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Senate hopefuls discuss key issues at forum
070808 DEBATE 1
Josh Lanier, left, addresses audience questions as Dale Cardwell and Rand Knight, far right, wait their turn during Tuesday night's candidate forum between candidates who are vying to be the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate seat currently being held by Republican Saxby Chambliss. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Three of five candidates running for the U.S. Senate Democratic Primary focused on energy and money Tuesday during a debate sponsored by the Statesboro Herald and Ogeechee Technical College.
    Candidates Rand Knight, Josh Lanier and Dale Cardwell kept the exchange of comments amicable and even jovial at times while answering questions from the audience.  Statesboro Herald Assistant Editor Eddie Ledbetter served as moderator at the debate, held in the Ogeechee Technical College auditorium.
    Candidates Vernon Jones and Jim Martin did not participate in the debate.
    About 35 people attended the debate.
    Ledbetter asked the candidates to introduce themselves during opening comments. Knight missed the opening comments due to a late arrival caused by traffic, he explained later.
    "We're going to talk about real issues," Cardwell said. As an investigative reporter for 23 years, he said he has "gone behind the lines of power and government." He said if elected he hopes to help  "heal this broken Bush economy" and vowed to "step out of the lines of objective reporting and tell you what  you need to know."
    Lanier, who is from Statesboro, said he has over 35 years experience working as a staff member of both the House and Senate and said he has seen how "money controls everything that happens policy-wise" in Washington.
    The first question dealt with how candidates felt about drilling for oil in the United States.
    "The oil companies control 68 million acres of the United States they are not drilling today," Caldwell said. "It's the latest, greatest bait and switch."
    There is no incentive to drill for oil because big oil companies are "making so much money passing on oil from Saudi Arabia," he said. What should have happened the day after 9/11 was ending importing oil. "We absolutely must break this dependence on foreign oil ...conserve...and invest in clean energy alternatives."
    Lanier said America has been talking about the oil problem "since Jimmy Carter was president."
    He said industry today is producing lines of cars that "are not oil based" and industry is moving towards independence from oil companies. "Industry has already made the decision ... and is moving to new technology" regarding cleaner, renewable fuels.
    Knight said it would take at least five to six years for oil drilling in untouched American soil to put the finished product on the market. Investing the same amount of money in alternative energy would be more productive and get results quicker, he said.
    Wind power, ethanol and solar power are better energy sources and "We have got to invest in all these technologies together," he said.
    Energy can be made from waste that the United States is throwing away, and would cost " less than $1 a gallon," he said.
    "This is simple technology. It is not rocket science," he said. " We can breed algae and produce gas for less than $1 a gallon and I suggest we do it."
 Health care issues, withdrawing  troops
    Lanier answered a question about Social Security and health care issues. "We've been discussing this since before I was born," he said.
    He supports a national health care plan and said we are already subsidizing health care. "There is no reason on earth this country cannot have a national health care program," he said. "We have got to take the special interest (groups) and run them out of the room."
    Cardwell agreed that the United States already has universal health care. "It's paid for — either Medicare or cost shifting to private paid insurance," explaining that uninsured people treated at hospitals who cannot pay make the cost higher for those with insurance plans. He said paying to keep people healthier would be less expensive than paying for trying to keep them from dying.
    Knight said , "I think we've been making money off people getting sick and dying for too long. Keeping people healthy would be better for the economy."
    Cardwell said he supported immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. "We should be withdrawing troops ... already," he said. "There is no way we can expect Iraq to take control of their own destiny if we continue to be traffic cops."
    "I'd like to never have gone," Knight said. "We've done some good work, but it's time to get help from our allies ... to get in there.. and step up and help out."
    Lanier pointed out the United States is "spending $400 billion in Iraq each day" and said he feels withdrawal should be "at our pace," and a schedule should not be announced.
    Each candidate had similar answers to a question concerning nuclear power in that nuclear power is not truly a viable power source because of the short supply of uranium and water, and that there are better and safer alternatives that would also be less expensive.
    Another question about ethanol from cellulose spawned more comments about better energy alternatives.
    Cardwell supported conservation of energy to force oil companies to their knees. "What we have to do is a patriot's call for conservation .. and burst the speculation bubble," he said.
    "We have many opportunities to start making gas and diesel in our own back yards," Knight said. Thirty biofuel plants could be built in Georgia in 18 months and energy could be made from algae  — "pond scum" that is "easy, clean, carbon-negative" and that would produce waste that could be used as fertilizer, he said.
    Ethanol from cellulose is better than ethanol from corn because the latter drives up the cost of food and other products, he said.
    Lanier said there is no quick and easy solution to the gas problem, because "this is a con game" perpetuated by  oil companies making huge profits.
Democrats vs. Republicans
    Each candidate addressed a question about how to stop the animosity between Democrats and Republicans.
    "Get special interest out of the room," Lanier said. "Get the money out of politics."
    "If you pay a candidate (by giving campaign contributions) they're going to owe you and work for you," Cardwell said. He said Martin and Jones did not attend the debate because they were attending fundraisers. "They're going to do what the special interest wants to do."
    Knight said " I believe in ... getting back to the people. We've been ignoring them too long." He feels senators should work five days a week instead of three days. " I think we need some constitutional procedure put back ... and get the money out of the equation. There are too many rich lawyers in the senate not representing you."
    Each candidate closed by summing up comments they made earlier, focusing strongly on energy and money.
    "Money — we have allowed it to get in the system and we are not going to get it out of the system until you elect people who will not touch it," Lanier said.
    "I've been shot at, put on a hit list, had my family in protective custody (as a reporter) and I've never stopped fighting for everyday Georgia," Cardwell said. "I have no strings attached ... I'm a truth-teller ... I'm not working for anyone but you."
    "I've spent my life here in Georgia trying to understand the problems," Knight said. "I've had experience facing the problems coming down  the pipe right now."
    And poking a jab at the Republican incumbent senator, he added, "The sun is setting on Saxby Chambliss — and it's Knight time."

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