Incumbent District 3 Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-Grantville) and Democratic challenger and school teacher Frank Saunders (Midland, in northern Muscogee County) squared off Monday night at a forum sponsored by the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce. The candidates responded to questions centering on issues such as the recession, job creation, stimulus spending, immigration and healthcare.
“There is a problem in Washington and I want to help solve it,” said Saunders in his opening remarks. “There’s a lack of common sense and leadership in Washington.”
Saunders in his comments noted that businesses were investing their money in overseas opportunities that do not help the U.S. economy while the oil companies continue to be subsidized at the expense of clean energy alternatives. Saunders also said the education system deserves increased funding.
Westmoreland in his opening statement said he disagreed with Saunders that tax cuts and deregulation were not the way to go, adding that, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
One of the questions posed to the candidates dealt with the economic and unemployment effects of the recession and their thoughts on a recovery.
Saunders said we need more jobs in Georgia and in America.
“Jobs are still leaving and we’re giving businesses tax cuts to move jobs out of the U.S.,” Saunders said, noting the existence of home-grown companies that are trying to make an impact on creating green jobs and technologies. In his remarks Saunders cited an example. “We have a lot of biomass in Georgia: kudzu. I want factories to use it to create clean energy.”
Saunders said his statement exemplified the need to exercise creativity to focus on job creation.
In his comments on the recession and its ramifications, Westmoreland said, “We have a high corporate income tax and over-regulation. We need to be pro-active in helping businesses bring jobs to Georgia. The problem is that every bill the Democrats pass is a job-killer.”
Westmoreland cited Kia and others companies that moved to Georgia to take advantage of the state’s workforce and to get away from unionized labor.
“Small business doesn’t know what their insurance, taxes and energy costs are going to be next year,” Westmoreland said as a follow-up.
The candidates were also asked about their thoughts on TARP under President George Bush and the stimulus program under President Obama.
Westmoreland said he advocated for extending the Bush tax cuts and that he voted against both initiatives, adamantly stating that, “You can’t spend your way out of debt and you can’t print enough money to make it right.”
Saunders in response said he would have voted against TARP and the stimulus if he had been in office, adding that, “Nobody is going to help me if I start a small business and it fails. I’m not a fan of government, Democrats or Republicans.”
Saunders said he agreed that a government cannot spend its way out of debt.
So how are jobs created and what will the candidates do to stimulate job creation, the forum moderator asked.
“We need to incentivize job creation through tax breaks,” Saunders said, adding that, “We need to get rid of teachers who don’t want to teach and we need to get rid of (the federal education program) No Child Left Behind. We need a government/corporate partnership to create an educated workforce.”
Saunders said he wanted to see fewer federal jobs, adding that wasteful programs should be eliminated.
For Westmoreland, the solution to job creation rests with the federal government fundamentally getting out of the way of business.
“Government doesn’t create jobs, government kills jobs,” Westmoreland said, reiterating his point with several examples. “My philosophy is that government should get out of our lives and out of business and let us do the things that make our country great.”
Responding to a question on cap and trade, Westmoreland said he advocated for off-shore drilling and the recovery of oil shale deposits, adding that the cap and trade initiative would “… pretty much be the cap on killing jobs in this country. We need clean air and water, but cap and trade doesn’t cut down on carbon emissions, it gives companies credits. It’s big business.”
Exercising a propensity for plain-speaking, Saunders in his remarks on cap and trade said, “… (it) sounds stupid to me. We need to do something smart like regulating the coal companies blowing off the tops of mountains in Kentucky, then people get cancer. We need regulations not to encumber people, but to keep them safe.”
Saunders in his response also noted the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the deaths that occurred after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
“De-regulation caused the loss of life in the gulf spill. We’ve got to stop letting white collar crooks murder our people,” Saunders said. “And the (spill) should have been cleaned up immediately. They should have been accountable and prosecuted.”
Both men took similar postures on the question of the response to illegal immigration. Westmoreland said he supported the Arizona law, adding that states have the right to protect their borders.
“Until we have secure borders we will never have a secure country,” Westmoreland said. “We’ve got to seal the borders and then deal with the comprehensive issue, and I’m not talking about amnesty.”
Substantially agreeing, Saunders said, “Georgia (and the states) have a right to protect their citizens,” and adding that existing laws should be enforced.
The candidates near the end of the forum were asked their opinion on healthcare.
Saunders said he was initially excited about the some aspects of the bill such as the 26-year-old at-home age limit and the requirement on pre-existing conditions. But Saunders said he now believes the bill needs to be re-worked.
Westmoreland’s perspective was simply to repeal the law, noting that the bill is essentially a joke, given that doctors and patients should be central to decision-making rather than having legislation standing between them.
The forum, which also included candidates for the Coweta County Board of Education District 1 and District 1 at-large seats, was attended by nearly 50 people.