Georgia 2020: Where 14th District Republican candidates stand on the issues



The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent questions to the candidates about five key issues. Here are the responses:

John D. Barge, Rome

John Barge


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Ben Bullock, Dallas

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Kevin Cooke, Bremen

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John Cowan, Rome

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Clayton Fuller, Lookout Mountain

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Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rome

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Andy Gunther, Bremen

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Bill Hembree, Winston

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Matt Laughridge, Cartersville

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1. Do you support dismantling the Affordable Care Act? If so, what would you replace it with?

Barge: Yes. Let me be clear, the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare, and it has been an absolute disaster for this nation. Now socialist, liberal Democrats are pushing a second boondoggle. Socialist Democrats' single-payer health care system will cost this nation $32 trillion. I will work with health care experts and physicians to come up with a plan that protects those with pre-existing conditions, ends expensive surprise medical billing, ensures we are pharmaceutically independent by halting manufacturing of our lifesaving prescription drugs in China and makes sure we protect the private insurance plans thousands of North Georgians depend on.

Bullock: Yes, I do believe in repealing the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare was one of the biggest tragedies of the Obama administration, and it signifies this country's dangerous shift toward socialism. The federal government is meant to protect its citizens and their rights, not replace the private market. I believe in a free market, and I would support a replacement that empowers the private sector to encourage as much competition as possible while removing the federal government from the equation. This would also increase health care options and drive down prices.

>>Related: GOP's 14th District primary is a 'pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-gun' contest

Cooke: The federal government has no constitutional authority to tell a citizen they must purchase a product, whether that product be public or private. The Affordable Care Act has made affordable health care unattainable for hardworking Americans. Since it was enacted, premiums have skyrocketed and business owners, who lack employer-sponsored health insurance, are priced out of the market. We must allow insurance companies to compete in the marketplace.

Cowan: Obamacare has jacked up health care prices, and health care spending is the single-largest driver of our national debt. As a doctor, I've closely followed how across-the-board health costs have risen exponentially, and I'm uniquely qualified to help President (Donald) Trump implement conservative, free-market solutions including promoting the purchase of health care policies across state lines. With my experience practicing medicine, I'm ready to get to work on day one to implement a system that drives down costs for all Americans, protects patients with pre-existing conditions and simplifies the marketplace so that families know they're making the best possible decision for care.
We can also make delivery fixes like implementing specific medical tort reforms and placing a cap on noneconomic damages to significantly lower costs. With big and small solutions, we can lower costs, keep government out of health care where possible and protect those with pre-existing conditions much better than Obamacare has done.

Fuller: Obamacare was among the worst pieces of legislation ever passed in the history of the United States and should be repealed. By forcing employees to either provide health insurance to all employees or face penalties, and states' expansion of Medicaid, fewer businesses had the resources to expand and more of our citizens became dependent on government. Due to Medicaid reimbursement rates, fewer doctors were available to accept Medicaid patients.
Health care reform begins with ending the Medicaid expansion and returning Medicaid to its intended purpose of serving those in poverty, not the average citizen. Price availability with regard to health insurance should be made available so patients can choose the best options that fit their individual needs. Health insurance should be available for purchase across state lines, and health savings accounts should be expanded so people can have more control over their health care.

Greene: Yes, I support repealing Obamacare. When Obamacare first passed, the premiums for my family of five went from $800/month to $2,400/month. It's been a disaster.
As a successful Georgia business owner, I know for a fact that free-market competition for health care is the best way to provide lower costs, provide access to cutting edge medical treatments, (offer) plentiful options for health care consumers and reduce government control over health care.

Gunther: I support the complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, not the dismantling of it. Should any part of the act be left in place, it could be rebuilt to continue the high costs and ineffective availability of health care and lead to a single-payer system. Americans deserve better. It is unconstitutional to impose requirements to maintain health insurance. 
Free-market solutions to health care will make for effective and affordable health care. Regulations allowing providers of health care insurance to compete in a free market and across state lines to offer packages that appeal to the consumer will increase competition. Minimizing government input and manipulation through regulations will reduce costs and the burden on providers. Allowing small businesses and cooperatives to pool together in providing health care insurance or direct coverage for their employees will also reduce costs and make health care more available.
Decisions should be left between the physician and the patient.

