By: Patrick Wheat
r-image” src=”http://www.georgiapoliticalreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/kessler-image.jpg” alt=”" width=”461″ height=”306″ />Candidate for State House Representative for District 118 (comprising of much of Athens and the surrounding area), Carter Kessler attended the University of Georgia from 1999 to 2004. After leaving UGA, Mr. Kessler remained in Athens, going on to found and run Oconee Custom Signs until 2007. During his time in Athens, Mr. Kessler has been an active force with the Athens-Clarke County Republican party, serving as a precinct captain, county, district and state delegate to represent and grow the Republican Party in Georgia. After successfully securing his party’s nomination for State House Representative in July, Mr. Kessler has run a campaign based on grassroots activism and individual involvement in local politics. Mr. Kessler was kind enough to sit down and talk to Georgia Political Review’s Patrick Wheat about his campaign, his personal philosophies, and his hopes for District 118.
In 50 words or less, can you define your campaign for us?
Grassroots activism, to put the people first and to strike back effectively against career insiders and big money special interests that have taken over the system
You’ve mentioned career insiders and big money interests quite a few times in your campaign. Can you specify why you feel that is not beneficial for the people of Athens?
They crowd out honest discourse in political setting to the detriment of the people at large. The discussions are led by special interests, the same special interests that have been leading the discussion for years and years and it’s time for change.
I am a student at the University of Georgia, so I am familiar with the organization Young Americans for Liberty, and you founded that back in 2009?
Yes, I did.
Can you tell us what was your inspiration behind founding Young Americans for Liberty?
I wanted to give fellow students and future UGA students the ability to turn their political activism into something more than pure partisanship. The College Republicans and Young Democrats seem to have a way of absorbing people’s enthusiasm and turning it into pure party machinations. And I think there is a place for that, but for people who genuinely wanted to be principled, I felt it was necessary to have an organization not affiliated with a partisan apparatus behind it.
With that in mind, talking about partisan apparatuses, what are your views on the Republican Party as it exists today?
Well, you know, it’s such a multilayered entity. There’s the National Republican Party, there’s the National Republican Senate Committee, there’s the National Republican House Committee, there’s caucuses within all these different levels of the Republican Party and then at the most, smallest level you have the Clarke County Republican Party in association with the Georgia Republican Party. I believe in the party. I just, sometimes I disagree with the direction our leadership take it. And I have convictions that we can grow the party and do better by the people, by our constituents within the party if we understand that. At a national level we are not very popular right now, so obviously some things are needing to be addressed and we need to understand why the biggest states in our country are out of play for Republicans. California, New York and I think as long as we put the people first and have faith in our individual community and our ability as citizens to solve our own problems locally and understand the real role of government, to provide laws. I was thinking about it the other day, and laws are kind of like these edicts that says “No double standards”, but we have lost faith in that. Almost everywhere you go today there are double standards and so, that upsets me. I think the Republican party as a whole is a great thing and I believe in it, it’s just we have leaders that I take issue with.
When you talk about double standards, are you talking about how the laws interact with each other, or the overlaying of government in different levels? Perhaps encroaching on different areas?
What I am talking a lot about is the exemptions and favoritism that you see in regulation through policy, or policy through regulation. Which takes the lawmaking apparatus out of the legislature and into the executive (branch), where you see bureaucracies writing laws, where you see policy overriding law. We are just so swamped in exemptions and statues and restrictions. It is confusing and when common citizens don’t understand what the law is, it’s a problem. But we have a lot of that.
And what do you think the answer to solving that problem?
Local participation. We need to understand that politics is year round, that there is a price to pay for inactivity, and (a price) to being ruled by cruel men. What we think is a convenience, to be unencumbered by politics day to day, really is a burden.
And the role of the individual districts, like district 118, is something that has been stressed throughout your campaign. Why is it that you think that the individual counties can have such a large effect on the whole?
Well, it’s where it all starts, it’s the ground level. And as much as I get upset that it seems to be so top down, it doesn’t have to be. And if we have ground swells, at the grassroots level, it is undeniable to impact we can have. And I just see it as the only recourse we have to really and effectively change things. You know, one of the reasons I am running is to leapfrog other people in party, so far as in the ability to have influence and say-so in the party. Because right now, I’m just some voter, you know. I’m a prescient delegate, I’ve been involved in the process, but if I become State Representative, it’s like I, in rank in the party, I jump over the county executive board, all the different media outlets who have a big audience, and then I become more prominent. Then I can use that as a launching pad to grow the message even more, to attract more people and to continue building coalitions. And again, the aim is to put the people first, to focus on quality of life and upward mobility for everyone and, like I said, I feel that some of our leadership hasn’t been aiming our public policy and our state budgets in that direction.
And going off of that, what in your opinion is the single most prevalent issue(s) to District 118 and how would you work to fix that during your term of office?
