Georgia 2020: Where 6th District Republican candidates stand on the issues

Yolanda Norman of DeKalb County uses te new voting machines at Voter Registration and Elections Office in Atlanta on Monday, March 2, 2020. Miguel Martinez for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia’s 6th Congressional District will be one of the most closely watched U.S. House races in the country.

The metro Atlanta district has seen two close elections in the past three years. Republican Karen Handel won a 2017 special election over Jon Ossoff. Then Democrat Lucy McBath won the office the following year.

Handel and three other Republicans are running to try to unseat McBath,

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

Karen Handel, Roswell

Blake Harbin, Milton

Joe Profit, Marietta

Paulette Smith, Kennesaw

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

Handel: Steve and I had affordable private insurance, but like so many, we were forced onto the ACA exchange. Our premiums jumped from $350 a month to nearly $1,200 a month with a $10,000 individual deductible. Access and affordability remain serious problems despite ACA. I will again take the lead on legislation to protect those with pre-existing conditions from getting dropped or priced out of insurance. Additionally, I will work to expand private insurance options; decouple insurance from employers and employees, so individuals can take their plans with them wherever they go; allow insurance premiums to be paid out of (health savings accounts); realign the reimbursement system to facilitate adoption and fairness of telemedicine, concierge medicine and at-home care; and expand access and affordability by building upon the network of community health centers. What I will not support is Lucy McBath's plan for government-run health care that makes private insurance illegal.

Harbin: Yes, we need to dismantle the ACA. The name in and of itself is problematic since high-quality health care became the opposite of affordable for most individuals and small companies as soon as it went into existence. I've experienced this firsthand as a small-business owner seeking to find the best coverage for my employees both before and after the ACA was enacted. The best component of the ACA - guaranteeing the right to health care for those with pre-existing conditions - should absolutely remain intact and mandatory for any ACA replacement program. Components of the act that benefit insurance companies ahead of people should be struck out in the name of affordability to the end user. I believe in free-market health insurance, but I don't believe that profits should drive decisions that impact people's lives. Congress needs to strike balance in establishing parameters to limit costs without stifling the market.

>>Related: Handel debates GOP opponents with eye on rematch vs. McBath

>>Related: Who's running in Georgia's 6th Congressional District

Profit: As a broad overview, the Affordable Care Act did not make health care affordable and interfered with the doctor-patient relationship. Private insurers can provide the widest range of options, and my health care committee has formulated the basis for legislation that will bring about lower-cost, high-quality health care. My plan is to make insurance affordable and make health care available. It will include coverage for pre-existing conditions and will enable children to stay on their parents' policy until 26 years of age. Beyond that, our legislation proposal will drive down the cost of prescription drugs and bring more competitiveness to the health insurance market. This question is far too complex to adequately answer in 150 words or less. More details will be posted on my website, www.joeprofitforcongress.com, in the near future.

Smith: Yes, I support dismantling the Affordable Care Act. I would replace it with the Preventative Care Act, which gives medical doctors the latitude of documenting key findings while implementing more nutritional knowledge for healing, and giving people the option to go to holistic doctors to address pure solutions to the minerals lacking in the body, like vitamin D, C, A and potassium, and what steps we as people can take to better our health without synthetic drugs which produce side effects. I support the president's goals for the health care of our country, rather than managed care. Obamacare was forced on the people without regard to access or affordability.

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

Handel: I have an obligation to future generations to protect our environment – from clean air to clean water to green spaces and forests. We need workable solutions that fuel our economy (especially as we recover from the COVID crisis) while advancing environmental goals, such as reducing emissions. To advance sound environmental goals, we need to reduce regulations for renewable energy technologies and new nuclear power plants, foster "energy trade" to export proven U.S. technologies to help developing countries expand their sources of clean energy, explore tax credits for clean energy innovations, and encourage carbon capture and storage. Radical proposals like the Green New Deal will exacerbate our already severe economic challenges with massive new taxes, more regulations and trillions more in spending – with goals that are completely unrealistic.

Harbin: I believe we should leave the world a better place than we found it. Congress should listen to its expert scientists and take an active stance in protecting our environment from the negative effects of climate change. The United States should continue to be a leader in minimizing vehicle emissions. I've been to other countries that don't have the same standards we do in the United States and have nosebleeds for weeks upon my return. I'm proud of the initiatives our Congress has taken to date that have drastically reduced our country's carbon footprint. I believe that animals' habitats should be protected, and I'm OK with the fact that sometimes industry might need to take a detour to protect the sanctity of nature and to continue to reduce our carbon footprint. Small sacrifices today in the name of sustainability can reap dividends in the future both environmentally and financially.

Profit: The United States has been a leader in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the nations that have signed the Paris climate agreement have largely missed their reduction targets. In my estimation, the Paris agreement was designed as a means of having United States taxpayers foot the bill for a "feel good" but ineffective program that gives two of the world's largest polluters (China and India) a free pass. Additionally, in the 11 years following the signing of the Kyoto Protocols, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increased at approximately a 50% greater rate than in the 11 years prior to the protocols being signed. Further evidence that international programs haven't worked. We don't need thinly veiled tax programs (cap and trade). Congress needs to encourage and verify that industry and individuals continue expanding the efforts that have made the United States a leader in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Smith: We have in America clean air, and we are willing to share with others how we are able to keep our air clean. Climate change is taking money out of the American pocket. What the president is doing now is working. No more spraying pesticides around our homes and spraying all kind of chemicals in the atmosphere.

