Diana Eckles seeks the Democratic nomination for District 41 State Representative, a seat that is vacant because Rep. Terry Johnson is retiring. Her Democrat opponents are Justin O'Dell and Michael Smith. Phil Daniell is the only Republican seeking the nomination to run for the seat in the fall.
What made you want to run for office?
Well one of the reasons I was interested is I think this district really needs some active, involved participation. I really want to be actively involved. I’ve been involved with our county Democratic Party for several years. With the retirement of Mr. Johnson this was an opportunity I wanted to step up and take advantage of to make a difference in our community.
What are the most important issues facing District 41?
For me—and this has been confirmed as I’ve spent the last few months out knocking on doors—the three priorities I’ve set for my campaign are one, school funding and basically improving our schools through improving our funding. People are very concerned about the cuts that we’ve made to public education over the last nearly a decade. That’s been a concern over and over because there are kids that are impacted by, parents that are concerned, teachers that are impacted by it. So that to me is a big area.
That ties in to our economy too. People perceive the schools as not as strong in Cobb County or anywhere in the state, then that affects business. So the economy is the second area. The way I talk about it we need to bring some economic development o our part of Cobb because a lot of the development happens around this district. Smyrna’s really done a lot of redevelopment. Marietta’s done a lot of redevelopment. South Cobb is starting to do a lot of redevelopment and we’re kind of right in the middle there and don’t always get some of that development that goes on around us. So we want to make sure we get some of that attention too. We all drive by the same boarded up buildings and we all have abandoned houses or houses that have been empty too long in our neighborhood.
The last one is health care access. That may not always be one, but it really is in our area. Not everyone can afford the health care that is out there. I support giving health care benefits to the residents of Georgia and this district that really need that care and making sure that we bring out the Affordable Care Act in Georgia.
What’s your position on charter schools?
I will be voting against the charter amendment that’s coming down in November. I had made that decision as a citizen before I was a candidate because being involved with the party I had heard a lot about it for a long time. As it was going through all the back and forth, is it going to pass, is it not, my biggest concern is we elect our local officials to make the right choices for our kids in our area and this particular bill of what would be a constitutional change would take away local control. We have an entire system in Georgia that’s set up on local control and I really don’t think we should undermine that.
The other thing that really concerns me is we already have 10 years of cutbacks on our schools and somehow if the state comes in and sets up a charter they don’t have the money for it, but where would that money come from? I’m very concerned that it’s fuzzy math if you will. “Oh yeah, don’t worry we’ll give you money for funding, but in the meantime public schools we’re going to cut your budgets.” So I have those concerns.
Now if a local school district decides that a charter school is a good fit in the district, then that’s an OK decision. But I think that decision should be left at the local level by our elected officials. Personally, I am very supportive of public schools. My kids are in public schools and that’s where I really think we should work the most. But I do think that if our local school board decides on a charter then I support that.
What’s your position on TSPLOST?
I’m going to vote for it. Part of my working with the county party and going to these meetings every month for years, one of the things that I’ve heard repeatedly over and over is one of the things that makes it hard to bring business to our state is the perception of our schools and how Georgia rates relative to the rest of the country and our transportation issues. Now there are other things that come in to that, too. Water concerns and how we’re going to manage our water resources, but over and over education quality and traffic congestion and lack of direction really impact the state.
That to me means we need to do something. I don’t really like the fact that we’re pushing this to a vote. At a state level we make decisions and put plans in place for voting for road improvement projects and transportation and all those kinds of things. To me this is a step. A may not be perfect. It may not be exactly the right thing, but if we don’t do something we’ll continue to miss out on opportunities.
What sets you apart from your opponents?
I believe that my personal experiences relative to the people in the district. I’m a mom of two children in public schools. I’ve had children in public schools going into the sixth year. I volunteer and I have personally seen the changes with the funding over the years and the impact that has and that’s very similar to what people in the district are going through with their children in their schools.
Tying that in the with the economy, my husband’s a public school employee and has been for a very long time although for a while he was a contractor. He’s been with the schools for many years. We’ve had furlough days impact our personal budget. We have medical issues in my family and have had to fight with insurance companies for years. I know the struggles of that. I think some of those experiences are very much what other people in the district have had. They impact me personally, but they impact hundreds and hundreds of voters. I feel like I have a very good understanding of the issues in the district.
The other thing when it comes to kids in schools, I’m the only one of the candidates who currently has children in school and would be only the second Cobb elected official to have kids in the schools right now. That’s a difference too.
I’m also someone who’s active with the Democratic Party and I’ve worked with him and had exposure to local officials and have a lot of information about what’s going on at the Capitol.