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By Eric Stirgus May 13, 2014

Can a candidate be too conservative?

A Democrat vying for a Georgia Senate seat is trying to convince voters his opponent is too far to the right for this left-leaning area.

"Elena Parent. A Disturbing Record: Too Conservative for Us," read a flier from Friends of Kyle Williams.

One claim about Parent, a Democrat who served in the Georgia House of Representatives, seemed ripe for a fact check.

"Supported Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to slash the HOPE Scholarship," it said. "The HOPE Scholarship has allowed a generation of Georgians the opportunity to afford college. There’s no excuse for Parent’s vote to limit these opportunities and hurt our children’s futures."

One PolitiFact Georgia reader said she received a robocall from Roy Barnes, the last Democrat to serve as Georgia’s governor, who claimed the ad was full of inaccurate information about Parent. The reader wanted to know which candidate is correct here.

So did we.

Parent and Williams are running to represent District 42 in the Georgia Senate, which includes several west-central DeKalb County communities such as Decatur, North Druid Hills and Avondale Estates. The current officeholder, Jason Carter, a Democrat, is running for governor.

Parent served one term in the House and is the executive director of Georgia Watch, a consumer rights nonprofit. Williams is an attorney based in Decatur and involved in several community organizations.

During one recent debate, Williams defended himself against Parent’s complaint that the flier distorted her record on HOPE.

"You don’t cut HOPE to save it," Williams said.  

The flier contained a footnote concerning a bill passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2011 that altered the HOPE program. The Williams campaign forwarded us two documents that show Parent voted in favor of a bill Deal and other Republicans proposed to make changes to HOPE, but those items did not include a key element. Let’s explain.

HOPE, for those of you unfamiliar with it, once covered all tuition costs if the student maintained a grade-point average of 3.0 or better. Since being created in 1993, HOPE had paid for more than 1 million students to attend college. By 2010, about one-third of students enrolled in public colleges relied on the award.

In January 2011, Nathan Deal, a Republican, took office as governor and shortly thereafter announced plans to revamp the state’s popular HOPE Scholarship program to prevent it from going broke. HOPE is funded by the Georgia Lottery, but the lottery wasn’t raising enough revenue to keep up with rising enrollment and tuition. The state dipped into reserves to cover costs, but that well was running dry.

On March 1, 2011, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that made some changes to HOPE. The changes included:

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  • Varying the amount students receive annually, depending on lottery revenue.

  • Dropping the HOPE award private students will see from $4,000 to $3,600.

  • Limiting the awards for full tuition at public colleges to students who graduate from high school with at least a 3.7 GPA and 1200 SAT score under a new Zell Miller Scholarship. These students will have to maintain a 3.3 GPA in college to keep the full scholarship

Parent voted for the bill. That version of the House bill had the support of several key Democrats, such as Minority Leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta and Calvin Smyre of Columbus, the House’s longest-serving Democrat.

Many Democrats supported the bill as part of a strategy to negotiate with Deal to make some changes they believed would make the changes less drastic to low-income students, said state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna.

One week later, on March 8, the Senate passed a revised version of the House bill. All four Republican amendments were added to the bill, but none of the amendments proposed by Democrats were included in the revised bill. The Senate revisions included allowing only the top two graduates from each high school to get a Zell Miller Scholarship and offering low-interest loans to cover the difference between tuition and the amount of the HOPE award.

When the bill came back to the House, with those changes, on March 10, Parent voted no.

"Elena didn’t feel like it was up to her standards, so she voted against the revised version," said Matt Weyandt, a senior adviser to the campaign.

Evans, who previously endorsed Parent, said she was upset and disappointed by the Williams flier. Evans called Williams a friend and said she would have supported him if he were running against anyone but Parent. Evans voted against both versions of the House bill.

Barnes also vouched for Parent’s role in the 2011 HOPE debate in the robocall, saying she "led the fight to preserve the HOPE Scholarship."

Beth Cope, a spokeswoman for Williams, stressed that Parent should not have voted for the bill the first time. Williams has complained that Parent was too willing to compromise with Republicans.

"We don’t always get a chance to get it right the second time," Cope said.

To sum up, Williams said Parent supported the governor’s plan to "slash the HOPE Scholarship." Parent voted for one version of the bill. But she voted against the final version of the legislation, which contained Republican revisions.

There are a lot of problems with Williams’ claim. First, Deal, with the support of key Democrats, was trying to prevent HOPE from going broke. To accuse Parent of conspiring with a Republican governor to "slash" the popular program is way off base.

And to say Parent supported a plan that she ultimately voted against seems to be a significant distortion of her record.

We rate Williams’ claim False.

Our Sources

Friends of Kyle Williams flier, "Elena Parent. A Disturbing Record: Too Conservative for Us,"

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Students face change in HOPE, priorities," Feb. 24, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "House OKs HOPE plan," March 2, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Senate panel passes HOPE bill," March 5, 2011 video of Parent/Williams debate, May 7, 2014,

Georgia Chamber 2011 legislative scorecard

Georgia House Bill 326,

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes robocall for Elena Parent

Telephone interview with state Rep. Stacey Evans, May 6, 2014

Telephone interview with Beth Cope, spokeswoman for Kyle Williams’ campaign, May 6, 2014

Telephone interview with Matt Weyandt, senior adviser to Elena Parent’s campaign, May 6, 2014

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