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

Handel: Every day massive amounts of drugs flow across our border -- flooding our communities and addicting our loved ones. Human traffickers and gang members take advantage of our porous border to advance violence and slavery. Visa holders skip out on our lax system and remain illegally in our country for years if not decades. In Congress, I helped to develop comprehensive immigration reform that included full funding for the wall, increased (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) funding, a plan to transition to a merit-based visa system, enhanced oversight of visas, a workable (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) fix that kept my promise for no special path to citizenship, and ended extended family green cards. While the illegal crossings have decreased under President (Donald) Trump, this legislation represents the foundation of how we can and must move forward. We need a fair, efficient system that facilitates immigration to our great country and protects our national security.

Harbin: Yes, Georgia does have an illegal immigration problem. To remedy this, our borders need to be secured. But more importantly, Georgia has an illegal immigration problem because our immigration system as a whole is completely broken and needs to be overhauled.

Profit: Like every other state, Georgia has an illegal immigrant problem. The only way to fix it is to secure our borders and revise our immigration policies. Immigrants built our country and are the key to its greatness. However, policies during the past few decades have made the legal immigration process extremely difficult. During that same period of time, Congress has done little, if anything, to address illegal immigration. We need a sound immigration policy that establishes fair requirements for admission without requiring that applicants go through an absurdly long and convoluted process. Part of that policy should include provisions for barring criminals and people who seek to immigrate in order to do harm to our country.

Smith: Yes, Georgia has a lot of undocumented workers. We must push to get organizations who help illegal immigrants before they get to this country, to be mindful that when they get here, there is a strong possibility that without a green card, a work visa or citizenship, they will have to return back to their country until they apply for citizenship.

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?

Handel: We must ensure that our communities are safe, and incarceration is the appropriate punishment for many crimes, especially violent crimes. However, for many nonviolent criminals, education, mental health, substance abuse and anger management programs, along with increased employment opportunities, cost less and reduce recidivism. In Congress, I joined with Congressman Doug Collins to help pass the First Step Act, which President Trump signed into law. The bill provides incarcerated federal inmates with the opportunity to earn a second chance at life through evidence-based recidivism-reduction plans. These individualized plans include training, education, substance abuse and mental health care, and faith-based initiatives. The legislation is an important step toward eradicating mass incarceration across the country. Next steps include getting our economy back on track as soon as possible to create job opportunities along with more investments in mental health and substance abuse prevention.

Harbin: Yes, we are a nation of laws but have more people incarcerated than any other country in the world. Why is that? We need to start looking at the root of the problems driving nonviolent crimes in order to prevent recidivism and positively impact our communities.

Profit: I am strongly in favor of additional criminal justice reform. We must be tough on crime, but incarceration is not always the most effective means of dealing with criminal activity. Many counties in Georgia have accountability courts, and they have been very effective at reducing recidivism. The ultimate goal of the judicial system should be to hold criminals accountable for their actions. Imprisonment should not be the only or the preferred means of holding nonviolent criminals accountable. However, that doesn't mean it should be eliminated, as it may be the only viable option for dealing with repeat offenders and career criminals.

Smith: Yes, I am! I believe there should be classes that they can take, as well as jobs, to have a cut-out destiny for success.

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

Handel: To tackle the debt, we need a strong economy. Our only path toward balanced budgets includes pro-growth policies and less spending -- not tax hikes that will stifle job creation. For now, Congress must prioritize getting our economy back on its feet and helping Americans return to work. I have a proven record of balancing budgets during tough times by applying conservative principles. I erased a shortfall without raising taxes as Fulton Commission chairman and cut spending in the secretary of state's office by nearly 20% during the Great Recession. In Congress, I was chosen to serve on a debt reduction task force because of this experience. President Trump spurred on the greatest economy in our nation's history. When the good times return -- and they will – tough spending decisions will be required. I am the only candidate in this race who has a record of doing so.

Harbin: No, while Congress plays an incredibly important - if not the most important - role in rebuilding the economy, it should still operate with a financially moral compass when enacting legislation related to recovering from the effects of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Congress must propel the economy while ensuring stringent guidelines are in place to ensure funds used for their intended purposes -- like keeping the doors of small businesses open -- and not used for funding pet projects as the current Congress initially attempted to do all while delaying relief to Americans who needed it most. While it will take congressional action alongside the American spirit to really rebuild the economy, taxpayer dollars cannot be pledged in perpetuity or as blanket spending bills. Eventually, order will need to be restored in which economic stimulus fits in with the rest of the president's budget.

Profit: At some point, we have to take the steps necessary to reduce our national debt. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic decimated our economy, spending was out of control. The federal government has a tremendous amount of waste and duplication that must be eliminated. We also must change our way of running government agencies. When President (Ronald) Reagan appointed me to the Federal Communications Commission and Small Business Advisory Committee, I spent a lot of time in Washington and I saw firsthand that, near the end of the fiscal year, agencies rush to spend every last dollar of their budget. They do that so they receive an even larger budget for the following year. Congress needs to control the budgets of government agencies and demand justification for implementation of expenditures. Under the current system, federal employees are squandering taxpayer dollars.

Smith: Congress cannot just do whatever. ... No! With the personnel who are in Congress now, we have to document a long-term strategy. The Congress, the Senate and the president should be coming up with the key framework to move the economy forward. The president should be able to sign an executive order to move the country forward without the special interests of Congress. Rebuilding the economy should be about "We the People," not the politicians!

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