In the 12th District congressional race, Republican incumbent Rick Allen and Democratic challenger Francys Johnson have agreed to appear in a forum Tuesday night, hosted by the Statesboro Herald in Ogeechee Technical College’s main auditorium.
“The Herald is sponsoring the forum because we think it’s important for voters in our area and District 12 to have the opportunity to see both candidates together on the same stage,” said Jim Healy, operations manager and editor for the Statesboro Herald. “People who attend and who watch the forum on statesboroherald.com can determine which candidate they think would best represent them in an increasingly partisan Washington, D.C.”
The forum will be broadcast live on statesboroherald.com beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The entire taped forum will be available to watch on demand by Wednesday at 5 p.m. and through Election Day on Nov. 6.
Joe McGlamery, president of the Statesboro Herald, will be the moderator of the forum.
Doors to the Joe Kennedy Auditorium, at OTC off U.S. Highway 301 south of Statesboro, will open at 6:30 p.m. Seating will be limited to the first 250 people who come to the auditorium. Individuals who want to attend the forum will be handed a ticket as they enter the building. Once 250 tickets are distributed, the auditorium will be closed.
During the event, candidates will be given two minutes each to introduce themselves. Then, McGlamery will ask a series of questions relating to their candidacy and issues facing the 12th District, Georgia and the next Congress, alternating in order of who answers a question first. Candidates will have up to two minutes to respond to each question and will be given two minutes each to make a closing statement.
Questions will come from the Statesboro Herald and from members of the audience, who will be given the chance to submit written questions on file cards.
The public is "encouraged to come and take the opportunity to submit questions," Healy said.
Also, attendees will be able to meet the candidates and talk before and after the forum.
Allen has represented the district four years and is seeking re-election to a third two-year term. A resident of Augusta, he is the founder of the construction company R.W. Allen & Associates, which has headquarters in Augusta and Athens. He graduated from Auburn University’s School of Architecture and Fine Arts with a bachelor’s degree in building construction.
Johnson, sole attorney at the Johnson Firm in Statesboro and senior pastor of two area churches, served more than three years as NAACP Georgia State Conference president after other leadership roles with the civil rights organization. Having grown up near Sylvania, he attained his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern University and his juris doctorate from the University of Georgia School of Law.
Both candidates said they are looking forward to the forum. But their responses in interviews earlier this week illustrate their sharp differences of opinion — even on Allen’s record and the current state of the economy.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to it, and I’m grateful that the citizens of the 12th District have pressured Rick Allen to agree to this forum or debate,” Johnson said. “I think it will present an opportunity for folks to see that there’s one candidate who has a vision for our future with ideas to invest in rural America and to get government working again for working people, and then there’s another candidate running who has four years of a do-nothing record and is asking to be returned simply because he has an ‘R’ behind his name.”
Meanwhile, Allen credits the Republicans’ House agenda, which he has supported since it was created in early 2016, and further actions under President Donald Trump, inaugurated in early 2017, with an ongoing economic boom.
“Three years ago when Paul Ryan was elected speaker, we formulated ‘A Better Way,’” Allen said. “It included tax reform, growing the economy, getting people back to work, obviously health care, but we failed by one vote and we’ve still got work to do on that, rebuilding the military, and what we’re seeing is amazing.”
In contrast, the Democratic challenger campaigns on the idea that rural America and working Americans have been left behind.
“I don’t think the choice could be clearer,” Johnson said on the phone. “If folks believe that rural America has gotten its fair share over the last four years, then they should choose Mr. Allen. If they believe that our bridges, our roads, schools deserve investment, our military deserves to have their promises kept and the taxpayers deserve a better bang for their buck in terms of effective government, then they should elect someone who’s going to fight for those kinds of changes.”
The Republican incumbent says the boom is occurring in the district as elsewhere but that workforce development efforts are needed.
“We’re seeing an economy that right now is one of the best in the world, we’ve got more jobs than we have job-seekers, and for young people today, I wish I was young again because I see so much opportunity out there,” Allen continued. “It’s like somebody flipped on a light switch. … So my message is America’s back, and we need to continue.”
If that’s not enough of a foretaste of the local forum, Allen and Johnson will also appear in a debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club the same day, Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m. and streamed live by Georgia Public Broadcasting at www.gpb.org. The debates are also archived.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.