The candidates spoke at a 7 p.m. forum at Villa Rica Civic Center and Sports Complex, sponsored by the Carroll, Douglas and Paulding County Farm Bureaus.
The candidates for the Nov. 6 special Republican primary on stage were Mike Dugan, a Carrollton general contractor and former military officer; former House Rep. Bill Hembree, a Winston insurance agent; Jim Naughton, a Carrollton business consultant; and Glenn Richardson, a Hiram attorney and former speaker of the Georgia House.
James Camp, a Libertarian candidate from Temple and an information technician, also appeared although he is not running in the Nov. 6 race. He qualified to run in the Jan. 8 special general election and will face the winner of the Nov. 6 Republican primary.
The winner of the race will fill the seat vacated by Bill Hamrick of Carrollton, who resigned last month to accept a position as superior court judge in the Coweta Circuit.
Many of the questions Thursday night concerned farm issues, but the final audience question was about what each individual candidate felt made him better for the job than the other candidates.
Hembree stressed his experience in the Georgia House and talked about some of the bills he supported and got passed during his service.
“This year, we passed some really important legislation for farmers,” Hembree said. “We passed House Bill 873, the Metal Theft Bill. If you’re a farmer and somebody broke into your farm and stole the wire in your chicken house, or you’re a cattle farmer and somebody stole your fencing, we stepped in at the General Assembly and said, ‘no more’ and we made a very strong punishment of 1-5 years in prison. We also kept recyclers from paying these folks in cash.”
Hembree also said the Obama administration tried to tell Georgia farmers that their 16-year-olds couldn’t drive tractors and that 18-year-olds couldn’t participate in livestock auctions.
“We passed House Resolution 1541, and you know what, they (Obama administration) stopped,” he said. “We sent them a strong message, and I’ll always do that as your state senator. I’ll fight for you every day. We sent that message, and the Department of Labor said that they won’t do that anymore.”
Richardson said all the other candidates are good and would do a good job, but he would be best.
“I think I have a proven track record,” Richardson said. “I was the first Republican from Paulding County to get elected to the state house and the first Republican speaker of the house in over 130 years.”
Richardson said he pushed for tort reform, the voter ID law and an end to property tax.
He then made a reference to his past troubles that resulted in his quitting the House following allegations of infidelity, a divorce and attempted suicide.
“I lay my life on the line,” Richardson said. “Everybody knows what I’ve done, good and bad. I know who I am. I started at the bottom and rose to the top, then fell all the way back down. I’m starting over again, and I’m asking for a comeback. From Day 1, I will walk in there and be the best state senator you’ve ever had, and you’ve had some good ones.”
He said if you want heart surgery, you don’t pick a surgeon who is doing his first operation and if you want your car repaired, you don’t pick someone who has never worked on a car before.
“I suggest you want somebody for the state senate with a proven track record,” he said. “While business experience is great, government is different. I believe I can do the best job from Day 1.”
The other three candidates emphasized their business experience, fresh approaches and the need for new people in government.
“I have a 30-year background in business,” Naughton said. “I worked for one of the greatest American family enterprises, the Milliken Company. Roger Milliken was a proponent of continuing education. Every associate was required to take 40 hours of continuing education every year. He did not believe that was an expense but an investment in human resources.”
Naughton said he’s not a politician and has never run for public office before.
“I’m running because I think we need common sense business solutions to some of our problems,” he said.
He said he doesn’t agree that Georgia is doing well.
“We’re 47th in education and 45th in unemployment in the nation,” Naughton said. “Georgia is not doing very well. We’re in a race to the bottom, not a race to the top in education. I’m running because I’m frustrated like many of you. I think it’s time for a change.”
Dugan said unlike many others, he supports term limits for office holders.
“I don’t think politics should be a profession,” he said. “It should be a service you provide and then you leave and let the next generation carry on from there.”
Dugan said he also advocates a $100 cap on lobbyist contributions to office holders.
“The whole time I was in the military, people didn’t give me a dime,” he said. “If we went out to dinner, I paid for my meal and they paid for theirs. I don’t need to take anything from a lobbyist other than the information they provide. Just give me that, and let me develop my own opinions from it.”
Dugan said he had leadership training every day of the week and every year of the 20 years he served in the military.
“I want to take those same lessons I’ve learned and apply them to the state senate,” he said.
Camp also emphasized his non-political roots.
“First and foremost, I’m not a professional politician,” he said. “I don’t intend to be. I’m a citizen advocate and a champion of constitutionally limited government and state sovereignty. I believe in a government that promotes maximum freedom and liberty.”
Camp said personal responsibility should be the rule of the day, not government control.
“An individual should be free to do what he wishes unless it affects the life or liberty or property of another fellow citizen,” he said. “We have seen what experienced politicians have done, keeping status quo. We’re on the brink, and we need people to lead government who are steeped in the principles of freedom and liberty. We need people to lead in government who are interested in representing the will of the people and not the establishment.”