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Doctors scrub up to heal House

9th District race includes 3 medical pros, several businessmen, no lawyers

POSTED: May 7, 2010 11:29 p.m.

For 79 years, lawyers have represented the people of Georgia’s 9th District in the U.S. House.

But in Tuesday’s special election to replace Nathan Deal, an attorney, three of the seven candidates say the 9th District needs a doctor in the House.

Another says send a businessman to Washington.

All are conservatives. Six are Republicans. And not one is touting a law degree.

In an election year when most voters are concerned with the nation’s limping economy and an impending overhaul of its health care system, the shift from attorneys to doctors and businessmen likely is no accident.

The National Republican Congressional Committee says there are 35 Republican candidates for the U.S. House this year who are doctors. Another 44 Republican candidates for the House are considered “medical professionals.”

And in the campaign for Georgia’s 9th District representative, Chris Cates, former state Sen. Lee Hawkins and Bert Loftman fall into that category.

Loftman of Big Canoe is a retired neurosurgeon who still volunteers his services in Jasper. His campaign is centered on taking the nation back to what he says is the original purpose of its Constitution and enacting the FairTax. Both, Loftman says, are the key to health care reform.

In the 1990s, Loftman wrote articles in trade magazines about how the income tax system was the root of most problems with the health care system, he said.

“Since then, I have branched out to understand the significance also of the inflation-producing Federal Reserve Bank that debases our dollar,” Loftman said. “And I have studied the Constitution and realized almost everything in health care is unconstitutional according to the Constitution, the powers of Congress.”

Hawkins, a dentist in Gainesville for 32 years, has focused his campaign on the need to put health care decisions back in the hands of the patients. Hawkins is a past president of the Georgia Dental Association, and before he became a state senator in 2006, he said he would testify on bills that impacted health care.

Last year, Hawkins cited the health care debate as one of the main reasons he was running for Congress.

“Washington doesn’t need to make the decisions for us; we’re capable of making our own decisions,” Hawkins said Friday. “You’re capable of choosing your own health care and you don’t need someone to tell you what, when, where and how to do it. That should be between you and your health care provider.”

Cates, an interventional cardiologist from Blairsville, shares a similar sentiment. As the vice president for cardiology with the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, Cates said he met with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., last summer about the then-proposed health care bill.

After the meeting did not go his way, Cates later decided Congress needed a cardiologist. And the Blairsville physician makes sure to mention he’s never been in political office.

“The only way we’re going to get our country back is to have real people willing to step out of the stands, put on the pads and play the game, instead of leaving politics to the people that have done it for years and the career politicians,” Cates said.

Cates said there is a movement in the NRCC to recruit candidates that have never been in political office and are leaders in their fields of expertise.

And while Andy Sere, a spokesman for the NRCC, says there has not been an official memo sent out, leadership for the organization has made a concerted effort to find “community leaders” who can claim the “outsider mantle.”

Those candidates don’t necessarily have to be doctors, though several are, he said.

Though they haven’t focused as much on their professions as the other candidates, Former State Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, and former state Sen. Bill Stephens, R-Cumming, have emphasized their accomplishments in the statehouse to show their ability to stand up for Georgians’ conservative values and fight the establishment.

Stephens promises to bring common sense to Washington. Graves’ campaign promises to push through a series of tax cuts on the federal level similar to one he passed this year in the General Assembly.

Stephens is the vice president of a mortgage business. Graves owns and manages multifamily housing units and commercial properties.

“We have farmers who are running, we have doctors, we have businessmen, we have prosecutors, we have mayors, we have legislators, we have reality TV stars ...” Sere said. “Regardless of the occupation, what’s important is that they have a record of standing up for what’s right for their communities and are prepared to come up here to Washington and challenge the status quo.”

That’s the candidate Steve Tarvin says he is. He is chief executive officer of a Chickamauga textile mill that keeps asking voters to “send a businessman to Washington.”

Tarvin notes that there are already four medical professionals representing Georgia north of Atlanta: Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta, Tom Price of Roswell and John Linder of Duluth. Linder has announced he plans to retire this year.

Though he’s not a Republican, independent candidate Eugene Moon also says his expertise in his field gives him an edge the other candidates don’t have. Moon is a marketing manager for an international welding products manufacturer in Gainesville.

“I know what it takes to do business outside the borders of the United States,” Moon said. “Some of these guys know how to do business in the counties they live in, but I bring that wealth of knowledge I think we need. ... “One of the big problems we have here, a lot of people they only do business within the area, and there’s so much more business in other parts of the world. You’ve just got to know how to go after them. And I tell people all the time, if you want to know how to do it, all you’ve got to do is call me.”

Voters, Tarvin said, are looking for more leaders in their fields.

“I think you’re going to see more and more business people and concerned citizens running for office,” Tarvin said.



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