Hembree: Obamacare was the single-largest failure in American health care history. The previous administration's lies surrounding costs and quality have severely damaged our trust in the government's ability to help Americans seeking health care. We need comprehensive health care reform that assures patients with pre-existing conditions will be covered. We also have to address rising costs for patients for essential health needs. Lastly, we need to actually mean what we say when we say "You can still keep your doctor." Many on the left are pushing for radical plans such as Medicare for All, which would effectively destroy our healthcare system -- thus achieving the "single-payer" dream of their big government worldview. It leads to lower quality of care, rationing and the stifling of innovation.

Laughridge: Yes. We should repeal every word of Obamacare. I would not "replace" Obamacare with another government program or more regulations. I would have two major priorities in reforming health care, other than repealing Obamacare:

1) Increase transparency in the health care and insurance markets.

2) Broaden the markets - for example by allowing sale across state lines and encouraging more competition in the health care industry.

We got to the goal line of repealing Obamacare in 2017 (before being stopped by career politicians and RINOs), so we know it is possible. It will just take guts to get it done. I will stand tough to repeal Obamacare and enact free-market reforms.

2. What should Congress do, if anything, to address concerns about climate change?

Barge: In rural North Georgia, nature and the environment are integral parts of our lives and economy. The science shows that our environment is delicate, but there are smart, thoughtful, conservative ways of going about protecting our environment that do not involve destroying jobs and causing catastrophic increases to our energy bills.

Bullock: First and foremost, I am an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and I strongly believe in conservation and that protecting our environment for future generations is vital. However, imposing stringent environmental restrictions on our economy only deters growth, increases unemployment and gives a significant economic advantage to less developed countries such as China and India that are growing rapidly and are among the worst offenders when it comes to pollution and industrial waste. Regulating our businesses to death for the sake of the environment only makes them less efficient, less able to hire workers and less likely to create jobs, leaving a vacuum for foreign producers to fill.

Cooke: It is not the federal government's responsibility to regulate our environment. This is an issue that should be decided by the states.

Cowan: Northwest Georgians deserve a fighter in Congress who will work for them. Nancy Pelosi and her socialist Squad have used climate change as a vehicle to push their radical leftist agenda on Americans. Their radical policies in this area include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, which would permanently and irreparably destroy our economy. I believe Congress can have an important role in protecting America's natural resources, but we should never allow radical Democrats to infringe on American freedoms or American enterprise.

In Washington, I will stand up to these radical Democrats to ensure we focus on the needs of American families. I will fight beside President Trump to finish the wall, rebuild our strong economy and protect our nation’s health.

Fuller: Northwest Georgia is struggling economically, and with the onset of the coronavirus, this is not the time to address what has been a manufactured crisis of the left. Congress should repeal job-killing environmental regulations that prevent our manufacturers from creating goods in a profitable way. I support the Trump administration's repeal of Obama-era's CAFE standards that made the United States more dependent on Asian automobile manufacturers rather than American-made vehicles. Climate change legislation passed by Congress only has the effect of stifling economic growth while giving our overseas competitors an economic advantage. Congress should be in the business of supporting American jobs, as opposed to those in other countries.

Greene: Nothing, I believe free-market forces should determine what energy Americans use, and I believe that is the most efficient and productive way to keep our environment clean.

I oppose the so-called “Green New Deal,” which some estimate would cost up to $93 trillion and destroy millions of jobs and our economy.

I also applaud President Trump for pulling our country out of the Paris agreement.

China is the world’s biggest polluters – therefore I would oppose all international environmental regulatory schemes proposed in Congress, especially those that give China a competitive advantage over the United States.


Hembree: Climate change has always occurred and will always be present on our planet. The impact of human activity on it is far less clear. The prescription of liberal politicians is to do everything they have always wanted to do (collect massive global taxes, create more powerful transnational organizations to rob individuals and countries of their liberties, and suppress freedom of speech and dissent).

The United States is a world leader in cutting carbon emissions, providing clean water and air and innovating environmentally safe energy production. The advocates for massive restructuring of society to address climate issues largely seek to punish the United States and Europe while exempting the nations (like China and India) who do the lion’s share of the polluting. It is a biased, anti-Western political solution to a problem that is a means to an end that largely ignores the climate.

Laughridge: Nothing. So-called "climate change" is a hoax by the radical left to try to expand government and play favorites in the energy market. The climate has always and will always "change" – it has nothing to do with the government.

