STATESBORO—Four Republican candidates vying to face incumbent Congressman John Barrow in the 12th Congressional District race met onstage Thursday night to stake their claim to their party’s nomination.
GOP candidates Rick Allen, Lee Anderson, Wright McLeod and Maria Sheffield gathered in a filled Joe Kennedy Auditorium at Ogeechee Technical College as part of a political forum hosted by Georgia Eagle Media and the Bulloch County Republican Party.
Each of the political hopefuls fielded a selection of audience-submitted questions and reaffirmed campaign goals of supplanting the democratic congressman, limiting government spending, slashing the federal budget and taking fundamental Christian values to Washington, D.C.
As part of the 90-minute program, candidates offered their positions on issues including the national debt, gay marriage, dependence on foreign oil and the regional transportation tax commonly known as T-SPLOST.
The debate was perhaps the last for the Republican nominees, who will appear on ballots for the July 31 primary.
On several issues presented Thursday, candidates shared similar thoughts.
They expressed a desire to reform programs designed to help the poor and eliminate government spending by cutting select departments altogether.
Candidates echoed a sentiment toward government assistance programs: that they need be minimized.
"There is tremendous abuse out there. I am for a social safety net, but not for one being this high," said McLeod, an Augusta attorney, raising his hand to about eye level. "It needs to come down."
Candidates said the responsibility for assistance would best be left to religious and other community service organizations.
"There is too much corruption (in the current programs)," said Allen, a commercial builder and business owner based in Augusta. "If you don’t work, you don’t eat."
In reference to completely doing away with some programs, McLeod, Sheffield and Anderson said they would like to eliminate the federal Department of Education, giving control of education to individuals at state and local levels.
Allen said he would prefer to abolish the Department of Energy, which he says has failed in its goal to eliminate American dependency on foreign oil.
Candidates also shared similar views in regard to alternative energy, expressing support for coal, gas and all forms of fossil fuels, even if at the cost of cutting Environment Protection Agency regulations. They also agreed on gay marriage — each conveying a devotion to Christianity and an agreement that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The panel of Republicans bashed the health care reform law, vowing to overturn so-called "Obamacare" if provided a chance.
"The Obamacare agenda is a clear and present danger to the United States and to us here in the 12th Congressional District," said Sheffield, a Dublin attorney. "Obamacare is going to explode our debt in this country and is the eroding our liberty by the federal government."
"We have to make sure we elect a true conservative to go to Washington who can lead on issues and stand up," she said.
Each candidate also claimed a dedication to minimizing debt and balancing the federal budget.
"I am fed up with government officials not wanting to balance the budget," said Anderson, a Grovetown farmer who currently serves in the state Legislature. "I have said since I started running this race that I’d cut my own salary 20 percent off the bat and recommend every other Congressman do the same."
"We have to balance the budget," he said.
In respect to a regional 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax for transportation, all candidates said they are pleased the matter will be left in the hands of citizens. Anderson and Allen stated the importance of maintaining and upgrading transportation infrastructure within the region — something the tax would do.
McLeod and Sheffield said they do not support the new tax.
Voters who choose the Republican ballot can choose which candidate they would like to represent their party at the polls July 31, or during the early voting period, which runs through July 27. Early voting is conducted at the Effifngham County Elections and Registartion office in Springfield and the old Marlow Elementary School on Highway 17. Voting also will take place July 21 at the elections and registration office and at the old Marlow Elementary School.