On defense, GOP candidates for Senate all over the map

Maybe it was the result of cabin fever after a week of immobility, maybe it was the calendar. Either way, the second state GOP-sponsored debate of U.S. Senate candidates on Saturday night was a much-attended event. More than 600 showed.

Offering a play-by-play on every question is impossible. See a quick wrap-up here. Among the more notable points we'll have to flesh out later:

-- U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey’s shout-out to the crowd, asking who was willing – in the name of tax reform – to give up their exemptions on home mortgage interest and charitable giving. Perhaps five hands went up in the auditorium on the Kennesaw State University campus.

-- The debut (before a large GOP crowd) of Derrick Grayson, an African-American minister, who can be best described as a conservative anarchist when it comes to federal policy. He’s against all of it.

-- A similar big-stage debut by Art Gardner, an Atlanta attorney seeking to cultivate the moderate GOP vote by counseling his party against turning off gays, women and minorities.

-- The earnest, but language-limited remarks of South Korean-b orn Eugene Yu of Augusta, the former owner of a defense company. Rumors are circulating that he might drop down to the 12th District congressional contest.

If you had to pick out a single issue that revealed the most differences among the eight candidates, it was national security and defense. The topic was raised by KSU’s Kerwin Swint. Candidate by candidate, in order:

-- Gingrey won general applause when he espoused the philosophy first laid down by George W. Bush:

"We are the strongest nation on the face of the earth. We're obligated not just to protect our own people, on our own shore, but every independent, liberty-loving individual across this globe. That's our responsibility."

-- But he was immediately contradicted by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who adopted a more libertarian line:

"Frankly, I don't believe we should ever go to war unless Congress declares war….If we ever get in a conflict, we need to have that strategy, where we can go, we can win the war, and come home immediately."

-- U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston emphasized a muscular defense:

"I've represented five of our eight military installations and every branch of the service. This is what I believe: I don't want our soldiers, sailors or airmen to ever have to fight a fair fight. I want them to be the best-trained and the best-equipped military that there is, and I want every conflict that we go into, that the outcome is certain….

"No. 2, when it comes to national security, I want to spy on the bad buys, and not you, and not me.

"No. 3, we're going to stand next to our allies like Israel, and we're not going to cut deals with Iran. If Israel thinks it's a bad deal, it probably is one.

"No. 4, if you touch one of our ambassadors or an American overseas, we are coming after them…and if the United Nations has something to say about it, they can talk to us when we get back home."

-- To which David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, responded with an economic emphasis:

"So when we tell Taiwan we're going to honor our peace treaty with them, that if China invades Taiwan, we're going borrow money from China and go to Taiwan – and defend Taiwan against China. I'm sorry, but that's just not common sense.

"If you want strong foreign policy, you better have a strong military. If you want a strong military, you better stop borrowing 35 cents on every dollar you spend. You better bloody well have the strongest economy in the world."

-- Yu took the issue out of the realm of giraffes, and brought it down to where the goats could get at it:

"If you can't pay your home mortgage, you cannot help your neighborhood. We're in trouble. We cannot spend money like we used to. Let us take care of us first, then we worry about our neighborhood."

-- Throughout the debate, Grayson attacked the ruling elites in both parties. His take on national defense was no different:

"When they start talking about foreign policy, don't think that this just started with Obama. Obama will continue the path that Bush set us on….We have bad foreign policy because we like to meddle in other countries' business."

-- Gardner, like a few of his predecessors, tried to push past what he thought was some congressional bombast on the part of his rivals:

"I'm pro-defense. I worked in the defense industry. But that doesn't mean we have to be pro-war all the time. You have to pick the right war. Not every war is one that should be fought….Part of the problem we have with Iran is that we don't have Iraq to balance it out. Iran and Iraq were natural enemies, and have been for a long time. But we wrecked Iraq. And we left Iran as the dominant power in the region. Instead of Iraq, we should have been in Afghanistan…."

(Gingrey, when offered a rebuttal, said his call for the defense of liberty didn’t include places like Iran or North Korea.)

-- Former secretary of state Karen Handel, emphasized her early opposition to President Barack Obama's August suggestion – quickly abandoned – that the U.S. should conduct an air strike on Syria for that regime's gassing of its own citizens. Said Handel:

"Our national security/foreign policy focus should be keeping Americans safe, and protecting our freedoms first. Anytime we're going to engage around the world, we need to clear strategy for what is the end game. That's why, when President Obama was articulating his so-called strategy to go in with military intervention in Syria, I spoke out and said absolutely not. That's not a place where he articulated at all what our interests were."