3. Does Georgia have an illegal immigration problem and, if so, what should be done to fix it?

Barge: First and foremost, illegal immigration is not just a problem for Georgia, but our entire nation. A nation without protected borders is a nation at risk of losing its sovereignty and independence. Now, more than ever, I stand with and will work with President Trump to secure all of this nation's borders against illegal immigration that will bankrupt our nation and put law-abiding Americans' lives at risk. We must reform our immigration system by ending chain migration and the visa lottery, and adopting a merit-based system.

Bullock: Yes, Georgia does have an illegal immigration problem. There are two major sides to the issue. The first being illegal immigrants currently in our country and the second being immigrants that have not yet arrived. If one wants to work in this country and state and enjoy the benefits it has to offer, one needs to be a part of our system, pay taxes and, most importantly, follow our laws. Before we can even begin to deal with those who are currently here we must seal and protect our borders. This is not just an immigration issue but also a major national security issue. And it means more than just a physical barrier. Increasing our presence on the border through the use of technology, increased manpower and destroying tunnels that cartels use for trafficking are all necessary tactics to increase border security.

Cooke: Illegal immigration is an issue that affects all states and is one in which the federal government has direct authority. We must stand with President Trump and build a wall at our southern border as this is a national security issue. The broader issue of illegal immigration cannot be properly dealt with until the flow of illegal immigrants into this country is stopped.

Cowan: Georgia and the entire nation have a serious illegal immigration problem, but it's not too late to stem the tide. Before President Trump, Washington politicians mostly ignored illegal immigration, allowing cheap labor to flood into our country, taking American jobs and ignoring the long-term consequences. It's time to finish the wall on America's southern border, and I'll stand with President Trump to complete America's most-needed infrastructure project. With caravans of illegal immigrants, including criminals who have previously been deported, openly demanding entry into our country, I say no more. I have the endorsement of several sheriffs in the 14th District because they know I will stand with our law enforcement officers to ensure criminal illegals are detained for (Immigration Customs Enforcement) deportation. We must also give our Border Patrol agents the resources they need. I will always support punishing so-called "sanctuary cities" by withholding federal funding.

Fuller: Illegal Immigration is out of control in America. For too long, politicians in Washington have refused to take action to stop people from illegally entering the United States. This has put our nation's schools, hospitals and various public services under strain. Our asylum process is constantly abused and is in need of overhaul. I support the construction of President Trump's border wall and will work to deport everyone who is illegally inside our country.

Greene: America has an illegal immigration problem. Despite their opposition, socialist Democrats and Never Trump Republicans have not been able to stop President Trump from building the wall. The wall is being built. ... Now it must be finished. As northwest Georgia's congresswoman, I will fight with everything I have to help President Trump and our country finish the wall:

  • Build/finish the wall.
  • Defund sanctuary cities.
  • Fully fund the Border Patrol.
  • Secure the border.
  • No taxpayer-funded health plans for illegal aliens.
  • End birthright citizenship.

Gunther: There are laws on the books that makes being in the U.S. illegally ... (wait for it) unlawful. Politicians refuse to effectively address the problem. The U.S. has the right of sovereignty. The first step to sovereignty is to secure our borders. We need to finish the wall. It is effective and proven to be necessary. There is a process that allows legal immigration and worker visas, and the "anchor baby" policy needs to be stopped.  There is an economic solution that will allow illegal immigrants to self-deport and re-enter legally, creating a safer environment for them. Impose a gradual penalty that include warnings for the first offense, stiff fines for the second and confiscation of equipment and property for the third. Eliminate the demand! The inflow of legal workers should be made easier and tracked more efficiently to satisfy the demand for labor when justified and needed. 

Hembree: In 2016, I was one of the first elected officials in Georgia to endorse President Trump. He finally stood up and gave a voice to those opposed to the illegal immigration problem we have in our country. This motivated me to run for Georgia's 14th District. I have seen firsthand where America stands on a global stage, and I have a fierce desire to put the needs of American citizens first. That is the job of a national government. Other countries see the USA as a place to go for unlimited opportunity and it is that. But it is also a place that values hard work and individual liberty that are unique in the world. We need a rational immigration system that attracts the best and brightest to our shores and helps them become a part of our American culture as contributing members of our society. We need to secure our borders in order to implement this system, and we need to end birthright citizenship so America stops becoming a safe haven for baby droppers.

Laughridge: Yes. There are about 400,000 illegal immigrants in Georgia, more than all but five states. That is a big problem. President Trump has done great work to secure the border and stop the flood of illegal immigrants into Georgia and other states, but he can't do it alone, especially when open borders Democrats and weak "Republicans" in Congress actively work to sabotage border security. To fix it, I would fully fund the border wall, deport criminal immigrants, and stop sanctuary cities and other magnets for illegal immigration.

