FLOWERY BRANCH — U.S. Rep Tom Graves urged constituents in Hall County on Wednesday to back Mitt Romney in the race to be the next president of the United States.
In the county for a congressional town hall meeting with constituents he’ll no longer have next year due to redistricting, Graves asked Republicans here not to sit on the sidelines during the presidential election “even if you’re not 100 percent excited about the nominee.”
Romney is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party in this year’s presidential race.
But in March, most of the votes from Graves’ former and future congressional districts went to the former House Speaker from Georgia, Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich dropped out of the race, lacking, by far, the delegates needed to garner the party’s nomination.
Days before Gingrich officially dropped out, Graves was the first of Georgia’s congressional delegation to endorse Romney as the Republican nominee in the election.
Graves, a favorite of the tea party in his 2010 election to Congress, said Wednesday his relatively early endorsement of Romney gives him an opportunity to take a leadership role in Georgia for Romney’s presidential campaign.
His decision to support Romney, said Graves congressional spokeswoman Jennifer Hazelton, was because the congressman felt the choice was “between two futures in this election: one of debt and dependency versus opportunity and prosperity.”
Romney, according to Graves’ staff, is the latter choice.
“For me, it’s about (the fact that) we’ve got to beat Barack Obama,” Graves said. “Whatever it takes to beat Barack Obama, I want to be a part of that.”
While Graves has taken a stand in the presidential race, he said he won’t be involved, however, in the campaign to choose a representative for the new 9th District.
Graves discussed his endorsement at a town hall meeting he hosted at Spout Springs library in Flowery Branch on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the budget and transportation along with a number of issues some of the 35 people who attended raised.
Graves told those in attendance that he had been promoting “budgets that are responsible” in Washington, a move he said “almost shut the place down at times.”
“The needle has been moved; the message has been heard, but I think it needs to keep being sent,” Graves said.
Graves got applause from those in the room when he said he believed transportation money should stay in the state instead of going to the federal Department of Transportation.
“If we were to implement this, then that leads to the next one, education,” Graves said.
Wednesday’s event had been rescheduled from a previously canceled town hall Graves scheduled in mid-April.
Hall has not been on the congressman’s schedule for town hall meetings since state lawmakers redrew the state’s congressional districts last August and took the county out of the district Graves will represent if re-elected.
Currently, Graves has no opposition in his new district, the 14th.
The newly redrawn congressional district map makes Hall the population center of a new 20-county district in Northeast Georgia while Graves’ district shifts northwest.
Despite the changes, Graves said he still felt an obligation to “plug in” to his current constituency until the county’s new representative is sworn in next January.
Jimmy Norman, the executive director of the group Georgians for Constitutional Government, said he thought Graves’ effort to reach out to his departing constituency was nice.
“It’s sort of a way of acknowledging that he appreciated representing this area, so I think it’s a good thing,” Norman said. “Since we were his district and a lot of us supported him, I think it makes sense.”
“We still represent the area, and we still have a lot of interest in getting feedback from our constituents,” Graves said.
Andy Henderson, a resident of Flowery Branch, came to Wednesday’s town hall to ask Graves whether he thought the Fair Tax would ever pass.
But in the middle of his question, he thanked Graves’ office for being responsive to him on a recent trip to Washington, getting Henderson and his grandchildren clearance for a tour of the White House.
“I think that’s what politics should be,” Henderson said later.
Norman took Wednesday’s opportunity to ask Graves about his vote last week for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, noting that he’d heard complaints from members of his organization but hadn’t had a chance to read up on the bill.
But from what Norman had heard, “It sounds like you’ve turned tyrant on us,” he told Graves.
Graves said he voted for the bill because he felt it empowered the private sector to deal with cyberattacks instead of infringing on personal privacy.
“This one is actually something that lines up with something we all believe,” Graves said in defense of the bill.
After the forum, Norman said he was satisfied with the congressman’s answer.