlanta is an excellent example of government working together in a non-partisan way to find a solution to a challenging circumstance. However, Atlanta is not the only Georgia area with medical accessibility challenges. One solution could be coordinating with local communities and medical providers to develop a mobile clinic in areas of need like maternal health, pediatrics, and mental health.

If you are elected, would you support creating new cities in DeKalb County and Georgia? 

Communities desire to have cities for various reasons including safety, local control, and finances to name a few. Generally, I support cityhood and am willing to work with any community who wishes to pursue it.

Should the General Assembly pass a law that guarantees a right to have an abortion in the state?

This is a broad question that does not have a simple yes or no answer. Many people in District 40 are surprised to learn of the number of exceptions within the current law. Some believe six weeks is too early, while others believe that late term abortions should be regulated. Before having our first child, my wife had a ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage. I feel that there is a stigma surrounding miscarriages and infertility. As a state, we need to do more to decrease the cost of adoption while removing barriers for foster care. We also need to have compassion for individuals who choose abortion by provoding the option of mental health support. There is nothing more heartbreaking than losing your child.

What should the state do with any revenue surplus it receives? 

As representatives of the people, it is important that we are good stewards of the people’s money. We can be good stewards by providing rebates to those who have paid taxes and responsibly improving infrastructure. As State Senator, I would like to see some of the surplus go towards making our schools safer and addressing the education gaps caused by prolonged school closures during the pandemic.

If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government?

Yes, of course. As a former educator and coach, and now a Realtor, ethics and transparency is vital to serving and working with others to accomplish goals like learning a new skill, winning a game, or negotiating a purchase or sale of a property. As I have talked to future constituents over the last few months they desire to see a legislator that will be present in their community despite their party affiliation. Someone that will give legislative updates in the local papers and not hide in executive session. Someone that will stay focused on the needs of District 40. I believe actions speak louder than words and I will lead by example, exemplifying ethics and transparency. I hope to earn your vote so I can work hard for you. Feel free to reach out to me, my number is 770-862-8790.

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