4. Are you in favor of additional criminal justice reforms that reduce the number of inmates in prisons and jails serving sentences for nonviolent offenses?

Barge: Criminal justice reform is an important way to show compassion for our fellow man, but it must be done carefully and with consideration to the safety of lifelong, law-abiding citizens; and, frankly, it must be considerate of the families of crime victims. I am Christian, and I believe in showing compassion and love to all. Forgiveness is more than just a word; it's a foundation to my faith and life.

Bullock: People should be held accountable for their actions and serve their time in order to be reformed and return to normal society. I believe in forgiveness, grace and that people can change, but I also believe that prison sentences are a deterrent for would-be criminals. I would not be in favor of criminal justice reforms that would reduce the primary deterrent to committing nonviolent crimes.

Cooke: During my time in the Legislature, Georgia has led the way in criminal justice reforms. Additionally, courts must work in unison with ICE in order to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for illegal aliens who commit crimes, violent or not.

Cowan: I commend President Trump, Rep. Doug Collins and the Republicans who made the First Step Act a reality. The criminal justice system is first supposed to protect the community and then promote rehabilitation. I believe long-term prison beds should be reserved for those who hurt others, and we should focus on helping young people who are at the crossroads of becoming habitual offenders or productive citizens. I do not support early release of violent offenders because of COVID-19, as justice and public safety requires that they serve their sentences. Yet, I believe we are now on the right track to saving taxpayer dollars by using alternatives to incarceration for those who primarily need mental health or substance abuse counseling. We must protect our communities and keep violent criminals behind bars, but with conservative, thoughtful reform efforts, we can save taxpayer money, rebuild families and create a brighter future for Americans.

Fuller: An experienced prosecutor in North Georgia, the Trump administration sought Clayton's counsel on the First Step Act while he was working in the administration as a Trump appointee. The act was signed into law by President Trump on December 21, 2018, and he declared April 2019 as First Step Month. Clayton Fuller is not in favor of additional criminal justice reforms with the purpose of reducing the number of inmates in prison. The opioid epidemic has ravaged rural communities in northwest Georgia, and those who sell this poison to children should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The unfortunate fact is that nearly half of inmates released from state and federal prison will only commit more crimes and return to prison within eight years, victimizing more people along the way. Laws must be enforced to keep prisoners in prison for the duration of their sentences so as to maintain the safety of the general public at large.

Greene: Right now we're locking up hair cutters and tattoo artists, and releasing hardened criminals into the public. Now is not the time to consider this issue.

Gunther: Most of the time, with the exception of federal statutes, this would be a states' rights issue under the 10th Amendment. I believe in personal responsibility and accountability. I do believe that reinstating prayer in school will lead to a better understanding and appreciation of right from wrong. Eliminating federal laws, regulations and policies that promote the disintegration of the traditional family unit will certainly reinstate morals and personal accountability. As an example, if a person absolutely knows that dealing drugs can lead to prison and they are caught dealing drugs, they deserve to be in prison. While not violent, dealing drugs has a detrimental effect on the larger community. The value of life and property is absent in many communities. The value of the struggle in the pursuit of happiness has diminished. These are cornerstones in our Constitution and essential to a civil society!

Hembree: I am proud to have endorsed President Trump's top Impeachment defender, Congressman Doug Collins. Congressman Collins introduced the First Step Act that helped give nonviolent offenders a second chance to make a positive impact on their community. This is a great legislative accomplishment by the president and Congressman Collins. America has the highest incarceration population in the world. This is not because we have more bad people; we have a lopsided judicial system. Murderers, rapists and truly heinous people that remain a threat to society should remain in jail. We must switch our focus off of brutal punishment and more on treatment for sick nonviolent people. We must give them the job skills and tools to re-enter society. The First Step Act is simply that, a first step at criminal justice reform. When I am in Congress, I hope to address this issue more and how America can reduce its incarceration population.

Laughridge: I would focus on finding ways to stop crimes, not finding ways to let criminals back on the streets. My "criminal justice reforms" would be to bring criminals to justice by deporting illegal immigrants, supporting our police with the resources they need and securing the border to stop the flow of drugs into our country that empower violent drug dealers, gangs and cartels.

