In their first debate, the five Republican candidates for Congress in Georgia's 12th District responded to questions about Obamacare, Ukraine, reducing regulations, and states' rights in regard to medical marijuana.
Monday night's debate, first in a series of four organized by the 12th District Republican Party, filled the auditorium at Ogeechee Technical College almost to capacity. Voters in the May 20 primary, and a possible primary runoff, will choose one of them to challenge the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, in the November general election.
The questions were collected from the public via a website and vetted by the Bulloch County Republican Party.
The first topic of the night was about Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act is informally known and almost exclusively referred to by Republicans. The question was what specific health-care reforms candidates would put in its place.
"We're going to be unanimous on the repealing of Obamacare, I assure you," said Rick Allen.
His suggestion was for states to compete in developing the best approach to health care and promoting private competition to bring down costs.
"I've been talking to some people out in Texas. They've got it figured out there," Allen said. "They've passed a lot of tort reform and they've got every insurance company in business playing in Texas right now."
Allen, 62, from Augusta, owns R.W. Allen LLC, a construction company. He ran for the 12th District seat in 2012, losing in a runoff to Lee Anderson.
Another question was where candidates would draw the line on military intervention in Ukraine.
"I would not have the U.S. intervene militarily in Ukraine," said John Stone. "We've got to stop using our military forces as the world's policemen. It has to end at some point. Right now we can certainly assert what pressure we can with sanctions, we can work with our allies, but no, we should not be sending our troops to the Ukraine."
He suggested that the United States' border with Mexico would be a more appropriate place for a troop deployment.
"We've a great place on our southern border where we need some security there before we secure other people's borders," Stone said.
Stone, 58, from Augusta, is a former congressional staffer and former news anchor for Augusta radio station WBBQ. He was the Republican nominee in 2008, but lost to Barrow.
Reading another question, moderator Phil Boyum, a Statesboro city councilman, asked what changes candidates would make to improve the economy or what regulations they would eliminate so private industry can create more jobs.
"I think improving our economy is almost impossible with the current leadership, but in the event, I would make an effort to follow through with plans for the deepening of the Savannah harbor and changing the interchange in Macon, I-16 and I-75," Diane Vann said.
She also expressed support for approving the Keystone XL Pipeline project, as did several candidates, and said she would remove many regulations put in place by "Obama's tsars."
In her responses to various questions, Vann repeatedly asserted that President Barack Obama is following the Communist Manifesto rather than the Constitution.
Vann, 61, is a registered nurse and former nursing instructor from Macon, which is not in the 12th District. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are not required to be residents of their districts, but only of their states. She served during the Vietnam era in the Army Reserve Nurse Corps. She lost in the 2010 Republican primary for 8th Congressional District to Austin Scott, who defeated incumbent Democrat Jim Marshall in the general election.
"If we'll get back to where this country was founded, to the Constitution, and hold to those principles, if we'll take care of that, the foundations, the rest will work itself out," asserted Delvis Dutton.
That would mean reducing regulations, such as those enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency and under the Dodd-Frank, he said. Dodd-Frank is the popular name of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
"We're seeing government control in education, we're seeing government control in health care, and as soon as we lose the private sector, we're in trouble," Dutton said.
Dutton, 36, from Glennville, owns General Pump and Well, a drilling and water well company. He is currently the Distict 157 member in the Georgia House of Representatives, but is not seeking re-election to that seat to run for Congress instead.
Another question, prefaced by a reference to the Georgia Legislature's recent handling of a bill to legalize the medical use of an oil derived from marijuana, asked what candidates would do "to protect states' rights" and about medical marijuana.
Eugene Yu said he would support medical marijuana legislation in Georgia only so far as it allows laboratory or medical use.
"We cannot try to be like California or we cannot be like Colorado," he said. "We are Georgia."
Yu, 58, from Augusta, began campaigning last year as a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, but switched to the 12th District House race prior to qualifying. Born in Korea, he arrived in the United States as a teenager. He served in the U.S. Army and as a Richmond County sheriff's deputy and ran a business refurbishing military vehicles.
While the other candidates remained seated, Yu stood to answer each question.
"Now I'm standing in front of you, I'm running for U.S. Congress," he said. "This is what I call pure American dream."
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.