Georgia 2020: Where 7th District Republican candidates stand on the issues

Seven Georgia Republicans are running to replace U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who has decided against running for re-election in the 7th Congressional District,  which includes most of Gwinnett County and a portion of Forsyth County.

Republicans have held the district since 1994, but Woodall narrowly won re-election in 2018.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent questions to the candidates about five key issues. Here are the responses from five of the candidates (Zachary Kennemore did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him).

Lisa Noel Babbage, Duluth

Lisa Noel Babbage

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Mark Gonsalves, Johns Creek

Mark Gonsalves

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Lynne Homrich, (no hometown provided)

Lynn Homrich

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Rich McCormick, Suwanee

Rich McCormick

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Renee Unterman, Buford

Renee Unterman

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Eugene Yu, Kennesaw

Eugene Yu

Credit: Jenny Burdette

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Credit: Jenny Burdette

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

Babbage: Yes. Employer-contributed health care plans allow for competition in the field, autonomy in the use of Flexible Spending Accounts and patient input in choosing to receive the kind of coverage they want. Government-subsidized health care puts lawmakers in an industry where they do not need to be. The government's job in a capitalist society is to allow businesses to compete for consumer dollars, not placate their intelligence.

ACA proved that it could not meet the 9.78% standard it set for many working-age individuals. While the aim to offer health care for all was admirable, the only way to keep Americans insured is to keep them working and share the cost of health care between employer and employee. When our vocational and educational centers train people to work jobs that pay a living wage, they will be able to afford health care. However, price transparency would go a long way in facilitating health care reform.

Gonsalves: Absolutely. It is one of the most egregious abuses of federal authority in our lifetime. I would replace it with expanded free-market access that includes the ability to purchase health care across state lines.

Homrich: Right after Obamacare, Georgia had some of the worst premium increases in the country. In one year alone, they went up over 50%. I want real health care reform that will reduce your premiums and make sure everyone in GA-07 has access to affordable and high-quality care, including requiring insurance companies to cover everyone with pre-existing conditions. I also believe health insurance should be allowed to be sold across state lines, and companies should be allowed to sell catastrophic insurance on the exchanges. If there's one thing that's certain, career politicians are unable to fix this. Far-left politicians want the government in charge of health care. If you think the government can run a health care system, just ask our veterans. They will tell you the (Department of Veterans Affairs) is deeply broken. Real health care reform means we reduce the power of the federal government and put patients and families in charge of their health care.

McCormick: Yes. As an ER doctor, I have witnessed firsthand the frustrations of the ACA. Since the incorporation of this act premiums have continued to rise rapidly and extra layers of administration have been added without addressing the real problem. We need to rethink how to drive the cost down on an incredibly capable healthcare system that just costs too much. We need pricing transparency. We need to make it easier to have choices and a funded HSA that rolls over every year. This would encourage competition and educated choices. Right now no one knows how much anything costs, including drugs, until it is already paid for. The cost of that bill is passed on through premiums and yet most people don't think of it as a real cost. We continue to have surprise billing without a national solution while insurance agencies make tens of billions of dollars in profits each quarter. We need to modify behavior and allow competition to maintain a robust healthcare system with better pricing and accountability of outcomes.

Unterman: I believe our health care system needs conservative, free-market solutions and a full repeal of Obamacare. Under Obamacare, we've seen higher costs, narrower networks and many Georgians forced to change doctors because of government overregulation and failed promises. Health care is the top driver of America's national debt, and consumer choice – not socialist mandates – will actually make health care more affordable for patients and providers. As a former nurse and former chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, I've seen the front lines of health care delivery and I've led on conservative policies to lower the costs of care for Georgians including telemedicine reform and ending surprise billing. In Washington, I'll fight for a new system that protects Americans with pre-existing conditions, allows for the purchase of health insurance across state lines, removes burdensome regulations, and makes medical pricing much more transparent for patients.

Yu: We must have affordable health care that is accessible for all Americans. However, the Affordable Care Act is not the answer. We should not rely on the government for our health care. We need a better plan. We should repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that encourages people to get coverage through private companies on the market. This will allow for competition between companies, which will keep costs down. For people with illnesses that are high-cost, we should create federally funded high-risk pools that are administered by the states. For our Americans living on low incomes, where their budgets are already strained, I want to give states block grants that they will use to help low-income families afford a health care plan.