5. Should Congress do whatever it can to rebuild the economy no matter the long-term impact on the national debt?

Barge: No, we absolutely can't continue to saddle our children and grandchildren with what is becoming an insurmountable mountain of debt. However, what we can do is provide an economic climate and environment where business can reopen and restart commerce so our economy is able to thrive again. That being said, through its carelessness and intentional cover-up of the COVID-19 outbreak, China is responsible for the worldwide pandemic and should be held accountable. China holds over $1 trillion of our national debt, and I support holding them monetarily accountable for the deaths of thousands of Americans and the damage to our economy by canceling a significant amount of that debt.

Bullock: Our national debt is already at $25 trillion and growing quickly with the COVID-19 stimulus package. Capitol Hill seems to have deprioritized this issue lately, but it represents a ticking time bomb that we are handing down to our children and grandchildren. Furthermore, we do not need to increase our federal deficit and debt to rebuild the economy. We need to empower the private sector by continuing to reduce the tax burden, especially on small business, and regulations, which will allow properly incentivized businesses and entrepreneurs to do what they do best: innovate, stimulate growth, create jobs and push society forward. Even when our economy was at its strongest a few months ago, our national deficit was still out of control.

Cooke: The federal government is not the bank, and they certainly should not be able to pick winners and losers in the business world. Bailouts are not the answer. I would be in full support of universal income tax cuts for hardworking Americans. I believe that government policies should make business easier to transact, not more complicated. Our country has achieved great economic prosperity through limited government intervention.

Cowan: I'm running for Congress because I want my children and the children of our communities to have the best possible opportunities for success right here in northwest Georgia. While short-term stimulus action was necessary, we cannot continue to shackle our children and their children with trillions upon trillions of dollars in debt. President Trump has led our country brilliantly through this battle against an invisible enemy, and I agree with short-term action to keep small businesses afloat and help Americans pay wages. Those measures are temporary, and we must responsibly open back up our economy and allow all hardworking Americans to get back to providing for their families.

Fuller: Absolutely not. Our federal debt is closing in on $30 trillion, and few in Congress seem to be concerned about the long-term impact this will have on our country's future. Congress' reckless spending has caused more citizens to become dependent on government, and our economic future is in peril. Much of this debt has been purchased by China, a country that clearly does not have the best interests of the United States at heart. Federal spending should be reduced to the point where our debt does not exceed 100% of GDP. Sound economic policy is the most important responsibility of Congress. There must be no support to increases to the debt ceiling without corresponding spending cuts. Congress' reckless actions will have a disproportionate impact on working-class Americans because the power of the dollar will inevitably decrease and wages will stagnate. It is critical that Congress immediately take action to reduce our debt.

Greene: I oppose the upcoming "Blue State Bailout" and believe everything Congress does should be focused on reopening our economy and getting our country back to work. I support cutting spending, reducing our national debt and making government smaller.

Gunther: The government cannot and should not spend its way to economic recovery. The best way the government can help ensure recovery is to get out of the way. Evaluate regulations that are burdensome to growth. Allow American entrepreneurship to lead. Now is the time for Congress to take decisive and bold action that will promote economic recovery and reduce the national debt while actually funding domestic programs like Social Security and Medicare for the elderly and disabled. Eliminate all federal income, Medicare and Social Security taxes. Allow a person making $11 an hour to bring home $11 dollars. Replace the income-related taxes with a national consumption tax that will be imposed on all new items. This will increase foreign investment and the U.S. will gain the multinational companies that will leave China, and American companies will bring home trillions of dollars parked offshore to avoid taxes.

Hembree: America has a massive debt problem. We have skyrocketed our deficit and wasted billions of dollars over the past decade on ineffective government policies. The CARES Act was a Band-Aid for our economy. We cannot afford to wastefully give more money to the states when we need to focus on restarting our economy instead. Democrats successfully poured millions of dollars into the last "relief" bill to appease their radical base for items that had nothing to do with the economy, such as the Kennedy Center. I was proud to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment in the Georgia House of Representatives, and I will support a constitutional amendment to balance our federal government's purse strings.

Laughridge: First of all, career politicians in Congress have spent decades ignoring the national debt – so that would be nothing new to them, and that's exactly why we need to elect serious businessmen who actually know how to balance a budget. Second, the best thing that Congress can do to rebuild the economy is to get out of the way. More government spending is not the solution. The solution is shrinking government, not growing it. Cutting government spending, not increasing it. That means lowering taxes, cutting red tape, reducing the overreach of government into our lives and our businesses. Congress and career politicians will not rebuild the economy and refuel the working class; small businesses, innovators, families and working Georgians will.