Candidate for Second Congressional District seat touts ag, business bona fides

Mar. 21—ALBANY — In a crowded field of Republican candidates seeking to end Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop's tenure in office, Chris West thinks his local roots make him stand out.

Raised in Thomas County, West's family operates an agricultural business in Colquitt County in a Second Congressional District where farming is the biggest industry. The lawyer and Georgia Air National Guard member attended grade school in Colquitt County and is currently general counsel for Teramore Development, based in Thomasville.

West is one of six candidates who qualified earlier this month to seek his party's nomination and challenge the veteran Democrat. The others are Vivian Childs, Jeremy Hunt, Wayne Johnson, Rich Robertson and Paul Whitehead.

"I think that's going to be a key to being able to beat Sanford, just somebody who's spent their whole life in this community," West said. "When I go to D.C., I'm going to be fighting for the people of southwest Georgia.

"We're seeing a lot of enthusiasm for a younger candidate who understands agriculture."

Farmers are facing a difficult time with the increase in fuel prices, which also drives up the cost of fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals, West said, adding he has been hearing from farmers all over the area about that impact. Everyone else is being hit hard by inflation, too, he noted.

"The increase in energy and raw material costs has made it where it will be challenging to make a profit or even remain viable as a business," he said. "Or if you're that retiree who's saved your entire life — say you have $1 million — now it's worth 7 or 8 percent less because of inflation. If you project out two or three years, it's a frustrating outcome. That's due to the policies Sanford has been supporting for the last few years."

The district, redrawn to include more GOP voters during recently approved redistricting lines, is one in which the Democratic incumbent is vulnerable, the candidate said in his assessment. Bishop has drawn a lot of support from farmers over his nearly three decades in office.

"For so many years, the people in agriculture have been voting for Sanford," West said. "The danger in that is he's voted to increase taxes. He's voted with Nancy Pelosi and (President) Biden 100 percent of the time.

"In my view, we need to get back to making an environment that is conducive to business, where you are lowering people's taxes, getting regulations out of the way so people can conduct business. I think it (redistricting) is going to have a drastic impact because of the amount of Republican voters that were pulled in in some of the northern counties and also Thomas County."

That fresh perspective for the district is another key the candidate sees to earning a victory in the fall general election. His familiarity with the region's military installations, which are a sizable economic driver for communities from Columbus to Warner Robins, where he is stationed as a guard member, to Valdosta also is a plus.

"When I go up and represent the interests of MCLB-Albany, it's not going to be the first time I've been on (the base)," he said. "I support our national defense."

In addition to taxes, West said he thinks that crime is an issue that will resonate with the district's voters. The largely rural region also needs additional investment in health care infrastructure.

Discussing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams' first campaign stop in Cuthbert, where the hospital closed two years ago and, she reminded supporters, that hospitals in nearby Fort Gaines and Richland have been closed as well, West said it will take a long time to restore the lost resources.

"When you lose health care infrastructure, you don't just flip a switch and turn it back on," he said. "It takes years. You need to look at creative ways to keep them open, we need to look at that. I've worked in the business world. I know how to find creative solutions.

"That's the appeal I'm going to bring to the district, an innovative, business-driven approach to help southwest Georgia succeed."