In a final debate before the July 31 primary that will decide their fates as congressional candidates, the two men and one woman in a race to represent Georgia’s newest congressional district were on the defensive Sunday.
Doug Collins, Roger Fitzpatrick and Martha Zoller all had to answer questions about their pasts in a debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and televised by Georgia Public Broadcasting.
The three Republican candidates for the new 9th District U.S. House seat all agreed on several issues raised in the debate.
All said they would not support a bill to legalize online gambling. All said the country’s financial problems were not based on revenue, but on spending.
All said a July 20 shooting that killed 12 people and injured 58 at a theater in Aurora, Colo., should not call into question the right to bear arms in the United States.
And none said he or she would vote to raise the country’s debt ceiling.
Fitzpatrick said the decision would mean benefits like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security would have to see major cuts.
“It’s real easy to say that ‘when I go to Washington, I’m going to take care of your benefits,’” Fitzpatrick said. “But I’m going to be very truthful with you: Your benefits will have to be cut if you are on Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security; if you are younger than a certain age, then benefits will have to be cut, by nature. There’s no way that the United States government can spend over $100 trillion in obligations in Medicare and Social Security.”
Fitzpatrick also said he believed a move toward the Fair Tax, a consumption-based tax, instead of the federal government relying on revenue from the income tax would eliminate loopholes for certain individuals and corporations.
The answer came in response to a question as to whether the candidates would support closing those loopholes if it meant lower tax rates for most but higher rates for a few.
But Fitzpatrick said the question assumed the country would keep its current tax code, which he said was “broken and cannot be fixed.”
“I firmly believe that as we go to a Fair Tax, then the revenue is going to increase tremendously,” Fitzpatrick said. “That is one of the ways that we can actually bring in enough revenue to meet several of our obligations without having to make as severe ... spending cuts.”
Zoller was asked multiple times about her stance on gay marriage. Both Collins and Fitzpatrick grilled Zoller on whether she supported civil unions, and Athens journalist Blake Aued also quizzed her on the matter.
Zoller repeatedly answered that she supported marriage between a man and a woman and said she did not support civil unions.
In May, when the subject came up at a forum in Flowery Branch, Zoller told The Times that she supported a federal marriage amendment, defining the institution between a man and a woman.
But she also said the government’s reach should stop there, leaving room for legal civil unions.
“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.”
In a 2009 interview on CNN, Zoller also said that she supported civil unions.
Fitzpatrick asked her about that interview Sunday, repeating a question from earlier “do you support civil unions?”
“No I do not,” Zoller said.
Collins, too, was on the defensive about his past in Sunday’s debate.
Following a question from Atlanta political columnist Jim Galloway about his support from Georgia legislators who have recently come under fire for support of a regional sales tax and for a reluctance to limit lobbyist spending on legislators, Collins defended his endorsements and his state colleagues.
“The people of Georgia right now are paying less taxes than when we came in; we also cut spending,” Collins said.
And later, in response to a statement from Zoller that “Congress is full of state legislators who balanced budgets while they were in the state legislature but never did it while they were in Congress” and that it was “time to send a different kind of person to Congress,” Collins mentioned several former members of the General Assembly who were now representing Georgia in the U.S. House and are popular among their constituents.
“I want to join my colleagues up there who I actually served with to begin this cut ... because we’ve had good ideas here,” Collins said. “The Republican legislature and this Republican governor have done a lot to cut spending and cut taxes.”
Among the list was U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger.
Zoller pointed out that Collins had given money to Graves’ chief opponent, Gainesville dentist Lee Hawkins, in the 2010 race Graves won. Reports filed from that race show Collins’ election committee to the General Assembly gave Hawkins, who is running unopposed for Collins’ former state House seat, $500 for his congressional campaign. Hawkins raised some $1.3 million overall for that campaign.
“If you had had your way, Tom Graves would not have been elected to Congress,” Zoller said.
Fitzpatrick, when it was his opportunity, again questioned Collins’ vote in favor of a referendum on a regional sales tax that would fund local transportation projects.
Collins repeated an answer he’s made several times on the campaign trail that the vote in favor of creating the referendum was a vote of “trust” in Georgians “to do what is right.”
Collins, who served as a floor leader in the Georgia House of Representatives for one of the tax’s biggest advocates, Gov. Nathan Deal, said he wasn’t in favor of the list of projects the tax would fund in Hall and surrounding counties, adding, “I don’t think it’s going to pass anyway.”
Fitzpatrick also defended his qualifications Sunday as Zoller asked him what he’d done before his candidacy to “help further constitutional values.”
Fitzpatrick, a retired school principal from White County, has made returning to the original intent of the U.S. Constitution a major tenet of his campaign.
“As an educator, I would hope that I had something to do with molding the minds of children as they were growing up and moving into society,” Fitzpatrick said. “I consider being an educator one of the highest callings that there can be, because it falls upon the classroom teacher to prepare those children to be productive members of society so we can continue to grow as a society, as the United States.”
Collins asked Fitzpatrick about his views on gay marriage and abortion and whether he had ever made a public statement on the issues that was different than the one he currently has. Fitzpatrick’s view that abortion should be illegal has earned him an endorsement from Georgia Right to Life and his opposition of gay marriage includes making civil unions illegal and supporting a federal amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
But, unlike their responses to each other’s questions, neither Collins nor Zoller rebutted Fitzpatrick’s answers to the questions they asked him, only telling him that they appreciated his stance.