Jewish Republican Kathy Eichenblatt is one of eight candidates running Nov. 7 in a special election for the Georgia Senate District 6 seat, which Republican Hunter Hill gave up to focus on his campaign for governor in the 2018 election.
The former Fortune 500 executive and her husband of 33 years, David, have been members of Ahavath Achim Synagogue for more than 25 years.
Growing up as a military brat, Eichenblatt spent her formative years in St. Petersburg, Fla., where her mother taught preschool at Temple Beth-El. Eichenblatt converted to Judaism before she married David. They have three daughters and a son, ages 24 to 29.
“What you experience growing up in the military is an adaption to change. I developed an empathetic, approachable, curious personality. It gave me listening skills. And I appreciate the definition of military service and what it feels like to not know when your parent is going to serve or when they are coming back,” she said. “Camaraderie is important.”
Eichenblatt, who believes politics is the backbone of community, has not held elected office. Her experience lies in attending political forums and hosting candidates’ open houses, ensuring she is an informed voter.
“We need a leader who will lead the way to common-sense, business-minded solutions. I know how to listen to people from stockroom to boardroom. If you listen and participate, you know what you need to do and how to get it done,” she said.
Early voting in the campaign among five Republicans and three Democrats began Oct. 16. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held Dec. 5.
Eichenblatt’s platform focuses on transportation, taxes and health care reform.
Since Eichenblatt made District 6 her home 28 years ago, she has watched traffic around her grow to debilitating levels. In the General Assembly, she wants to petition for federal money, review revenue streams from all existing commuter taxes to ensure that the appropriate amounts are being committed to transit, ensure that all businesses attracting and relying on commuters are contributing their fair share, and work with Atlanta’s tech community to harness such innovations as autonomous vehicles.
“We need to pursue workable solutions, using the technology of tomorrow for solutions today, not in 20 years and not with tax increases,” she said.
She said MARTA, Cobb Community Transit and other systems feed ideas into a regional transportation committee, which guides the planning, funding and governing of a transit plan for the region.
A comprehensive plan for the region, adopted in 2008, needs to be executed and completed, she said, adding that the General Assembly should better use current revenue and redirect some funding.
“What is being funded that isn’t constitutionally mandated that we could redirect to transportation solutions? That is the question we should be asking to help find the resources we need to move solutions and projects forward,” she said.
Eichenblatt wants Georgia’s tax code to compete with surrounding states. She pointed out that Tennessee and Florida do not collect state income tax, and North Carolina is stepping away from state income tax.
(Note: Tennessee collects a hall tax of 6 percent on dividends and investments, and North Carolina collects a flat tax at 5.57 percent.)
“We are losing to other states. We want and need growth in north and south Georgia. When we think about how to continue to be relevant and important, we need to start a discussion about state income tax regarding lowering and capping taxes,” she said.
Eichenblatt wants a shift in property taxes as well. She said approximately 10 counties, including Gwinnett and Cobb, offer school tax exemptions to people 62 and older, drawing them away from other counties.
“In Fulton County, when we see taxes are going to continue to increase, retirees move from Fulton. We are missing out on an affluent tax base. You don’t decide when you’re 65 that you want to move; that happens at 50. It is a shame to lose the diversity that contributes to arts, and important members of our community are leaving,” she said.
“We must attract people to Atlanta. Property tax is everyone’s problem. It doesn’t matter socio-economically where you live; every senior is at risk.”
According to her website (www.kathycanfor.us), Eichenblatt plans to engage in “health care reform that is Georgia-focused, and not D.C.-manipulated, and based in the private sector, not politics.”
She said: “At this junction (health care) is a national issue. It will quickly turn to states to manage what health care looks like to them.”
According to a 2016 report from Kaiser Family Foundation, 49 percent of Georgians are insured through work, 12 percent are uninsured, and the remainder have coverage through Medicare, Medicaid or the military.
“Right now in Georgia we are accountable for 51 percent of health care. The majority of what will affect Georgians happens at the national level,” such as any changes to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), she said. “The state legislature has the most influence on Medicare, Medicaid, individual policyholders and the uninsured.”
Eichenblatt believes that legislators can influence the population to gain health coverage despite circumstances.
“When I think about my past experience, one thing I know about a budget is that before you ask for money, you need to look for savings or investments to save money,” she said. “Do our software systems for maintaining health insurance need an overhaul? We know there is fraud in the system. We need to make sure we employ effective systems and don’t leave any money on the table.”
Eichenblatt also suggested ideas about how to change Grady Memorial Hospital’s triage format. Unsatisfied with the current system, she said emergency room trips for uninsured patients will not end, but change “will save the taxpayers millions in ER fees. It can be five times more expensive to treat someone in the ER than in an urgent care clinic. This is part of a broader, Georgia-focused solution to reducing insurance costs and saving taxpayer dollars.”