Municipal elections come early next month, but eyes are always focused on the future. For a state booming, the governorship is coming open at a very crucial time. Looking ahead to the November 2018 election, early frontrunner and current Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle returned to Fayette County Tuesday night to meet with supporters and keep his finger on the pulse of a county on the rise.
His stance is a clear one. He wants growth like in Fayette to be a signal of things to come for the state.
“Our campaign really is about creating greater economic prosperity that leaves no one behind,” he said.
With growth projections of up to 4.5 million more people in the state in less than 15 years, it’s no small task to keep up.
“That’s a huge number, and as governor you’ve got to plan and shape what that growth is going to look like.”
To that end, he has pledged 500,000 jobs in the private sector in the first four years of his administration and a $100 million tax cut in the first 100 days that would see a family of four have their first $17,000 be tax-exempt.
“Everyone would benefit, but certainly those in the middle income and lower income (brackets) would benefit much greater.”
Lessons learned in the most dire of economic times can make Georgia even stronger. While the years of recession were brutal, they ultimately paved the way for a boom, especially in Fayette County with the building of Pinewood Atlanta Studios.
“The beauty of it is is that it created a wonderful opportunity for us to shape what the future of Georgia would look like,” said Cagle of the budgetary slashes made to keep up at the time. “We didn’t have a film industry to speak off until we passed a tax incentive for that. Today, it is a $9 billion industry with more on the way.”
In order to meet the needs of industry, he wants to avoid a cookie cutter approach to education and help students understand the value of both college-preperatory and vocational education.
“When I wake up, basically there are 100,000 jobs that are open in our state today. Of those 100,000 jobs, 25 percent need a college degree and 75 percent need an industry certification or two-year degree from a technical college,” he said. “I believe that we need to have an educational system that is aligned with industry needs and not one size fits all, but one that is directly aligned to meet kids where they are.”
Having helped bring a college and career academy network to 40 counties already, he wants to grow it further.
“I want every student to have access to a college and career academy so they can explore the different career fields.”
Whether it be working in the movie industry in a technical capacity with studies at the Georgia Film Academy or another vocation, Cagle wants to make sure graduates are ready to succeed in order to help industry grow.
“That’s where my focus is, making sure every single industry has the kind of workforce that they need in order to grow and be successful.”
In a state where 25 percent of children live in poverty and 40 of counties have 40 percent or higher poverty rates, Cagle believes the way to address the gap starts early. It comes back to those building blocks laid in the schools.
“If we can have an educational system that is aligned with industry needs and more people are coming into the workforce credentialed and ready to go to work, then that gives us a better chance of them not turning to a life of crime or a life of dependency on government.”
As the national political scene grows more fractured, Cagle thinks it is the differences in our state that actually bring it together. A focus on balancing the budget, strategic investment, low taxes, and business-conducive regulations help set them apart from Washington.
“As governor, you have the ability to shape that and focus our state, focus our agencies, around what our priorities are, and it really is about jobs. It’s about the economy. It’s about people,” he said. “There’s a great contrast between what we do and what Washington does. It’s not as political at the state (level), and we do have a tendency to work across party lines and focus on issues that we fundamentally have good consensus on.
“I think the beauty in that process is that Georgia is a shining example of what you can get accomplished.”
It’s become his duty to serve his state, and he has done that from the time he was youngest state Senator ever elected at just 28 years old to his run for Lieutenant Governor. The first-ever Republican elected to the post in Georgia, he has worked with both Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal to guide the state through times of trial and triumph. He got into politics because he wanted to do something. He wanted to help make his state a home to be proud of.
“For me, I became frustrated with government. I became frustrated with their inability to react, to plan, and to expedite issues. I wanted to be part of that solution,” he said. “Public service is a calling. It’s a contact sport, so if you don’t feel a calling to it, you’ll back out real quick.”
Raised by a single mother, living in trailers and apartments, and moving through eight schools, Cagle has a determination to serve all Georgians.
“I think we should always be challenged to do better, to do more, and to leave things better than we found it.”
The state itself is a microcosm of different entities pulling together, from the big city to the rural, one stoplight towns.
“The beauty of Georgia is it is so diverse. You have a beautiful coast line, but you also have a beautiful mountainous region and everything in between.”
The landscape alone we have to thank for some of our biggest successes.
“That’s one of the reasons that the film industry loves Georgia because they can shoot any scene in the world right here in our state, but it also creates a lot of diversity in Georgia, and we’re proud of that.”
Focus on infrastructure to sustain growth and expanding rural broadband will go a long way to bringing those sides even closer together. He wants a 10-year strategic plan to build infrastructure and an aggressive plan for broadband expansion.
“Expanding rural broadband is so critical for our state where we’re no longer bound by bricks and mortar,” he said. “The world is the marketplace, and (business) can be done anywhere and in any corner of our state.”
Recent years have brought optimism in the state, and there’s reason to believe more sunny days are ahead.
“We’ve been able to do something wonderful things, and Georgia is poised in a wonderful position to take advantage of a lot of economic growth that is going to create a rising tide that lifts all boats. That’s what we want.”