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3 Democratic Senate candidates headline local forum

3 Democratic Senate candidates headline local forum

3 Democratic Senate candidates headline local forum

Dr. Branko Radulovacki

Three Democratic Party candidates for U.S. Senate — Steen Miles, Dr. Branko Radulovacki and Todd A. Robinson — spoke at a Saturday forum hosted by the Bulloch County Democrats.

One candidate each for state school superintendent, insurance commissioner, Bulloch County commissioner and Bulloch County clerk of courts also attended. The seven candidates made up one-third of the total attendance.

Robinson, 53, retired as a first sergeant from the Army after 21 years as an airborne Ranger. He's now a Junior ROTC teacher at Stewart County High School in Lumpkin and an adjunct instructor for the University of Phoenix at its campus in Columbus, Ga.

He supports a proposal by state Sen. Jason Carter, a Democratic candidate for governor, to separate the education budget that funds Georgia's public schools from the rest of the state budget.

"That way it's not bothered. ...," Robinson said. "I think that's a great idea, so I support that, separating education from the rest of the state's budget."

In contrast to the refusal of Gov. Nathan Deal and other Republican state leaders to do so, Robinson supports expanding Medicaid coverage.

"We have to extend Medicaid coverage for the kids," Robinson said. "We have to extend unemployment benefits. Men and women who work hard every day, it's not their fault that their companies leave the state and go other places. They deserve unemployment benefits."

But Robinson, who called himself a conservative Democrat, added that some people abuse the system, and spoke of using educational opportunities — including some promoted by Deal — as paths for helping people get off welfare.

Miles, 67, is the former Atlanta newscaster and state senator who appeared as Steen "Newslady" Miles on the 2006 primary ballot for lieutenant governor, where she came in third among Democrats. A rules change prevents the nickname from appearing this time, she said. Her 35-year career in journalism included 15 years as a reporter and news director for WXIA-TV in Atlanta. Her one term in the state Senate, 2005-2007, makes her the only Democrat in the race with experience in elected office.

Miles said she is a candidate for Senate for three reasons: first, to carry her moral vision to Washington; second, to bridge the racial, economic and political divide; and third "to bring the opportunity to Georgians to have a choice."

Miles protests what she says has been the treatment of a fourth Democrat seeking the Senate nomination in the May 20 primary, Michelle Nunn, as a presumptive nominee by some party officials and news organizations. Local Democrats had hosted Nunn, CEO of the nonprofit corporation Points of Light and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, in a January appearance in the Honey Bowen Building and did not invite her to return to Saturday's forum in the same location.

Last November, Miles wrote a letter to the chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia complaining that state party leaders had violated party bylaws by endorsing a particular candidate before the primary, she reminded local Democrats.

"That one particular presumptive candidate has a good deal of money and has her father's last name, but ladies and gentlemen, that's not quite good enough. What are the issues?" Miles said. "And we need to be very clear about the issues that are affecting the everyday lives of Georgians."

More recently, Miles has written to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee asking that the same amount of money given to the "presumptive candidate" be given to other Democratic candidates in the race.

"I spoke for myself. You gentlemen will have to write your own letters," she told Robinson and Radulovacki. "But the point of fact is, this is a democracy, and as the president so aptly pointed out in his State of the Union address, it is the power of the vote and not the size of our bank account that drives our democracy."

Radulovacki, 51, a private-practice Atlanta psychiatrist who calls himself "Dr. Rad," first became politically active as an advocate for mental health care reform in Georgia. As a Senate candidate, he speaks often of keeping and improving the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

"I've been to a number of forums with some of the Republican candidates, and to a person they still want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That's still their mantra," he said Saturday.

He noted that the number of people who have signed up for insurance through the health insurance exchanges has now topped 4 million and that Medicaid expansion has extended coverage to about 2 million more.

"We cannot afford to make a U-turn," Radulovacki said. "There is no viable alternative to what we have, and going back to what we had before is a nonstarter. That system was failed and broken. So we do need to make some fixes to the Affordable Care Act, but we need to keep moving forward."

Born in the former Yugoslavia in what is now Serbia, Radulovacki was 7 when his family immigrated to the United States.

"And we have to move forward on other issues, like immigration reform, the bipartisan legislation that passed out of the United States Senate, I support that," he said. "Now it's stuck in the House. It seems they're not going to move on that. Well, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — not a liberal I think — said immigration reform needs to get done this year. We need to have leaders who are willing to push hard for those changes."

Other candidates attending the forum were Elizabeth "Liz" Johnson of Statesboro, who is running for state insurance commissioner; Alvie Coes III, who is running for Bulloch County clerk of courts; Anthony Simmons, who is running for re-election to Seat 1-B on the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners; and Denise Freeman, a candidate for state school superintendent.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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