2016 District 80 Primary Candidates answer questions for The Post

Catherine has been featured in the Brookhaven Post. The full text of the article can be found here, but Catherine’s answers are below:

Question 1: Why should voters choose you over your opponents?

Catherine Bernard: Voters should choose me because I have a proven track record of ethics, experience, and effectiveness in seeking community solutions and defending taxpayers against ill-considered legal schemes. I represent the independent-minded, common sense approach to politics favored by virtually everyone in our district – we’re fiscally conservative, but take a live-and-let-live approach to the private lives of others. Other candidates are dependent on the approval/funding of a party caucus and attached special interests, but I’m free to work for our district’s best interests without worrying about currying favor for future partisan endeavors. That’s why I’ve been the target of well-funded attack campaigns; I’ve already proven to be effective and independent in defeating the Redevelopment Powers Law referendum and attempts to legalize dangerous no-knock search warrants.

As the only candidate in the race who has already been serving in that capacity, I’m the best choice for voters who don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Question 2: What have you done or accomplished that uniquely qualifies you to represent District 80?

Catherine Bernard: Founding and leading the committee that defeated the Redevelopment Powers Law in 2014. It was a classic example of the biggest threat that our desirable, dynamic district faces: obscure but powerful laws being snuck into our lives that would have dangerous impacts like increasing debt, expanding eminent domain property seizures, forcing us to subsidize development that reduces our quality of life and doesn’t serve market interests, and increasing traffic congestion. www.brookhavenreferendum.org

I’ve also studied legislation and political science for decades, served in many positions in the Republican Party (from national delegate in 2012 to district executive committees to president of North DeKalb Republican Women to current president of DeKalb Young Republicans). I’m an active volunteer through Rotary, literacy organizations, my justice non-profit, and other community events. I practice as a public defender all over the state, so I know how we can get things done for the metro area while expanding our blessings to the rest of the state.

Question 3: What is one promise you can make that you will absolutely deliver on if elected to Represent District 80?

Catherine Bernard: To read every bill before voting on it.

Question 4: What is your position on development in the Brookhaven area – as a Brookhaven resident? Explain.

Catherine Bernard: All politics is local, and nowhere is that more true than House District 80. Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, and Chamblee are undergoing lots of exciting changes as metro Atlanta continues to grow – but there are also serious challenges, as residents seek to preserve our quality of life and financial stability against a seemingly endless stream of projects (with complicated taxpayer-involved financing schemes) that change neighborhoods and increase congestion. And the local control we thought we were getting with a new city seems to come with a lot of state strings attached.

We CAN make a difference on these issues – from rejecting the Redevelopment Powers Law to negotiating with developers, our community has shown that we’re serious about protecting property rights and infrastructure. But there is so much more to be done (do we really want MARTA to be the landlord for Brookhaven’s city center?), and for that we need a state legislator who can serve as a watchdog for taxpayer interests.

That means addressing zoning laws, the laws affecting how developers can sue cities, MARTA’s authority, the role of the Department of Community Affairs. More local control, less wasteful bureaucracy and subsidies handed down from unelected bureaucrats – that’s how we get development that makes sense for our vibrant, unique district.

Question 5: Would you “toe the party line” on a critical issue with Statewide ramifications if your constituency disagrees with the party position or would you side with your constituents?

Catherine Bernard: Side with my fellow HD80 voters, no question – the question isn’t whether it’s a party position, but whether it’s a correct position that serves the interests of our district. This is a tremendously difficult thing to do at the legislature, given all of the power structures and incentives in place to reward loyalty and punish non-lockstep behavior, but I’ve got lots of experience in standing up for the truth even when it’s initially unpopular. The wonderful thing about our district is that people here are serious about wanting to get things right, it’s just a matter of getting past the party/media PR to the facts on an issue.

Question 6: Do you approve or disapprove of the way the GA Legislature does its job? What would you do differently?

