In a field that already has six candidates — Lt. Colonel Stephen Simpson, businessman Mike Collins, pastor Jody Hice, state Rep. Donna Sheldon and Brian Slowinski —, attendees of the Monroe 10th Congressional debate on Tuesday were introduced to a seventh: former U.S. Marine Mitchell Swan, who only recently entered a race that the others have been in for months.
There wasn’t even standing room left for those who arrived late. Jody Hice, who hails from the area, held a barbeque behind the event’s location for his supporters. Politics and barbeque are an undeniably popular pairing in the Peach State, and helped bring the room to capacity.
Peach Pundit editor Charlie Harper, who moderated the debate, encouraged the candidates to differentiate themselves on specific policies and proposals. He reminded them that they all oppose Obamacare, for example, asking them to instead share ideas regarding hospital closings and rural health care access.
The topic of immigration brought some discord among the candidates. Swan argued that Republicans are losing the battle on the immigration issue and must concede on their terms in order to pass a reform bill and mute the issue for the time being. Hice and Collins both stated they are against any sort of “amnesty” or pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. All the candidates support strengthening America’s borders.
Simpson pointed out that agribusiness relies on the labor of illegal immigrants. While he believes illegals should be at the “back of the line” for citizenship, he believes the country needs an improved guest worker program and less red tape, which often prevents farmers from hiring more domestic and immigrant workers.
Gary Gerrard, a former UGA law professor, took offense to the word amnesty, arguing that the legal definition of amnesty means illegal aliens would face no consequences despite the fact that Republican proposals have included fines and other penalties for having immigrated illegally.
One proposal that peaked interest in the room came from Simpson, who publicly announced one of his new proposals, a national lottery, for the first time at the debate. Simpson advocated for the lottery as a way to fund transportation, veterans services and the heavily indebted U.S. Postal Service, which would administer the lottery.
The candidates’ closing statements illustrated their reasons for running and intentions for their time in Congress.
Swan said he joined the race to be a leader and claimed he could build consensus on proposals in Congress. He argued that Congress is currently focusing on the short term instead of looking at how policy will shape the country ten years or more in the future.
Slowinski told the crowd that one of his primary reasons for running for Congress is to throw out John Boehner from the speakership. Slowinski claimed that if he was elected, he’d be the last vote needed to bring new leadership to the House.
Simpson, who worked previously in the Pentagon and played a role in legislation such as the Defense Authorization Act, said he can fill the deficit of leadership in D.C. He reminded the audience that he has served his country before and is ready to serve again as a conservative leader in Congress.
Sheldon talked about her service as a legislator, small business owner and mother, saying that she wants to go to D.C. to do something, not be somebody. She pointed to her experience in balancing her business’s budget and her potential to apply that experience to the federal budget.
Hice held up a pocket Constitution as he delivered his final statement and announced that the U.S. has strayed too far from what is constitutional. He ending by saying the document is the only plan he needs in Congress.
Gerrard reiterated his experience in taking ACTION, Inc. out of $2 million in debt. Like Hice, he also produced a document during his closing, though his was a contract he will sign with any 10th district voter stating that he will not accept a salary until the budget is balanced or else he will resign from office.
Collins discussed his small business experience and work ethic. He reiterated that he is the only candidate who currently runs a business on a daily basis, promising to lead in Congress like he does in business.
In an email blast and press release that came out quickly after the debate, Sheldon declared herself the winner despite the absence of a straw poll. While all the candidates can certainly lay claim to a debate victory, an undisputed champion was impossible to pick.
There are still five debates left to go before the primary in May, so we will likely see more aggressive performances as the primary approaches.
—Colin Daniels is a junior studying political science and public health
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