Politics/candidate profiles: Q&A with candidates running for state Senate District 52 and state House District 13.

Politics/candidate profiles: Q&A with candidates running for state Senate District 52 and state House District 13.

Among the items on the Nov. 6th ballot will be race for state Senate District 52 (includes Floyd and parts of Bartow, Chattooga and Gordon) and state House District 13 (Rome). For Senate District 52, Republican incumbent Chuck Hufstetler faces Democratic challenger Evan Ross. For House District 13, Republican incumbent Katie Dempsey faces Democratic challenger John Burnette. Hometown Headlines offers interviews with all candidates running in these two races. The interviews and profiles were complied and written by Natalie Simms. Click here to see last week’s interviews with candidates for Floyd County Commission, Post 1. 

State House District 13


John Burnette, age 42, is a life-long resident of Floyd County. He is the owner/agent of the John Burnette Agency in Rome. He has never held an elected office before and says he is “a concerned citizen who realizes we have to put principles over parties”. He volunteers with various organizations in Rome. He has two children, son Reese (18) and daughter Ella (15).


Katie Dempsey, age 66, was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2006 after serving two terms on the Rome City Commission from 2002-2006. She holds a bachelor of Science degree from the University of Georgia and developed two small businesses, as well as serving as a community volunteer. As a member of the Georgia House, she currently serves as Chairman of the Appropriations Human Resource Committee and is a member of several other committees. She and her husband, Lynn, have been married 44 years and have two grown children and seven grandchildren.

QUESTION: What key issue must the General Assembly address and remedy in the 2019 session beginning in January?

Burnette: “An affordable and efficient healthcare system; our lives are literally at stake. I can’t understand how this is even a topic for discussion. The current industry is overpriced and underperforming. This is a major expenditure for practically every household, and if it’s not, it could be at any second. The premiums alone are, in some cases, more than our mortgages/rent per month. That’s before co-pays are paid and deductibles met. It just doesn’t make sense to me how we accept this as our normal. I won’t.”

Dempsey: “Data. Our future success depends upon the proper use and application of the data that runs within our systems. The key to Georgia’s public sector support system relies on targeted programs with applied value to deliver needed information and outcomes. The impact of data is proper fiscal management, not only in how much we spend for initiatives, but that we create and sustain outcomes that truly benefit the people of Georgia. For example, opioid abuse not only affects the abuser but crime rates, children of the abuser, court systems, jails, prisons, public health and more. De-identified, cross-functioning, targeted data can identify potential abuse and direct programs and services to the right person at the right time to save lives, help protect children, keep families together, decrease criminal acts and incarceration that could have been prevented with timely intervention. We must work in a holistic manner across agencies and programs.”

QUESTION: In your words, please define “religious liberty” and what issues — if any — would you support along those lines in the coming session?

Burnette: “I support the right to choose and practice any religion you please, or lack there of. It’s not my place, or any other individuals place, to have a say in that. To each their own.”

Dempsey: “I agree with religious liberty as defined in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. ‘Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.’  The only version I feel I could support would exactly mirror this existing federal law. Passing a state bill that is identical would not restrict anyone’s rights and would affirm Georgia’s commitment to protect religious liberty.” 

QUESTION: Whatever we call it today — the 411 Connector or the Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor — what steps will you take in Atlanta to get the proverbial pedal to the medal on this often-stalled project?

Burnette: “This is another subject I would do as a representative always should- discuss with those versed on the pros and cons and collaboratively decide to what is best for our community. I definitely believe we have to invest in our community so people will want to come invest in us. However, we have to start showing our voters how these investments are directly affecting them. All we want is honesty and transparency. It’s impossible for a representative to have all the ideas, to be a good rep you must listen much more than you speak.”

Dempsey: “Access to major transportation arteries is crucial for the long-term success of Floyd County and the entire Northwest Georgia region. Transportation infrastructure is a top priority for me. I have been involved in the 411 Connector project since I began serving on the Rome-Floyd Planning Commission, working over 30 years with our community leaders to help find a solution and build this important project. I feel we are close to dirt starting to turn because of the route change, relationship building and partnerships that have evolved with commitment to never give up. I pledge to continue to work with our local leaders, the Floyd and Bartow Legislative Delegations, GADOT and our Governor to complete our connection to I-75.”

