In a lively exchange, incumbent U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah) traded words with 12th District challenger Regina Thomas during a Democratic primary debate Wednesday evening at Ogeechee Technical College.
“I’m in this race because I’m not pleased,” Thomas said. “I’m not pleased with the direction this country is in.”
Issues Thomas said concerned her included veterans needing benefits and therapy — counseling upon returning from war, education, health care and the national deficit.
She also spoke against the war and accused the current government of using “smoke and mirrors” to misguide citizens.
“I say we need to bring our troops home,” she said.
“I’m running for the same reason I ran (before),” Barrow said. “I’m concerned with the direction this country is headed.”
He said the platform of change is nothing new to him.
“We voted for change in this district before change was cool, in 2004,” he said.
Barrow said his accomplishments in office included helping to raise minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
“I’m excited about what we can do in this country,” he said.
The first question dealt with policies each candidate would encourage the future president to follow regarding the Iraqi war and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Barrow said both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have vowed to shut down the detention camp.
As for the war, “We need to incentivize Iraq,” he said. “I believe this war has gone on too long and cost too many lives.”
But, he said “I will not vote to cut funds while troops are in the field.”
Thomas said she supports immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.
Barrow has voted against withdrawal, she said, adding she does not agree with “caring for Iraq when we have Americans with needs.” The money going to Iraq isn’t going to the troops, but to “contractors and subcontractors” rebuilding Iraq with “substandard materials.”
Let Iraq deal with its own problems, she said. “The Iraqis don’t care about us ... or respect us.”
Thomas said she does not see improvements in veterans care and benefits. Veterans still have trouble getting appointments, services and benefits, and more programs are necessary, she said.
“How in the world can someone go to college when they are sitting there and their minds are shell-shocked?” she asked. “I am getting too many calls from veterans who say they are not being treated fairly.”
“Join the club,” Barrow replied, adding he has fielded numerous calls from unsatisfied veterans. “The record for promise-keeping has been very poor.”
He said he is not satisfied with progress to better services to veterans.
“We have turned the corner but we’re not anywhere we need to be,” Barrow said.
Both candidates also offered their strategies for dealing with rising gas prices.
“I’m for a comprehensive plan,” Barrow said. “I agree we need to make better use of the oil in this country.”
But he expressed strong support of finding alternative energy sources, and spoke about ethanol made from cellulose instead of corn, which would not raise the cost of food. He also supported “reasonable, responsible, environmentally safe drilling.”
“I would like to say there is no quick solution,” Thomas said. “I say we repeal the tax cuts we have given the Big Oil companies. This will definitely help.”
The Big Oil cartels set oil prices and taking away those tax cuts will lower prices at the pump, she said.
“We have a surplus of oil but they don’t want us to use it,” Thomas said. “They want to be greedy and look out for their friends.”
Regarding attracting industry and jobs to the area, Barrow said he supports stopping trade policies that take U.S. trade abroad.
“We need to make sure our trade deals are fair,” he said.
Manufacturing ethanol from cellulose will help lure business and jobs to the area, he said. Referring to 18 ethanol plants being built in Treutlen County, he said, “We’re hitching our wagon to a rising star.”
Thomas agreed the country needs to stop outsourcing job to foreign countries.
“We are losing industry over and over again,” she said.
Views on Social Security
Both also agreed that more effort needs to be placed on deepening the Savannah harbor to ensure continued competency with other ports.
However, they disagreed on Social Security.
“I’m part of the generation who thought Social Security would never be here (upon his retirement age) and we fixed it,” Barrow said. “Guess what — it’s still on track, a very stable business. Social Security is fine, but here is the threat. Uncle Sam is borrowing so much money from Japanese and Chinese banks that the time is going to come ... do I pay the banks or do I pay the retirees what I promised them?
Said Thomas: “This country is in a mess, and Republicans did not help. Social Security is not solvent ... and as we get older, the federal government continues to push the (retirement) age further and further back.”
Outsourcing jobs also hurts because workers don’t have the opportunities to work and pay into the system, she said.
Both candidates expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the No Child Left Behind Act and said the program need overhauling or should be abandoned.
“The No Child Left Behind Act has been a miserable failure,” Thomas said. “We need to go back to the drawing board and scrap No Child Left Behind Act. Our school systems are suffering.”
Barrow said he did not vote for No Child Left Behind and has been a constant critic of the program. A father of children in the public school system, he said, “I’m seeing first hand exactly how this thing ain’t working.”
Barrow said he has been accessible through holding 22 public hearings in the district.
“I’m proud to have been a part of the team that is bringing change to Washington,” he said.
“There have been many changes in Washington, but we know they have not been positive changes,” Thomas said.
“We can no longer afford to send people to Washington who go along with the status quo. I can assure you (if elected) I will not try to make up excuses why I voted like I have.”