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Deal, Handel face off in Forsyth debate
Nathan Deal and Karen Handel participate in a gubernatorial debate Tuesday evening at Forsyth County Administration Building. - photo by EMILY SAUNDERS

Republican voters in Forsyth heard from two conservative gubernatorial candidates looking to distinguish themselves one week before the primary election.

Former 9th District U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville and former Secretary of State Karen Handel faced off Tuesday during the Forsyth County Republican Party debate. The two fielded questions on water, immigration, taxes and other key issues.

Eric Johnson and John Oxendine, also candidates for the governorship, were both invited to the event but did not attend.

Both candidates voiced similar views on fighting the federal health care law and gradually moving away from the state’s current tax structure. They both also support allowing counties to vote individually on Sunday alcohol sales and would both support an immigration law in Georgia similar to the one recently passed in Arizona.

One issue the two candidates disagree on is a constitutional amendment providing the paramount right to life of each human being from biological beginning until natural death.

Deal supports the amendment. Handel said the language would prevent the use of the death penalty, outlaw fertility treatments and would not offer all options to children who are victims of rape or incest.

“I stand by my position on this,” she said. “I am going to be a strong pro-life governor who’s going to push a strong pro-life culture in our state.”

Asked if they support state-funded vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools, Handel said vouchers should and can be part of the education funding solution. Deal suggested giving assistance to the private schools, but holding them to the same requirements and accountability as public schools.

“I am very concerned about anything that jeopardizes our public school system because 94 percent of all students in this state are going to get their education in our public schools,” he said.

Water was the focus of three questions fielded by the candidates, including one about support for inter-basin transfers to facilitate the state’s water supply.

Handel said the transfers are “not the way to go,” instead suggesting officials look at a network of reservoirs and reviewing regulations holding the state back.

Deal said he doesn’t support wholesale transfers from one water basin to another, but noted “it would be foolish” to force one county with two basins to have to build parallel water supplies to prevent inter-basin transfer.

He also noted that solutions for Lake Lanier, like raising the level, could not be realized until a resolution is reached between Florida and Alabama. Handel said she’s cautiously optimistic a deal will be reached, but in the meantime, she would push to make solutions that are within the state’s control.

To lure businesses and jobs, Handel suggested reshaping the tax code, which she said puts Georgia at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states. Deal talked about his prosperity plan, which would include waiving taxes on small businesses during start-up years.

Forsyth County Republican Party Chairman Ethan Underwood said the two candidates both represent the party’s ideals.

“It’s a team sport,” he said. “We try to embrace different viewpoints but stay true to our conservative platform.

“Now, we’ve got to decide who is the best person to carry the football.”