State Senate District 52


Chuck Hufstetler, age 62, is a native of Rome who has served in the Georgia State Senate since 2012. He previously served on the Floyd County Commission for eight years from 1999-2006, including eight years as finance chair and two years as chairman. He has also served as a member of the Floyd Hospital Management board for eight years. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia and has a masters in Medical Science in Anesthesia from the Emory School of Medicine.  He currently works at Redmond Regional Medical Center where he’s been for over 10 years. He and his wife, Joan, also co-managed a community soup kitchen for eight years. During his time in the Georgia State Senate, he has served as the Finance Chair for the last two years. He and his wife attend Seven Hills Presbyterian Church and have three grown children.


Evan Ross, age 50, is a sales and truck driver for two small local farms. He has no previous political experience. His volunteer experience includes volunteering as a Spanish teacher at San Quentin prison; serving as a ‘Big Brother’ with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program; and serving as a hospice worker. He and his wife reside in Rome with their two young children, a daughter (7) and son (5). His son has epilepsy, and his medical condition motivates Ross to fight for more expansive medical marijuana laws in Georgia.

QUESTION: What key issue must the General Assembly address and remedy in the 2019 session beginning in January?

Hufstetler: “I don’t have a single key issue.  Health care is always a priority of mine and we have added millions for mental health and substance abuse.  We have 1.25 million in the budget for consultants to help us with Medicaid waivers with the federal government.  We must work to get consumers out of the middle on out of network (surprise) medical billing. We must continue to spread College and Career Academies throughout the State to have the workforce training to keep us the number one state to do business.  Infrastructure development – rural broadband, transportation and technology improvements are essential to maintain our edge. I also plan on introducing legislation to eliminate “dark” (unknown) campaign money in our state. Candidates in both parties have used this unknown money which I believe is wrong.”

Ross: “The General Assembly must directly address the drug epidemic. Half measures and kick the can down the road committee work is not acceptable. We must fight the drug epidemic from four main angles. First, we have to save lives through broader availability of Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal medication. Second, we need much more recovery services and anti-craving medications. Third, we must address the root causes of addiction, including mental health and lack of employment and educational opportunities. Lastly, we must expand medical marijuana laws.”

QUESTION: In your words, please define “religious liberty” and what issues — if any — would you support along those lines in the coming session?

Hufstetler: “Religious Freedom is the ability to practice your religion without being discriminated against, particularly at work. It does not mean you can force your beliefs on others at work.  Several versions have been in the legislature.  I support giving the identical protection to State workers that the Federal employees enjoy.  This was passed in 1992 and was sponsored by Chuck Schumer and signed by President Clinton.  Currently, a federal prisoner in Georgia has more rights than a Georgia State employee has.  The majority of states have passed a religious liberty bill and neither the Federal bill nor any of the State’s legislation have been used in a manner to discriminate against anyone to the best of my knowledge, nor have been subject to lawsuits.  All religions, Christian, Muslim and others should be free to practice their religion outside of work without being discriminated against at work.”

Ross: “’Religious Liberty’ is the freedom to practice religion as protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. As stated by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, ‘The First Amendment Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.’ This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion. I support legislative initiatives that follow these principles.”

QUESTION: Whatever we call it today — the 411 Connector or the Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor — what steps will you take in Atlanta to get the proverbial pedal to the medal on this often-stalled project?

Hufstetler: “The route had been a subject of controversy and lawsuits for over 30 years when I entered the legislature.  While I preferred this route, it became apparent that it was not going to happen.  We now have a new route and will begin buying up right of way in a little over a year.  Construction bids and construction are three years away which is longer than I prefer but it certainly is better than another 30 years.  This route is also important for the Cartersville bypass system and those of us in both counties will have to make sure this stays on schedule.”

Ross: “The Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor has been stalled for more than thirty years. Currently, GDOT is working to accept bids for development beginning in 2022. When it is completed, it will certainly spur growth and economic development, but not to the desired degree. The district must attract better jobs with higher skills and higher wages. To do so requires a more expansive economic development plan that includes ‘Smart Marketing’ to attract profitable and responsible employers. Simply completing this long-overdue project will not bring the boon to Rome that many are hoping will happen.”

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