Well, the two biggest things going on are public policy and the state budget. I want to fix the state budget by prioritizing our spending around local school systems and meeting our funding obligations, which we previously made and it is upsetting to me that we are so derelict in meeting our financial obligations along with our medical services. So what I want to do is I want to reduce and cap top-end administrative salaries and compensations so that we can take those dollars immediately and put them towards our local school systems and medical services, you know, cut from the top. Ask the people at the top, getting paid the most by the tax payers to do more with less. Rather than take more money out of the economy, I just want to rearrange the way that we spend the dollars, by putting more of an emphasis on our local school systems and medical expenses at the expense of our top-end administrative compensations. I think those are really valuable jobs and attractive positions, even if they are offered at a reduced rate. And as far as public policy, my number one concern for our community is to reform the justice system. Athens has a shameful poverty rate and we also have an incredibly low unemployment rate, so something doesn’t add up because you would think that with such low unemployment we would have more prosperity, but we are one of the poorest areas in the state and in the southeast. I think our justice system contributes to that and I want to fix it. So, I’ve floated the ideas of ending mandatory sentencing. If we are going to talk about believing in local government, than it needs to start with our judges. Every other July we as citizens have the chance to elect State Superior, Probate and Magistrate court judges and we need to give them the ability to review each case one by one and use their best judgment and discretion to sentence each case rather than have them handcuffed to a chart. It would also be a good idea to better fund our public defender office. Too many people get processed and it’s just a giant turnstile and if we can put more resources into our public defenders offices then we will have our citizens being represented which is a lot better than being processed. And then we should change our traffic violations from being a criminal offense, like they are right now, to being a civil matter, like they are in other states. We spent a lot of time and effort and money, tax payer money, to house nonviolent offenders, you know, someone who got a speeding ticket and didn’t show up to court on time is going to wind up in jail for who knows how long. And we don’t need to excuse him, but it’s not wise, it’s not helpful to the tax payers to incarcerate them. So, those are three concrete ideas I have for reforming our justice system, which is the public policy part of it, and from the budget side of it, we need to prioritize the spending. So, I know that was kind of roundabout, but those are the two big things facing this community that I can address as a State Representative and that will be addressed regardless of whose there. That’s what the General Assembly does; it crafts state and public policy and divides up the budget.
Now going back in your answer really quickly, you mentioned cutting costs, cutting wages for the upper administration levels of state government. What else, beyond that, is going to be necessary to help (balance) the budget, which is, as you’ve said, difficult to do?
Well, fortunately we have a state constitutional amendment to balance our budget every year. Which is wonderful, as it limits us from being too dramatic in wanting to overspend, so every year we balance our budget and it is really just a matter of how we balance our budget and we’ve been making across the board budget cuts. I think this is the wrong approach; I think it is better to go to the top, to the people who are being paid the most by the tax payers to share in our sacrifice, to do more with less, so we can continue to prioritize our school systems and our medical services.
You’ve talked about prioritizing our school systems. Beyond getting them more money and ensuring that they are well funded, is there anything else that you feel needs to be addressed?
Yeah, I would like to see our local school boards, who are elected here locally with elections every other July, to have more autonomy to set their own policies and standards and curriculum and everything else for the schools that they control and to work with other school systems to figure out what is being helpful and what is being counterproductive, and to let them interact with their teachers and their parents and their students to deliver the best student experience possible. Right now, a lot of times they just get chained to implementing national and international and state policies, and it kinda makes the student experience callus and I think we would be better off if we championed and got behind our local school boards and say “We trust you guys and we want to see y’all get creative and get ahead of the curve in making the curriculums better and making student performance better” instead of just saying “Go do what they’re doing in Anchorage, Alaska and Fairfax, Minnesota.” And it’s not that I’m trying to get rid of all standards, I just am trying to empower our school boards to address the problems here on the ground level and to be more responsive to what’s going on.
You’ve mentioned in several articles, interviews and on your website a few times that you believe that government can intrude on the liberty of its citizens. Can you point some examples to us and how in your term as a State Representative you would work to return those liberties to the people?
Yeah. We have this incrementally growing kind-of nanny state/police state. You see it when you go to the airports and everyone is guilty upon arrival and I just don’t think the TSA is doing as good a job as they could be. I would like to review what their mission is and what their policies are and that we are not unduly, how do I want to say this? It’s just a shame, I just hate that we have come to this in the name of (security). I don’t know, I guess I should get off the TSA, but they are not cops. They are not sworn peace officers and we give them all this power to stop and search and everything else. You don’t lose your rights once you enter the airport. So, I’d like to see travelers rights restored within our airports and maybe do a better job of criticizing some of the security theatre and put the emphasis more on real security.
But on a state level, is there any that you would like to see changed, not focusing on the TSA and the federal government?
