Martha Zoller seemed to ignore an allegation by her opponent Doug Collins that she supported gay marriage Tuesday night.
At a forum sponsored by the South Hall Republican Club, the five candidates seeking to be Georgia’s newest member of Congress were faced with a response to President Barack Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriage.
Just by order of the forum, Collins was the first to answer. The state representative from North Hall told the audience at Spout Springs Library that he has always “stood for traditional family marriage,” and that at the same time the Defense of Marriage Act should be placed in the Constitution and civil unions should be banned.
“I know Martha and I have disagreed about that,” Collins said.
Other candidates at the forum also said they were against same-sex marriage — a position that was popular with those present Tuesday, 49 of whom said they had the same feelings in a straw poll conducted by the club, versus seven who expressed support for making it legal.
“God created man and woman — not man and boy, Steve and John,” answered Clifton McDuffie, an economic development strategist and former head of the local chamber of commerce.
Zoller, who happened to be next up after Collins to answer, barely acknowledged the statement, but said she did not support same-sex marriages and did support the federal marriage amendment.
“After we have supported marriages between a man and a woman, the federal government should not be defining what happens after that,” Zoller said.
After the forum, she clarified her position.
“If people want to enter into contracts after we have protected marriages between a man and a woman, the federal government should not be involved in that,” Zoller clarified later. “I’m for less government; I’m for more freedom. But we must protect marriages between a man and a woman.”
Just last week, Collins sent a letter to supporters alleging that Zoller had “challenged the sanctity of marriage.”
When she was questioned on her position on gay marriage Tuesday night, though, Zoller didn’t make mention of the letter.
But several minutes later, Zoller used nearly all of her two-minute closing remarks to come back at Collins. The former radio show host said she was honored by Collins’ targeting of her because “it shows he’s concerned about me.”
She alleged that Collins had been spreading “half-truths” about her.
“There’s a line being drawn in the sand today, Doug ... we’re going to talk about your record and you and I both know you don’t want to do that,” she said.
Then, she told those at the forum that there was a choice to be made “between a conservative firebrand and a person who’s a professional politician ... who thinks it’s his turn.”
She didn’t mention any of the other three men at the table. And Collins, who had already given his closing remarks, stood up to respond just as Jackson County Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell was standing to make his.
“Everything we talk about is backed up,” Collins said, encouraging those at the forum to visit his website and see where he got the information to make allegations against Zoller.
Collins said he hasn’t made any personal attacks on Zoller, but alleged that she had done so against him.
“We have a record that people can go back on, which we’re very proud to run on,” Collins said after the forum. “The problem with this issue is differences matter, and if you say things just for political expediency, the people are going to notice.”
After Collins responded, Bicknell returned the attention to him. The audience laughed when he followed Collins’ remarks with “Good evening.”
“I’m not attacking anybody, because I don’t think it’s necessary,” Bicknell said.
Bicknell touted his experience as a businessman as unique for the five-candidate pool. Earlier in the night, he said balancing the budget for Jackson County without increasing property tax rates for three years and bringing jobs to the county was his most significant act of public service.
Bicknell was also the only candidate to say that he was even slightly in favor of the proposed sales tax, which would fund transportation projects in the state.
The issue will go before Georgia voters regionally July 31. Though it doesn’t have a bearing on congressional actions, it was a hot topic with those present at the forum Tuesday.
South Hall Republican Club President Ed Asbridge reported a straw poll at the beginning of the meeting in which 11 of those present said they supported the tax and 43 opposed it.
“I am in favor of it in certain areas,” Bicknell said, noting that the issue was ultimately up to the voters to determine what was best for their regions.
McDuffie said he was personally against the proposal.
“I don’t think we need to raise taxes on anybody in the middle of the recession,” McDuffie said. “Why do you take more money from the people when you’re misspending the money you have right now?”
Retiring White County elementary school principal Roger Fitzpatrick said he opposed the tax because certain counties in the regional plan would benefit, while others would only be “donor counties.”
“They would never get that money back,” Fitzpatrick said.
Zoller, too, said she opposed the tax, noting a continued toll on Ga. 400 and the fact that local governments have borrowed money banking on sales tax revenues that haven’t come yet. She also said automobiles should not be exempted from the tax since they use the road.
Collins, who voted in the General Assembly to put the issue up for a vote, said state lawmakers put it on the ballot because the state had transportation problems.
He did not completely endorse the tax, but encouraged those at the forum to look at each plan themselves, rather than voting on secondhand information.
“I have problems with the plan that’s in our area,” he said.