In their first forum after last week’s formal qualifying period, Georgia’s top Republican candidates covered many of the familiar topics and antics – and a few new ones too.
In front of a packed auditorium at Gwinnett County's Norcross High School on Saturday night, they expressed concerns about "offering the farm" to lure Internet (and everything else) giant Amazon to the state. All but one — current state Sen. Michael Williams, who has hitched his wagon squarely to that of President Donald Trump — were cautious about the potential for oil and gas drilling off Georgia's coast. And Williams took every opportunity he had to needle the Republican frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Current Secretary of State Brian Kemp, meanwhile, repeatedly touted his newly revealed plan to create a "criminal alien database," which he says would track the crimes of people who are in the country without documentation and speed deportations.
“These people are killing our children, either with drugs or with guns or the deadly assaults,” Kemp said during his response to a question about continuing Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform efforts. “And it’s time we put a stop to that.”
The Gwinnett GOP forum featured Cagle; Kemp; Williams; former state Sen. Hunter Hill; businessman (and Gwinnett County native) Clay Tippins; and fringe candidate Marc Urbach, who, in response to a question about transportation, vowed to launch an “open investigation into what the media called the I-85 bridge collapse.”
Each candidate said they were in favor of Amazon choosing Georgia for the site of its second American headquarters and 50,000 new jobs but, as they've done in the past, expressed a reluctance for the state to offer what could be billions of dollars of incentives to lure them in.
Cagle was included in that group – but he balked at some of his opponents’ characterization of such arrangements.
“Our tax credit system that is in place is a statutory tax credit,” Cagle said. “If you think that you’re going to recruit companies without any kind of incentive that is statutory at all, you are flat wrong. It is the most competitive environment out there.”
Earlier, following a question about transportation, Williams had directed a barb about “politicians that take credit for stuff they don’t do” at Cagle. Cagle had touted a recent state tax cut championed as the largest in the state’s history; Williams claimed Trump deserved the credit for that, and questioned Cagle’s support of (and vote for) the president.
“I don’t know that it’s really worth my time really answering,” Cagle said after being granted a brief rebuttal period. “More often than not, every part of his comments are not baked in truth. The reality is that anybody can go and look and see that I did vote for Donald Trump. That is ludicrous to insinuate that I did not.”
Cagle endorsed Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
During his response to the following question, which was about civil asset forfeiture, Williams fired back again.
“Also, Casey, we can’t look to see how you voted. Unless Brian Kemp knows,” he said, referencing the concerns of some about the security of voter records and other sensitive information at the secretary of state’s office.
Cagle was the only candidate not to attend a brief post-forum media session.
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