Before Saturday night's full-field Senate debate at Kennesaw State University, five of the GOP candidates gathered in Ellijay for a tea party-themed forum. Unlike the setup at KSU, where all candidates responded to every query and only six questions were asked over two hours, the format in Ellijay was rapid-fire and produced a couple of interesting results.

Karen Handel raised her hand to affirm that she would never vote for a debt-ceiling increase, bailout or tax increase. (So did U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Eugene Yu and Derrick Grayson.)

And Broun vowed he would seek to repeal the 17th amendment allowing for direct election of senators. If Broun wins and is successful, it means he would have to seek re-election from the state Legislature – not the voters.

Asked to clarify after the forum, Broun said:

"The purpose of the state legislators electing senators was to protect the states' power and when the 17th amendment was [ratified] it took the states' power away to the point that states are just becoming administrative bodies of the federal government."

Would voters, we asked, go for giving up the power to elect senators? “It will give us more freedom and less government, and the American people need to understand that," Broun said.


Saturday morning, Handel attended a GOP breakfast in Carrollton, where she was asked if she believes the federal government is hoarding ammunition to keep it out of the hands of gun owners.

“I do think there has been some hoarding on the ammunition side. How many of you have had a challenge getting ammunition?” Handel asked, as many hands in the room went up.

“I don’t think it serves any purpose to just deny it. It’s not enough to just say you’re pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun, if you don’t have access to ammunition,” she told the crowd.


Do not miss this post by our blogging colleague Jamie Dupree on some of the oddest federal contracts you've ever seen let.


White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the president's judicial nominees from Georgia on Friday. The six-judge slate has drawn fire from the state's congressional Democrats and the civil rights community for not having enough minorities.

From an exchange with American Urban Radio Network's April Ryan:

Ryan: "Congressman John Lewis, a man who has received one of the highest honors that a person can get from this White House, who is a civil rights icon, is willing to testify about this judgeship, this nomination."

Carney: "Well, again, I would simply point you to the facts that I just laid out in terms of the President's commitment to making sure that our third branch of government looks like America, and the strides that he's made towards achieving that."


Our fourth quarter fundraising round-up is fully updated with the totals for the Senate race and the key congressional races. The big winners include former Newt Gingrich staffer John McCallum in the coastal First Congressional District, who now rivals state Sen. Buddy Carter in cash on hand.


One of the major forces at the state Capitol is offering a word of encouragement to Gov. Nathan Deal, who has been much criticized for the state's response to last week's snowstorm. From a thank-you note written by Earl Rogers, president and CEO of the Georgia Hospital Association:

"Thankfully, our Emergency Preparedness Center reported that all was reasonably accessible. Later that afternoon, the Governor's Office contacted me again to offer the services of the National Guard, should the need arise."


More context on that above photo of state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon and his new friend can be found here.


The Marietta Daily Journal reports that a group of Cobb County heavyweights is organizing to push for more school funding:

The group is called the Save Our Schools Advisory Council.

While the primary object may be funding, it would surprise no one if a quieter intention of the alliance is to give the local boards of education a bit of backbone when it comes to resisting the tea-party criticism of Common Core.


The outcry from teachers over the higher costs and fewer options for the state health insurance plan has already prompted Gov. Nathan Deal to make some costly changes. More than $100 million, in fact.

Now the main group of teachers advocates behind the push is broadening its mission.

TRAGIC, a just-established group that already counts more than 12,000 members, is relaunching itself to advocate for further insurance changes.

Marietta city school teacher John Palmer says the fixes to the State Health Benefit Plan have done little to expand a limited physician network or clarify confusing pharmacy rules. He sums it up this way:

"The changes to the SHBP announced on Monday were simply a band-aid on a bad policy. Rather than give employees options to fit individual families' needs, the state of Georgia has decided to make our health care choices for us."

The teachers are trying to parlay their heroism during last week's icy gridlock into new concessions.

Says group organizer Ashley Cline:

"Look at the teachers, administrators, custodians, and lunchroom workers who stayed overnight at schools making sure the children were safe during the storm. Look at the bus drivers who spent hours on roads in terrible conditions and the Georgia State Patrol officers who helped bring the children home. These people did what needed to be done without a moment's hesitation. Are you telling me the state cannot afford to offer them health care options for their families?"


Our AJC colleague Wayne Washington tells us that Mike Buck, acting chief of staff for Georgia Superintendent John Barge, is expected to announce his Republican candidacy today to succeed his boss. He would be at least the 12th candidate to announce a run for state school superintendent.