Catherine Bernard: Disapprove. The legislature focuses on divisive social issues at the expense of core government responsibilities, and approves a budget that is going up by more than a billion dollars a year. The concept of separation of powers is almost lost – the governor’s office openly controls the legislative agenda both directly and through a system of floor leaders, in contravention of his constitutional role as the elected official responsible for executing the laws made by the legislature. The Georgia Constitution provides that bills should contain only one subject matter, but that is routinely disregarded. Also routinely disregarded: procedures for ensuring a fair and open committee process, when bills are held up for openly political reasons and others are pushed through by sponsors who also sit as the committee chair, and rules about giving legislators at least a certain amount of time (such as 2 hours) between the time a bill is dropped and when it is voted on. There are too many pieces of legislation (25,000+ last session) for serious consideration to be given.

To do it differently, more bills need to be pre-filed instead of dropped in the middle of the session when there’s no time for examination, rules and procedures need to be consistently followed, and they need to stop spending money like a billion dollars in taxpayer money is no big deal. HD80 voters are willing to invest in common goods like infrastructure, public safety, and education – but we need returns on that investment, not an ever-expanding money pit where 5% of the budget is spent just on debt service. And legislators need to be willing to do what their constituents want, not just the party caucuses.

Question 7: Do you support or not support the Religious Liberty Bill? Why?

Catherine Bernard: I would vote no on a bill like HB757, which provided for public funding for organizations engaged in religious discrimination. I support the right of conscience for all persons and organizations, even if we don’t agree with the morality of their choices, but it is never appropriate to use taxpayer money to support discrimination of any stripe. I do support rolling back existing laws that allow individuals and organizations to be sued for discrimination, if they’re not using public funds or violating contracts.

Question 8: Do you support or not support Campus Carry? Why?

Catherine Bernard: I support the entire Bill of Rights, which means that adults should be able to make the choice of how to responsibly defend themselves in a given situation. Working in the criminal justice system, I examine a lot of criminal activity and talk to a lot of people involved (criminals, victims, law enforcement, the falsely accused, etc.) – and the prospect of an armed victim is a powerful deterrent to crime in general. Since we all prioritize both public safety and individual rights, for professors and students and everyone else, we should make sure that our policies respect the goal of protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Please see my answer to #10 on gun control for further discussion.

Question 9: Do you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception? Are there any restrictions you would or would not approve of?

Catherine Bernard: I support keeping government out of health care decisions, including while a woman is pregnant. But I am pro-life: as a matter of science, life begins at the point of conception, and as technology improves and we see more of the gestation process it becomes easier and easier to understand why so many believe that abortion is murder. So, how to resolve these perspectives in a way that respects everyone’s rights?

My proposal: zero public funding for abortion or contraception, but all contraception should be available over-the-counter. And let’s fight for a culture that respects and protects everyone’s lives, and that doesn’t prevent women from getting the health care they and their doctors believe that they need, while also not forcing others to subsidize decisions that they consider deeply immoral.

Question 10: Do we need more gun control in Georgia?

Catherine Bernard: No, but our laws could be improved. And it’s important to note that being elected as a representative isn’t an opportunity to advance a personal agenda, it’s a duty to represent the interests of the district. Since gun control is an issue on which HD80 is not united (though there are a lot of pro-2nd Amendment folks who feel like their position is not socially popular, so they’re quiet about it), it’s not appropriate as a signature legislative push from the HD80 representative – especially not when there are so many other important, principled priorities where we DO have broad agreement.

Taking on the corrupt structure of economic development laws in Georgia, bringing some sanity to health care and education spending, and reforming the justice system to improve public safety are going to be huge tasks. Gun laws will be relevant to some part of that (especially the justice/public safety aspect), so I’ll always be candid about my perspective (gained from lots of study and experience and discussion with a variety of people), but to my friends who oppose campus carry – one thing we agree on is that the Georgia legislature spends WAY too much time talking about guns. To my friends who, like myself, want to reduce unconstitutional restrictions on rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights: time spent talking about it does not equal good rights-protecting legislation, as we’ve seen – it’s more of a noisy smokescreen to keep everyone riled up and distracted while they pass more laws cramming subsidized development into desirable communities like ours.