By BEN NADLER, Associated Press
ATLANTA — During a tense debate between the two Republicans vying for Georgia governor, both candidates tried to make the race about who voters can trust when no one is looking.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who are locked in a contentious runoff battle that will be decided July 24, squared off Thursday evening in Atlanta.
The winner will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.
Kemp continued his attack on Cagle over a secret recording released last month in which Cagle can be heard saying he backed what he called "bad public policy" in order to deny a political opponent monetary support.
Cagle punched back, saying that Kemp had "colluded" with former candidate Clay Tippins to record the private conversation and release portions to the media.
He also accused Kemp of taking campaign contributions from people with ties to businesses regulated and licensed by his office. Cagle specifically pointed to a chain of massage parlors and said that past Secretaries of State had given back similar contributions.
When the candidates got to ask each other questions, Kemp asked Cagle about the conversation Tippins had recorded: "Were you trading legislation for money?"
Cagle responded, saying "Let's be honest, the only person that has been trading anything for money has been the Secretary of State," referring to campaign contributions made to Kemp.
Kemp has denied receiving any improper contributions and accused Cagle of dodging questions about Tippins' tape.
Other issues the candidates focused on included transit, which both Kemp and Cagle said they supported an expansion of public transit, but differed on their approach.
Kemp said that his primary question about all transit projects would be, "How much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for it?" Kemp said he was supportive of funding transit projects from the local level because it gave the best value for the tax payer.
Cagle, meanwhile, called Kemp's suggestion "not a plan," and said that he had led on the issue during the past legislative session. Cagle said that as governor he would have a 10-year strategic plan and look at "every option available" to build infrastructure across the state.
In terms of medical marijuana, both candidates said that they would back the future expansion of Georgia's medical marijuana program, saying they have been swayed by stories of families reliant on it for treatment.
Cagle said he was in favor of ensuring access to cannabis oil for patients in the state, while saying he was staunchly opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana.
Kemp applauded the work of Rep. Allen Peake, one of the biggest advocates for medical marijuana legislation in the state House, while also signaling that he was unequivocally opposed to recreational marijuana in Georgia.