Gainesville’s Doug Collins and Jody Cooley tackled a host of hot-button issues, from federal budget woes to abortion, as they battled Tuesday night over the right to represent the 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Collins, a Republican, and Cooley, a Democrat, who will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election, kept the 90-minute debate at the Gainesville Civic Center lively but mostly civil, fielding questions from three panelists, the audience and, briefly, each other.
One of the highlights was a discussion of abortion, spurred by a question by panelist Chandelle Summer about whether the morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancies if taken within a certain period of time after sex, should be available at no cost to “underprivileged or disadvantaged women.”
“I support life from the moment of conception. That’s my personal view ... so, to directly answer your question, no I would not (support such a measure),” Collins said.
Cooley, noting that he supports a woman’s right to abortion, said he would give his support “if the premise is that would eliminate the need for abortions ... but I’m not entirely comfortable that that assumption is necessarily possible.”
As for when life begins, it’s “when God says it begins, and I don’t know when that is,” Cooley said.
The discussion continued as panelist Ken Coleman raised a question about adoption and parenting classes “as equal choices to abortion.”
“We’ve got to make sure we have programs that make sure that the child can eat when it is born and can have health care, and they can survive,” Cooley said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re truly pro-life in all situations.”
Collins said encouraging adoptions and “taking care of life is my whole stance on abortion — to continue to give prospects and to give (children) a home and a future. Life is precious in all areas and adoption should be a discussion.”
Another topic where the candidates sharply disagreed was the fair tax proposal, which calls for a national 23 percent sales tax to replace other federal taxes, including income tax.
“I venture to say that most of you sitting in this room are not paying that (tax percentage),” Cooley said.
Collins, declaring himself a fair tax supporter, said, “What you’ve got to understand is the embedded tax and costs that are in our products currently would come down when those are removed out of the cost of production.”
In a brief face-off at the end of the debate, Collins asked Cooley if he planned to vote for President Barack Obama.
“Yes,” Cooley said.
“Good to go,” Collins said, nodding his head.
Then, Cooley asked Collins if the Tax Protection Pledge, which vows not to raise marginal tax rates for individuals and businesses, would increase partisan rancor in Congress. The document was signed by a majority of the Republican members of Congress.
“What is more important to you — reducing the deficit or honoring the pledge?” Cooley said.
“What is more important to me ... is knowing that I will not raise taxes,” Collins said. “It’s also being honest; it’s a statement I have no problem signing if that’s what I intend to do.”
The Lanier Tea Party Patriots sponsored Tuesday night’s event, which was moderated by Joel Williams of WDUN. Retired WDUN news director Ken Stanford also served as a panelist.
Another debate is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Public Broadcasting Studios in Atlanta.
Collins, a former state representative, beat out Republican contenders Martha Zoller and Roger Fitzpatrick to win the nomination during the July primary. Cooley has been the only Democrat in the race.
The seat in the 9th District represents a new district for Georgia, which was awarded based on population. The new 9th District covers much of Northeast Georgia, with its population base in Hall and Forsyth counties. Rep. Tom Graves is campaigning for what is now the 14th District, located in Northwest Georgia.