Former state House Rep. Bill Hembree of Winston played up his 18 years of legislative experience in Thursday night's meeting of the Carroll County Tea Party, while challenger Mike Dugan of Carrollton told the group, “It’s time for a change.”
Both honed their messages to the small tea party crowd in the Stallings Center meeting room. Hembree captured 48.4 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 Republican Senate primary, just shy of a majority needed for an outright win. Dugan finished second, with 24.3 percent of the vote, enough to earn him a place on the runoff ballot.
Libertarian candidate James Camp of Temple also spoke to the group — he's on the Jan. 8 ballot to face the winner of the Hembree-Dugan Republican match.
All three candidates are expected to get one more chance to stand at the same podium before the Dec. 4 runoff election. That will be at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Carroll County Republican Party.
Hembree thanked Carroll County, “as a native son,” for giving him the most votes of any candidate in the Nov. 6 race, including victories in 17 of the 26 county precincts.
“It makes me think I was saying the right things and delivering the right message,” he said.
Hembree held up a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, a book he said he’s carried in his pocket from his first day of service in the state House.
“This is a constant reminder to me of what America is about,” he said. “This is the foundation. It will continue to hold. Don’t despair.”
Hembree said in light of President Obama's re-election, the Senate race is important in which candidate can best stand up against the federal government and for states’ rights.
“I’m fearful what the federal government will do in the next four years,” he said.
He cited a House bill he sponsored to counter the federal government’s enforcement of project labor agreements. He said those pacts would have required the hiring of union laborers on federal contracts in Georgia, giving the jobs to people from New York or Illinois, when Georgia had plenty of skilled non-union workers. He mentioned his backing of bills to allow people under 16 years of age to work on family farms and to require photo IDs to vote. He said he will stand behind Gov. Nathan Deal in opposing state health care exchanges, as part of Obamacare.
“From Day 1, as your state senator, I will be there,” Hembree said. “I’m steady and trusted by my peers. Carroll County needs a senator who has that background. My reputation is strong. I will stand up for the Constitution and states’ rights.”
Dugan said he was going to structure his talk around a list of things he believed in and would work for as a state senator. After elaborating on his take of all the list items, he revealed that the list came from the Tea Party’s platform. The list included such things as eliminating excessive tax and the national debt, protecting free markets, abiding by the Constitution, reducing the size of government and maintaining local independence.
“When I went to work in the construction industry (after 20 years in the military), it was during the housing crash,” he said. “It would have been a lot easier if regulations had been reduced. We need to reduce as many laws as possible.”
Speaking on government size, he said, “Did you ever notice that when bureaucracy grows, it never shrinks? It’s kind of like the ‘Blob’ movie. We need to reduce redundancies in state government. The government is not a jobs program, it’s a thing required to meet basic needs.”
On the Tea Party’s platform plank of "avoiding the pitfalls of politics," Dugan said, “Elected office should not be a career. We need to give the office to someone with new ideas. Lobbying contributions and time served go hand in hand. We need to put a cap on contributions.
“It’s time to make a change. I have nothing against Mr. Hembree and his service as a legislator. But it’s time to hand it over to a new group and let us move ahead.”
Camp spoke briefly and echoed the theme it being a time for new faces and new ideas.
“During the past eight years, we’ve seen expanded government, more taxes and experienced politicians,” Camp said. “We need fresh minds and ideas to get us out of this rut.”
Camp said he was really taken aback by the results of the Nov. 6 election.
“We have to assert states’ rights,” he said. “Now that Obama is in for another four years, the fight will come down to the state level.”
He said as a state senator, nullification would be the tool he used to fight federal intervention.
“I’m not tied to party lines,” he said. “I will be your own senator and your patriot.”