West Cobb residents will go from having an outspoken conservative named Ehrhart representing them in the State House to having an outspoken conservative named Ehrhart representing them in the State House.
Rep.-elect Ginny Ehrhart, a Republican, is set to take the District 36 seat after defeating Democratic challenger Jen Slipakoff in November. The seat has been held by Ginny Ehrhart’s husband, retiring Rep. Earl Ehrhart, the longest-serving Republican in the Georgia House.
Rep.-elect Ehrhart is set to be sworn in Jan. 14 with her husband holding the Bible. Ginny Ehrhart said she shares many of the same values as her husband and will consider his advice, but her time in office will not be a continuation of his.
“My conservative values, my ideological leanings — those were established in me long before I met my husband. Those were the values I was raised with,” she said. “The fact that I have access to a knowledge base that my husband has — an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Georgia political history — that is really just icing on the cake. I would be foolish not to recognize that my husband represents a tremendous resource of information, and it’s a privilege to have access to that. Having said that, my political opinions are my own.”
Those opinions could be described as solidly to the right. When asked whether she looked forward to voting for a religious freedom bill, Ehrhart laughed.
“I’m a Republican, what do you think?” she said.
Ehrhart said protecting freedom of religion is important to her, and she dismissed the idea that such laws might open the door for discrimination against LGBT people.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of discrimination if you’re asking an individual to violate their religious beliefs,” she said. “I just think it’s apples and oranges, not the same thing. I’m not condoning discrimination. However, I feel it’s important that we protect those people and to not pressure, persecute or litigate them for expressing their freedom of religion.”
One of the first things Ehrhart is hoping to do once she takes office is to revise state law having to do with drivers stopping for school buses. She said a change instituted this year has made getting on and off the bus more dangerous for students.
“Currently, the law says you do not have to stop when facing an oncoming stopped school bus if there is a physical barrier in the roadway,” she said. “That law changed to include turn lanes this past year, and consensus is that (change) has made things more dangerous for students entering and exiting the bus. So what we want to do is revert back to the way the law used to be and require those cars to stop if there is nothing more than a turn lane separating the lanes of traffic.”
Ehrhart said she thinks that change and the vast majority of issues she will address as a lawmaker will be amenable to both parties. She said learning to work with the rest of the Cobb delegation will be a top priority — the 21-member delegation will be majority Democrat next year for the first time in decades.
“I’m willing to cooperate in many arenas,” she said. “I’m willing to cooperate in all arenas ... It’s important to remember that estimates say somewhere around 96 to 97 percent of the time, the two parties vote together and agree. It’s really just those few hot-button topics that get the most sensationalistic attention. By and large we agree, I would say, more than we disagree. School bus safety is something everybody agrees on.”
But Ehrhart said Cobb has done well under conservative principles, and she will not bow down on the matters that are important to her.
“The current economic prosperity that we’re experiencing in Cobb — the positive environment that I’m seeing for individuals, the decreased taxation on our citizens and our businesses — all of that I see as a result of very positive conservative leadership,” she said. “You can thank the Republicans for that kind of success, so I will fiercely defend Cobb County from any sort of intrusion … that would have any sort of negative or adverse effect on the taxpayers of our county, and on the businesses also.”
One issue Ehrhart said she will not shy away from is Cobb’s senior tax exemption, which allows residents over 62 to avoid paying school taxes. Two newly-elected members of the Cobb Board of Education, Jaha Howard and Charisse Davis, recently said they would be willing to consider getting rid of that exemption.
“I think the two new board members that are coming in bring in a different mentality, a mentality I do not subscribe to,” Ehrhart said. “Charisse Davis was sort of groomed in the Atlanta Public Schools system, she brings a certain way of looking at things in terms of what they’re talking about with the senior tax exemption. I’m opposed to that, as I believe are the vast majority of Cobb citizens … What they’re doing is setting their sights on the most vulnerable demographic in Cobb County, which is our seniors … I think that what Charisse and Mr. Howard are proposing is essentially a smash and grab of our senior citizens’ resources.”
On the issue of cityhood for parts of east and south Cobb, Ehrhart is not a fan.
“I, in general, believe that one more layer of government is the last thing Cobb County needs, so I’m not in favor of it at all,” she said.
Ehrhart said she hopes to work within the Cobb delegation, with its new Democratic majority, to get things done for her community, but she does not think the delegation will remain Democratic for long.
“The balance within the Cobb delegation has shifted. So for me, to work effectively within that Cobb delegation is going to be especially important. I can tell you that the folks in my district do not want to see Cobb County become another city of Atlanta, Fulton County situation of tax and spend solutions, bloated government solutions. That’s not a direction we want to see Cobb County go in. And I view the current change in the balance of power within the delegation to be only a temporary setback.”