Debate

Candidates Mike Collins (left) and Stephen Simpson (center) react as opponent Brian Slowinski (right) speaks about his opinion to terminate homeland security in the federal government in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (photo/Polly J. Turrentine, pollyjeanturrentine@gmail.com)

For candidates in Wednesday’s debate, cutting costs and balancing the national budget was a running theme among the Republican primary candidates.

“I think to me the No. 1 issue is fiscal responsibility,” said Georgia State Rep. Donna Sheldon.“We have got to get our fiscal house in order.”  

The University of Georgia College Republicans hosted a debate Wednesday night, where six candidates running to fill the seat of U.S. House Rep. Paul Broun for Georgia’s 10th District discussed issues of foreign and domestic relation to audience of roughly 120 attendants.

Mediated by Charles Bullock, the Richard B. Russell Professor of political science, the debate featured each of the representatives discussing their views on several topics – the national deficit, cutting programs, immigration legislation, the conflict in Syria, student loans, debt and job creation.

A general consensus among candidates was the elimination of the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, among a slew of additional federal programs.

“It has become a monster for each of us,” said Jody Hice, a pastor of 30 years and radio talk show host.

Among the programs to be cut included the Internal Revenue Service, and the departments of education and energy, but Brian Slowinski, a grassroots politician who previously has worked with U.S. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), added the elimination of an additional federal fund.

“I would advocate to eliminate the IRS and the income tax,” Slowinski said. “How can we do that – if we actually take our budget back to the year 2002 level. By taking us back to that budget level, we can get rid of the income tax.”

Slowinski also promoted cutting the Department of Education and other federal programs that are not “strategic” to keep, an initiative that would earn roughly $71 billion in savings, he said.

With cutting costs for the federal government, the question of raising costs for taxpayers followed, where candidates expressed opinions on supporting initiatives for revenue enhancement.

“There are ways to enhance revenue without raising taxes,” said Stephen Simpson.

Simpson, a candidate with a military career spanning over decades, said implementing a fair tax and lowering the capital gains tax rate from 15 percent to 5 percent would help to resolve the issue.

“It takes from business owners who create jobs that revenue that, with the fair tax, can be rolled into jobs, creating greater revenue that comes off of those jobs,” he said. “Every time we reduce the capital gains tax rate, we increase overall revenue and we grow business because we give incentive to the people who create jobs to add jobs.”

On the topic of cutting costs, spending problems, rather than high taxes, became a near-synonymous response from the candidates.

“We’re not over-taxed, we’ve got spending problems,” said Mike Collins, a worker in the private sector and man involved in small business for roughly 20 years.

The latest legislation on immigration passed by the U.S. Senate arose in the debate – an issue that begins with “securing our borders,” Sheldon said.

Candidates, including UGA School of Law alumnus Gary Gerrard, advocated to allow access to citizenship for the millions of immigrants illegally in the country who are willing to “work and pay taxes.”

“We have an underground economy where many illegal aliens are taken advantage of because of the threat of being deported, and they’re being paid under the table so that they don’t pay taxes and they don’t pay Social Security,” Gerrard said. “We need to have a guest worker program that allows them to work equally.”

The conflict in Syria has left much speculation and mixed opinions for and against all sides, but all six candidates presented the same argument regarding America’s involvement, with Collins calling it a “missed opportunity.”

“It goes to show we have such weak leadership from the top down,” he said.

But America’s involvement would be necessary if the conflict posed a threat to American lives.

“I will not vote to send any troops into combat unless the criteria are national security interests to the United States of America,” Simpson said. “There has to be a clear and present danger. We have got to have a definable objective, an exit strategy and a peace plan at the end.”

The problem of college costs may not be student loan rates, but the rising cost of tuition itself.

“The cost of secondary education has gone up 300 percent – more than health care or [Consumer Price Index] – for 30 years.”

But the issue of resolving student loan debt, though having been lowered from 6.8 percent to 3.9 percent in August, remained a topic of discussion for other candidates.

“Currently, there is over $1 trillion in student loan debt in the nation right now, which surpasses credit card debt,” Sheldon said. “The real issue is not the lower interest rate, it’s to make sure you have a job when you graduate. We have got to make changes in our economy.”

Reigniting America’s “vibrant” economy, Collins said, is the key to creating these jobs, and implementing aspects of a free enterprise system catered to ideals of many of the candidates.

“The American free enterprise system is absolutely the greatest, most profound economic engine in the history of the world,” Hice said, “and history has proven that our free enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty, has done more humanitarian good than any other system in the history of the world.”

Bullock concluded the debate by having each candidate “make [their] pitch” and distinguish themselves from one another.

Many candidates related their experience in politics and business to the reason why they should be nominated as the Republican primary candidate.

“Most of my life adult life, I have been a major fighter for constitutionally limited government,” Hice said. “One thing that I think with me that I bring to the table is that I’m not just a conservative vote, but I am and have been a conservative voice.”

But others, like Gerrard, made contractually obligated promises to citizens if elected to office.

“I have pledged not to take a salary as congressman until Congress passes a balanced budget,” Gerrard said. “I put it in the form of a written contract. If I break that promise, you may remove me from office immediately – no one has ever done that before in standing up for and allowing their campaign promises to be enforced.”

The turnout in college students and citizens of the 10th District, though expected, led to reinforcement of the idea for College Republicans to continue hosting debates.    

“We had a ton of media here, which we were excited about,” said Bernadette Greene, a junior public relations major from Fayetteville. “And the turnout was really good – it’s kind of what we expected. We expected a lot more people from the community more so than students, which is what the turnout was.”

The campaign, Bullock said, will conclude when voting begins Nov. 4 in 2014.

Members of College Republicans said the event, being the first of its kind and idea that began with many of the candidates “attracting the College Republicans’ attention,” led to a successful debate with little conflict or disruption.

“I was pleased that it was generally a positive tone at the debate – not a lot of brick throwing or anything like that,” said College Republicans Political Director Colin Carr. “Most people were engaging in constructive talk and not putting each other down. I think it’s a good-styled debate, or forum, to have the first time because it sets a good tone for the rest of the campaign – it keeps things on a positive note.”