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Special election candidates share ideas at chamber

POSTED: April 23, 2010 12:32 a.m.

Hall County’s business leaders got a chance Thursday to meet all the candidates in line to be Georgia’s next 9th District representative in the U.S. House and Georgia’s District 49 state senator.

In a forum sponsored by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, each candidate had a few minutes to introduce himself to attendees at the Gainesville Civic Center.

The event was the chamber’s monthly board meeting, but the focus was the May 11 special election for the two vacant seats.

First up were the three candidates seeking the unexpired Senate term of Lee Hawkins. Until he resigned in March to seek the U.S. House post, Hawkins represented all of Hall and a portion of northern Jackson County in the legislature.

Libertarian candidate Brandon Givens was first to address the group. Givens, a special education teacher, has said on his website that the upcoming election will be “a referendum on conservatism.”

As he addressed the chamber, Givens said the only way Georgia would have a smaller federal government is to learn how to operate without federal dollars.

He said politicians often say they are proponents of a small national government but still accept federal money. He used the current competition for education funds, Race to he Top, as his example.

“Right now, our elected officials are tripping over themselves to get federal Race to the Top money. This money comes with federal mandates that educators have warned will harm education,” Givens said. “We all know federal mandates have been harmful in the past. Why are we in a rush to put these prickly mandates on the schools?”

Republican Butch Miller, owner and general manager of Milton Martin Honda in Gainesville, focused his introduction on state business.

Miller has been in the race the longest, and has raised more than $224,000 for his campaign. He said Thursday that his experience as a business owner makes him qualified to deal with the state’s budget challenges.

“I know what it’s like to balance a budget. I know what it’s like to make the payroll on a Friday afternoon,” Miller said. “I know what it’s like to lay awake on Thursday night worrying about making that payroll on Friday afternoon.”

Jimmy Norman, a Flowery Branch real estate executive, is the third Republican candidate for the Senate post. He calls himself a “Christian constitutionalist,” and told the chamber crowd Thursday that the government should be based on two documents: the Bible and the U.S. Constitution.

Norman proposed getting rid of corporate income taxes, and he called property taxes a “fascist” way of government.

“We shouldn’t have to rent our businesses, our means of production and our homes from the government,” Norman said.

In the only question posed to the Senate candidates, each was asked what he would cut from the state budget if forced to cut more.

Givens answered that he would cut the National Guard, and added that Georgians needed to have a conversation about what was important to fund. Those important things, he said, are education, transportation and efficient energy.

Miller said he would look at consolidating counties as well as state services and departments. Norman said he would support zero-based budgeting, starting with an assumption that no government service is required except protecting residents from violations of rights to life, liberty and property.

Afterward came the seven candidates — six Republicans and one conservative Independent — seeking to become Georgia’s 9th District House representative. The seat was vacated in March by Nathan Deal, who is running for governor.

Each was given a chance to answer one question posed by Chamber Chairwoman Emily Bagwell about the top two issues other than health care that most affect the 15-county district.

Chris Cates, a Blairsville Republican, said that while health care was the “seminal issue of our generation,” jobs and immigration were the two most important.

Former state Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger said the most challenging issues were job creation and excessive federal spending.

Republican Steve Tarvin of Chickamauga echoed that statement, adding that laws restricting carbon emissions would kill job creation.

Hawkins also said the economy was the No. 1 issue, adding that water was just as important to the district. Bill Stephens of Cumming agreed, adding that the first bill he would introduce, if elected, would be a congressional reauthorization of 40 lakes, including Lake Lanier, to allow them to be used for drinking water.

Bert Loftman of Big Canoe said installing the fair tax and controlling the inflation of the Federal Reserve Bank would be his first two priorities.

Independent Eugene Moon of Gainesville said his first priorities would be pursuing fair trade policies to restore U.S. manufacturing and terminating the No Child Left Behind education program.

At the end of the forum, chamber leaders said they were impressed with the pool of candidates for both races.

Bagwell said residents of the district were lucky to have so many people running for both open seats. Chamber President Kit Dunlap encouraged the attendees to go vote in the next three weeks now that they have met the candidates face-to-face.

“What a great quality of candidates that we have,” she said.



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