Republican state Sen. Hunter Hill. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Hunter Hill announces he is running for Georgia governor

Republican Hunter Hill entered the race for Georgia governor on Tuesday, emphasizing his background as a U.S. Army veteran who pledges to bring a “more efficient and effective state government” and making a vow to advocate for school vouchers.

The Atlanta state senator told colleagues last week that he was joining the growing field to succeed a term-limited Nathan Deal in 2018, and he made his formal announcement by sending out a tweet under a new handle.

Hill was first elected in 2012 to a Senate seat that represents parts of north Atlanta and east Cobb County, and he is perhaps best known as an advocate for education savings accounts and other programs that let state school funding follow students to private schools. He said in an interview that effort will be a centerpiece of his campaign.

“The overarching goal is an education system where every child has an opportunity to succeed, and expanding choice plays a large role in that,” Hill said, adding: “Everything is on the table as it relates to reform.”

Hill will face GOP rivals with larger fundraising bases and higher name recognition in the wide-open race. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched his campaign almost a month ago, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle plans to kick off his campaign Sunday at an event in Gwinnett County. Several other high-profile Republicans, including some from Hill’s own chamber, are considering entering the contest.

Democrats are gearing up for a chance to flip the governor’s seat for the first time since 2002. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is seen as a lock to join the contest, and others, including state Rep. Stacey Evans, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former state Sen. Jason Carter, are exploring a run.

Another factor that might have influenced Hill’s decision: His district is no longer considered a safe bet for Republicans, and he only narrowly won re-election in 2016 against Democrat Jaha Howard.

In the interview, Hill said he would “spend less on low-return activities” and reinvest those public dollars in K-12 education, transportation and public safety. He offered few specifics on potential cuts, though he said “we’re going to look at every dollar that’s spent and we’re going to measure results.”

As a senator with a MARTA line running through his district, Hill also indicated he would support state funding for transit as part of a broader transportation plan.

“What I can tell you is that we’re going to deliver results. Transit is going to be a part of that,” he said. “We’ve got to double if not triple our investment in transportation, and that’s going to be our goal.”

Hill, who now runs an executive coaching firm, and his supporters are keen to note he’s faced tough odds before — as a combat veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I can tell you that obviously a lot of prayer and discussion goes into a decision like this,” he said. “I’m not scared, per se, of any candidate getting in the race because I have a vision and passion and interest of helping Georgia reach its utmost potential. We’re going to give it our heart and soul, and we’re going to try to win every vote.”

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