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GOP candidates spar in first debate
Scott takes jab at Deal; economy is dominant issue discussed
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As most of the Republicans vying for their party’s nomination in Georgia’s race for governor sounded off on some of the state’s most important issues Tuesday, state Rep. Austin Scott took the opportunity to criticize U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal.

As Scott answered a question about dealing with the state’s current conflict over water allocation with Florida and Alabama, the Tifton representative made a stab at Deal, calling a publicized call by Deal to get President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate “childish.”

“I promise I’m going to be respectful of our president...” Scott said.

But Deal, answering a follow-up question from Cox Radio journalist Tim Bryant on the issue, said he had no problem with Obama’s
birth certificate.

Instead, Deal said he only asked the president to provide the representative a credible source where he can refer questions about the Obamas' citizenship.

“I think that is a reasonable proposition and something I think the president should respond to —although, at this point, he has not,” Deal said.

Deal and Scott joined former Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Sens. Jeff Chapman and Eric Johnson and Cumming businessman Ray McBerry at the University of Georgia on Tuesday night for the first Republican debate in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, also a Republican candidate for governor, did not attend the debate because of a scheduling conflict.

Democratic candidates in the state’s gubernatorial race will participate in their first debate at the University of Georgia early next month.

During the hourlong debate Tuesday, the Republican candidates made known their own intentions to improve the state’s economic situation - Johnson repeatedly referred to himself as the jobs governor - as well as the education system and water debacle.

McBerry, who touted himself as the only “constitutionalist” in the race, said he would assist local sheriffs in their enforcement of federal immigration laws. He said the number of illegal immigrants in Georgia was the federal government’s fault.

“We’ll put them on a big yellow bus, and we’ll take them and drop them off at the White House if we have to,” McBerry said.
Handel, who recently resigned from her position as secretary of state to focus on her campaign for governor, said the state’s education system could be improved with little extra investment by increasing the number of the state’s charter schools.

“Let’s replicate what’s working and not recreate the wheel,” Handel said.

And Chapman of Brunswick said the solution to the state’s funding issues for transportation problems should not be solved with a statewide sales tax.

Though Chapman said his constituents in Brunswick should care about traffic problems in Atlanta “to a certain extent,” he said he did not think South Georgians would be supportive of a tax that would fix them.

“I can’t think of a worse time to raise new taxes,” Chapman said.

And Johnson of Savannah spoke against the recent push toward ethics reform under the Gold Dome. Though he said there needs to be limits set on lobbyists’ gifts to public officials, Johnson said any bill that does not focus on job creation should be pushed to the side this legislative session.

Scott offered an approach to improving the state’s economic situation that would require abolishing the state’s corporate income tax. Such a move would send a message to the rest of the country that “Georgia means business,” Scott said.

While none of the candidates said they would support interbasin transfers in Georgia’s river network, they all had different ideas as to how the state should solve its current water problems.

Johnson said second-guessing current Gov. Sonny Perdue in the midst of what he called “very sensitive” negotiations with the governors of Florida and Alabama was “inappropriate,” and McBerry, of Cumming, said he was not going to let the federal government tell the state what to do with its water supply.

“Washington’s really good at creating problems,” McBerry said.

Deal touted his efforts to get the three governors to restart negotiations over the rights to the water flowing through the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basins. Deal said he has also introduced legislation that would reauthorize Lake Lanier’s use for human consumption and would allow the federal government to credit municipalities for the water that Georgia returned to the lake.

“I think I’ve already demonstrated the leadership on the issue,” Deal said.