On the state level, I’d like to see a paper trail. 26 states have a paper trail, you know, that’s another public policy issue and I have spoken with Brian Kemp about it and he says that if we can find money in the legislature than we can find a way to bring back a paper trail. He says that it is a dollars issue, but I think that it is something that is worth doing, because I don’t think there is anything more important than the integrity of our elections.
And could you just clarify what you mean by “paper trail?”
Some kind of a hard copy to provide redundancy to go along with our electronic voting machines. Right now you walk in and you get a little one inch by one inch chip and you put it in the electronic voting machine and you touch the screen and you walk away and those chips can get lost in the shuffle. What I would like is to have a ballot box again, with actual paper stuffed into it.
And you have talked about ethics reform in the Georgia legislature, which is kind of on this topic. What would you like to see, ideally?
What I would like to see is strong leaders who stand up to a lot of the lobbyists who have been running the show, not because they won’t listen to them, but because they will listen to them and say, “Look, I understand your point of view, but we need to put the people first.” The people are the real special interest constituents that I am looking after and some, feel good do little ethics legislation is going to be a substitute to actual individual ethics of the lawmakers. So, I’m committed to breading more political competition because I believe that is the only real way to make people behave ethically or punish them for not behaving ethically. And when we are as gerrymandered as we are and as uncompetitive as we are, having 141 of 182 state house seats unopposed, people get away with stuff. They know how to get around things and I think ethics is better addressed by the constituents having more understanding of who they are electing and what they are doing when they are out there. And a lot of that just comes from strong leadership who will report back on what the ins and outs of the general assembly are, which is something I plan on doing, to give a honest assessment of political activity in the general assembly. I also want to work with other grassroots leaders throughout the state to help them engage in the political process, to put pressure on all state legislatures to act right, to be ethical and to put the people first.
What do you think is the strongest difference between you and your opponent, Spencer Frye?
There’s a lot. Best I can gather, his approach is to raise taxes. The only concrete solution I’ve heard him mentioned while we’ve been together is to raise cigarette sales taxes and internet taxes and my approach is not to raise taxes but to better appropriate our spending. I’m focused on building coalitions across party lines so we can have political and electoral success outside of the party insiders and corporate money that are driving so much of our partisans’ politics. He seems to be full on board with just using guilt to scare people back into submission. His approach is “You’ve got to be a good, obedient Democrat”. It upsets me because the Republicans will do it the same, our strong Democrat values or our strong Republican values and they will keep saying it over and over again. What are you talking about? And why don’t I have these values too? We all want clean water and good economies and honest living, I don’t think that’s a partisan values. Yeah, he’s just beating that “vote democrat” partisan drum and if you just look at the numbers of it you would think that’s a winning strategy, but I’m trying to give voters and opportunity to be more engaged and help actively build a blue print that we can share with the rest of the state to have political success outside of the partisan politics that have driven us to where we are today.
Now, on the subject of taxes, an argument has been made that taxes along with budget cuts are required to ensure that the state budget will remain balanced through any storm. What is your view on the role of taxes in government?
Well, we need to understand that people work hard to pay taxes, and knowing that we need to be especially frugal and wise with those tax payers’ dollars. I’m of the position that we as a state government already take our fair share if not more of taxes and resources out of the economy and out of the tax payers’ control. So, I’m not trying to increase the tax burden on our state any more than it already is. What I’m trying to do is to better prioritize the spending of the revenues and receipts that we already have coming in. Obviously, there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes. But I focus on the best ways to spend those tax dollars and our highest priorities, and my highest priority and the highest priority of much of Athens voters are our school systems and our medical services, as far as funding goes.
Looking back at this campaign so far, is there any one regret you have or anything that you’d wish you’d done differently?
I don’t think I’ll ever fill out another survey again. I just think that you are being set up to fail. So, I regret all the survey’s I filled out, not because I have a problem talking about the issues or being on record about them, but once you put in black and white, people are able to take it, turn it and run with it. And my opponent has criticized me and insinuated that I want to bring Jim Crow laws back and that I want to abolish public education and I want to end all health care, which is just patently untrue and unsubstantiated. But because of a few survey answers here and there, which the vast majority of other politicians don’t fill out or answer or take a position on, he has been able to misconstrue those answers and run with it and lead it into the worst possible positions. It’s really upsetting to me, but it’s also upsetting to my volunteers, that he would talk about, in a paid letter that I wanted to bring back Jim Crow Laws. I mean, here I am trying to talk about the issues and the necessity of protecting our elections and he’s taking it in the exact opposite direction, saying “No, Carter wants to disenfranchise people.” And that was upsetting. But it comes from these stupid surveys and I have learned that it is just better to go talk to people, to get it out there in front of the media and hope they are honest in putting out what you said and what the gist of your message is, going to the voters one-by-one. Those surveys are just a gimmick and they are all set up to make those different groups feel important. You asked what I learned or what I regretted and that is it. But I’ll tell you, I have really loved meeting all the people, going door-to-door and becoming more engaged in people’s concerns and having so many people come out and get involved.