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12th District hopefuls court GOP voters
john stone
John Stone

SYLVANIA — With the general election more than 13 months away, Rick Allen and John Stone, vying for the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, are speaking at fish fries and jostling over debate plans.

Voters will decide in the party primary May 20 which of the two will challenge U.S. Rep. John Barrow, the incumbent Democrat, in the Nov. 4, 2014, general election. The primary, for both parties, will be the earliest in memory for Georgia, after an unusually late July 31 primary in 2012.

The May primary means that the Republican nominee should have five-and-a-half months to campaign against Barrow, GOP 12th District Chairman Lawton Sack noted. That is more than twice as long as last year, when a ballot with four Republican candidates resulted in a primary runoff.

“The biggest advantage is, with only two candidates, we’ll know May 21 who our candidate is,” Sack said. “In this past election with the runoff, things were not certified till after Labor Day, so basically we were left with eight weeks before the election, and at that time we had to try to raise money and get our candidate out there.”

The Statesboro Herald interviewed Stone and Allen, as well as Sack, Thursday at the 12th Congressional District Fish Fry. They also spoke as part of the program. Hosted by the Screven County Republican Party, the event near Sylvania drew about 200 people from throughout the district.

The May primary date results from a federal judge’s ruling that Georgia needs to give more time for ballots from overseas military personnel to be received in the event of a runoff. After the judge initially set a June date, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and other state officials, who are Republicans, requested the even-earlier date, and the judge accepted.

Qualifying is scheduled for March 3-7, but so far Allen and Stone are the only announced candidates. Hearing rumors of other possible candidates, Sack said he has contacted them, and all have said they are not running.

Both Allen and Stone have been in races to challenge Barrow before. Stone was the 2008 GOP nominee. Allen came in second among the four candidates in the 2012 primary, losing the runoff to Lee Anderson by 159 out of 27,411 total votes.

Both Allen and Stone hail from Augusta. Allen, 61, has been in business with his construction company, R.W. Allen LLC, for 36 years. Stone, 57, was news anchor with radio station WBBQ in Augusta, then served as a deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., from 1993 until his death in 1997. More recently, Stone has served as Washington chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.

Opposing ObamaCare
Both candidates favor repealing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.” Allen praised U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, the Republican from Georgia’s new 14th Congressional District, for introducing legislation that would defund the health-care law as a condition of continuing funding for other government functions.

The House passed that bill Friday, the day after Allen was interviewed. Many congressional observers say the defunding measure will get nowhere in the Senate, but Allen said Democrats are “getting heat” in their districts to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking effect.

“Obamacare is not a popular law, and the only way he (President Barack Obama) has been able to sustain the law is to exempt,” Allen said. “He has exempted unions, he has exempted the church, and all we want him to do is exempt everybody.”

To replace Obamacare, Allen said he likes an alternative health care plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Tom Price, the orthopedic surgeon who represents Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. Price’s plan includes provisions to cover pre-existing conditions and keep children through college age in their parents’ health insurance, which Allen said are the most popular parts of Obamacare.

“Tom’s bill addresses that, but it still leaves it as a private entity and it also provides for different ways to pay for medicine,” Allen said. “You know, our country spends twice as much as any other developed nation on the face of the planet on health care, so cost has got to be addressed as well.”

Similarly, Stone insists that Obama’s health program must be repealed.

“It has to be repealed and replaced with good, aggressive health-care reform, and I have a plan specifically to do that, which is one of the things that we’ve been lacking as far as the Republican Party,” Stone said.

His proposal is to make the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan, whose current beneficiaries include members of Congress, available to all Americans. He isn’t suggesting that the government pay for everyone’s coverage, only that it should be made available.

“We simply need to open up the federal Employees Health Benefit Plan to all Americans so that if you have a health problem here in Georgia and nobody will cover you, fine, go online, click on the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan and buy that,” Stone said.

Small businesses might find more affordable coverage this way, bringing healthy people as well as those with illnesses in and keeping the program viable, he said.

Jobs an issue
Allen and Stone also agree that job creation is a major issue for the 2014 race.

“In our district, it’s jobs, it’s economic development, and I happen to know a lot about economic development and I happen to know a lot about business because I’m a businessman,” Allen said. “And I know why this economy is restricted. It’s because of a regulatory environment that’s restrictive. It’s because of indecision and no leadership in Washington.”

Stone asserts that the district’s economy is a reason he’s running.

“We’ve got to win this seat this time,” he said. “It’s there for us and it’s not just for Republicans, it’s not just for the conservative issues – although I’m there. It’s for the economics of the district right now. This district has now the worst unemployment of the 14 congressional districts in Georgia. We’ve got to turn that around, and we haven’t had anybody really pushing those issues.”

He accuses Barrow of neglecting economic development projects that were already planned in federal law, including two interstate highways. The Interstate 14 project would upgrade the Fall Line Freeway to an interstate linking Augusta, Macon and Columbus, and Interstate 81 would run from the port in Savannah to Augusta and Interstate 85.

The two candidates differ on support for the current Republican leadership in Congress.

“If I am your next congressman, in November 2014, I’m going to vote to replace every single member of the Republican leadership in the House with new conservatives that will stand for the Constitution of the United States — every last one of them,” Stone told the fish fry crowd.

His assertion drew applause. But after the program, Allen offered a different take.

“I’m not running against our leadership in Washington in the Republican Party,” Allen said. “I’m running against John Barrow, and I’m going to need everybody to beat him. I don’t want anybody to run from me. This guy’s tough. We’ve got to have everybody on the team to beat John Barrow.”

The two men also appeared to disagree over when is best to schedule a series of primary debates. Stone wants televised debates before the end of 2013. He had talked to College Republican leaders at Georgia Southern University and said they were willing to host an October debate in Statesboro as the first of the series.

But Allen had been in touch with 12th District Republican leaders and said he understood a series of four debates will be held in the first months of 2014. The Statesboro Herald has been part of discussions for both possibilities.

The Republican Party District Committee, meeting the previous Saturday, had agreed to help organize four debates, one each month in different cities. These, Sack said, will most likely be held in February, March, April and May, with the February debate in Statesboro.