Published Sunday, September 30, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Twenty years ago, Carl Von Epps decided to run for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives because “I saw an opportunity to make a difference in my community. By being a representative, by being an advocate. By being a voice for my neighbors, my friends.”
Twenty years later, “that fever has not changed,” Von Epps said. “My enthusiasm for helping people has not changed,” he said. “I still consider myself a good advocate, a good spokesperson, a good voice for the people, of moderate persuasion.”
“I don’t get into all the name calling, but I consider myself a very moderate individual, and I just like helping people,” he said.
Von Epps, a LaGrange Democrat who represents the new District 132 in the Georgia House, is running for reelection. He is being challenged by Meriwether County Republican Gene King.
When it comes to issues, Von Epps said some of the recent actions of the Georgia General Assembly that he is happy about include the elimination of the ad valorem and sales taxes on vehicles, the increase in personal exemptions on Georgia income tax, including essentially doing away with the “marriage penalty,” and the “e-fairness” ruling that added sales taxes to some Internet sales.
He’s particularly pleased with the new legislation aimed at combating the theft of copper and other metals.
Another important bill that became law following the 2012 session gave non-custodial parents the ability to buy “child only” health insurance plans.
Then there’s the budget. He’s not as happy about that. Von Epps serves on the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee and on the Economic Development subcommittee. Revenues have been down for the past several years and “even for this year, the governor asked for a 2 or 3 percent budget reduction,” Von Epps said.
Being on the appropriations committee “gives us a chance to really review and just determine what is important and how important it is to us,” he said. There are some things that are pretty important that “in better times we would not cut. But it’s almost like everybody is having to cut,” he said. “I’m concerned about some of the programs that are cut and the effect that it has,” he said. “And punitive is a hard word but it is having punitive results.”
The unemployment rate is critical, “so job creation is one of the top three issues of concern from my perspective,” Von Epps said.
Education is his number one issue. “I’m a strong advocate for local control,” Von Epps said, and he did not support the proposed constitutional amendment regarding charter schools.
The amendment “basically said that the state could come in and override what the local school board does,” Von Epps said. “I’m a strong advocate for local control because what the state sees or somebody in Atlanta sees as good for Coweta County may not be good for Meriwether County — because one size does not fit all,” Von Epps said. “And I know that the locals elect local people to represent them. And they can do a better job than somebody who is sitting in Atlanta.”
If reelected, Von Epps hopes to advocate for increasing the state’s participation in local education funding. “For the last eight or 10 years, the state has been reducing the funding to the local school systems,” Von Epps said. “That is causing a hardship on the local school budgets.”
Those cutbacks have led to increases in class size, teacher furloughs, and cuts in physical education and arts programs, he said. “We actually have reduced the quality of the schools and education,” he said.
Von Epps said he also wants to work with his colleagues to figure out “how we can best continue to reduce the unemployment rolls,” through job creation and bringing in new industry. He’d like to see incentives for local residents to go into business. “Small businesses are the backbone of America,” he said. And we “need to figure out how to empower people to get back into the small businesses.” That includes technical education, to “make sure that people have adequate skills to compete.”
If reelected, “I would hope to continue to be an advocate for the people of the 132nd House District — to continue to address the issues of the budget shortfall, to continue to address the ‘table top’ issues that are being discussed at homes, like affordable health care, unemployment, local education funding and state funding for local education,” he said.
Von Epps owns his own insurance agency and is a community advocate and the pastor of Smith Chapel United Methodist Church in Coweta. He’s been pastor there for six years. It is his first full-time pastoral assignment. “It’s a blessing,” Von Epps said. For many years, he thought “public service was my calling. But God had bigger things to do. So I just appreciate the order he has placed in my life.”
Von Epps received a bachelor’s in business administration from Morehouse College and received an honorary doctor of law degree from John Marshall Law School. He attended the Executive Institute for State and Local Public Officials at Harvard University.
His wife, Benita, is an educator with Troup County Public Schools, and they have five children and four grandchildren.
When Von Epps was first elected in 1992, his district included a part of Coweta County. That changed in 1995 with redistricting, which was done by the courts.
In addition to appropriations, Von Epps serves on the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, the Insurance Committee, and the Regulated Industries Committee, of which he was formerly the chair.
“Experience does count,” Von Epps said. “Experience facilitates our being able to address issues “and knowing the places to go to accomplish things for your district,” he said. “So you don’t have to reinvent anything from that perspective.”
Von Epps said he has the capacity and the leadership skills “to get along with folks to make sure the district is included and not excluded.”
As a legislator, Von Epps said “my goal and objective is to help somebody.”
“My votes are never intended to be punitive,” he said. “I think about both sides of the issues when I vote, and I try to make sure that it is helping the majority of the folks when I take my votes. So I like to consider myself a strong advocate, a strong voice, of the people,” he said.