All five ninth district candidates converged at Chattahoochee Technical College in Jasper Tuesday night for a town-hall meeting.Hosted by the Pickens County Tea Party, the event was an opportunity for voters to vet the candidates in preparation for the July election.
The recent realignment of congressional districts created a new district, the 14th. As such, current ninth district congressman Tom Graves (R) will move to the new 14th, leaving a void in the ninth. Since the creation of the new district, five candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, vying for the new position. Currently, the new ninth district candidates are: State Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville), Martha Zoller, Hunter Bicknell, Clifton McDuffie, and Roger Fitzpatrick.
Although he could not physically attend the event, a video of Graves was shown to the crowd. Like an apparition, the image of Graves hovered over the candidates in front of the room. Following the video, each candidate invoked Graves’ name, straining to show a connection to the congressman. After the vision faded, the candidates had a chance to come into their own.
Speaking to a half-filled room, the candidates introduced themselves, defended their candidacy, and fielded questions from voters. Topics ranged from Fair-Tax to School-Choice to Term Limits.
Fresh out of the 2012 session of legislature, Rep. Collins delivered a stellar performance, seemingly outshining the other candidates. Collins defined himself among the pack on issues, like, term limits and school-choice. When candidates were asked if they believed in term limits for congressmen and senators, all save Collins said they agreed with term limits, attaching a would-be length to a term. Conversely, though, Collins cautioned a blanket-position on limiting terms. The call for term limits, he said, speaks
“toward a corrupt situation that we’re now looking at,”
adding that if the people wanted to vote on an amendment to have term limits, he would vote for it. However, he argued with term limits, you have the potential of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, of throwing out the good with the bad.
“I don’t know about you,”
“but I could take Tom Graves, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Paul Brown—and I’d let them serve.”
He added that senators are held accountable every two years and that the real problem is the bureaucrats and staff who stay in Washington.
On the issue of school-choice, Collins mentioned last year’s flub by Georgia’s Supreme Court, which struck down the state’s ability to grant charters. This November, he reminded voters, Georgia will have the option to change the state constitution for the state to grant charters. As a part of the legislature that passed the bill allowing voters to decide on school-choice, Collins may be seen as a part of this accomplishment, another draw for voters.
Chiming in on the topic, the one school principal in the group, Roger Fitzpatrick said he would support eliminating the Federal Department of Education and support school –choice. A fervent constitutionalist, he said the Constitution does not say anything about federal involvement in education, so, education is the responsibility of the states. The other candidates agreed, but Zoller underscored the essence of the issue. She reminded voters that school-choice (specifically with charter schools) creates competition and competition forges quality. When it came to a question about the U.N., Zoller fired fierce shots at the organization.
“I don’t like the U.N.,”
“We can do without them; I think they’re a bunch of anti-Semites who oppose Israel at every turn,”
“It gives a bunch of despots a voice…We ought to get out and we ought to stop funding it.”
Former Hall County Chamber President Clifton McDuffie and Jackson County Commission Chair Hunter Bicknell held up economic issues. McDuffie suggested creating an economic development council for the ninth district. The council, he said, would concentrate on agriculture, establishing a regional airport in the district, and bringing the film commission to the area. McDuffie’s mention of the film industry seemed to have caught the attention of voters, as did Bicknell’s discussion of the Fair Tax system. In addition to his knowledge of Fair Tax system, Bicknell is also a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Passage of Fair Tax. Although the other candidates supported Fair Tax as well, the chairman’s position on the advisory board may prove attractive for voters come July.
Between now and July, voters will see more of the candidates as their campaigns grow more aggressive. As such, FYN will continue to bring you coverage of the ninth district race.