>> Related: Where 7th District Democratic candidates stand on the issues

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>> Related: Republicans aim to hang onto Georgia's 7th Congressional District seat

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

Babbage: Government's response to climate change should fall into two to three categories: education, regulation and research. Through education and research, the United States can attempt to curb emissions, greenhouse gasses and the human footprint globally. We should be a proponent of Earth-friendly protocols that other nations are encouraged to follow. Within reason, regulation should monitor and promote green innovation at the local level. Along with other government departments, Congress may contribute to these goals by appropriating bills that fund research, educate the public, especially abroad, and employ embargoes to achieve these objectives. However, in no way should Congress penalize the American taxpayer in a manner that hinders commerce or inflicts cruel and unusual economic burdens on small businesses.

Gonsalves: This is the most "AJC question" of all time! Absolutely nothing is my response.

Homrich: As a scientist, biochemist by degree, and as a businessperson, former Home Depot executive, I know that addressing climate change is important. I also know that (U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's) Green New Deal is an impractical idea (backed by far-left politicians, including GA-07 Democrat candidates) that takes advantage of climate change to push a radical agenda that has very little to do with improving the environment or improving the lives of hardworking Georgians. Nothing works better than capitalism to drive progress. Business leaders like me know it's simply good business to do more with less and, as a result, we've made great strides in energy efficiency, which lowers carbon emissions. The bottom line is Congress must incentivize innovation. We don't need radical politicians with unrealistic socialist agendas in Congress. We need people from the business world with commonsense solutions that will actually work.

McCormick: We are already seeing a transition to electric cars that will eventually become transformative in regards to the impact of pollution on the environment. It is good business to protect the environment. As we have seen in the rest of the world, laws don't necessarily result in a cleaner environment. Despite having less bureaucracy the United States has lower emissions than most countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement. If we see the United States not living up to the higher standards that the free market has resulted in, then we can address climate change. As it stands now, however, we are leading the world in efficiency and in reducing industry pollution.

Unterman: We all want clean water, clean air and a healthy environment, but Nancy Pelosi and Washington Democrats have completely overblown their claims, leading to the Green New Deal and other extreme proposals that would lower the standard of living for all Americans. I will never back down against Democrats who want to push their radical agenda to destroy the American way of life. I grew up around Lake Lanier, and I will fight to protect our state's natural resources. But the United States cannot sacrifice millions of jobs based on partisan talking points. I believe in private innovation to make processes cleaner, but I will stand firm against Democratic extremists like Alexandria Osario-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who would use the government to stamp out small businesses.

Yu: There are a few things that Congress can do. First off, I support President (Donald) Trump and his decision to pull us out of the Paris agreement. Simply put, the Obama administration negotiated a bad deal for the American worker. Our president got us out of it. Now, we can decide our own future and make our own decisions about climate change. For instance, recently House Republicans introduced a bill that would create private-public partnerships to plant a trillion trees around the world. I support this. We should be investing in carbon capture technology. These are just two examples of low-cost programs that would not harm the American economy while at the same time benefiting the environment

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

Babbage:  Because of our strong economy, Georgia attracts a large immigrant population. 
We need a complete evaluation of undocumented residents, which I outlined ideas for in 2017. My simple plan includes a residency formula that rewards otherwise law-abiding citizens with training and assistance for legal citizenship. Integral to streamlining citizenship is maintaining programs that deport criminal aliens who are convicted of felony offenses; and continuing (Immigration Customs Enforcement) efforts for those who pose public safety threats.
We need partnerships with nonprofit and religious organizations to meet the needs of undocumented residents already in our country rather than use taxpayer funds. We should engage the 100,000 undocumented residents in Georgia not currently in the workforce as part of our economic reforms in manufacturing. Processing the thousands that have been in the queue seeking citizenship or temporary asylum has caused a backlog, therefore we should halt new immigration until the backlog decreases. 
Gonsalves: We have a huge illegal immigration problem. It currently costs Georgians $2.5 billion per year. We have more illegals than green card holders. I support President Trump in completing the border wall. I would strengthen the process to ensure people are not illegally overstaying their visas. I would defund sanctuary cities, and I would encourage more counties to enact the 287(g) illegal immigration removal program.

Homrich: I hate politics! Why? One big reason is that politicians in Washington have been talking about fixing our nation's broken immigration system for over 30 years – and nothing changes. Like President Trump, I am a nonpolitician from the business world who knows how to solve problems, and halting illegal immigration is at the top of my to-do list.

This issue is of particular importance to GA-07 as legal immigrants are over 25% of our population and a huge asset to our culture and economy. I’ve talked to hundreds of voters across Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, and addressing illegal immigration is a problem they want leaders to address. I’ll work with President Trump and any Democrat who is willing to work with me in good faith to secure our border, stop dangerous drugs from getting into our communities, and stop far-left Democrat proposals for amnesty and taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants.

McCormick: It is insulting to those people who have followed the law, and waited their turn, to reward those who have openly defied the laws of our nation. Although we need a robust legal immigration system, those who follow the laws with proper use of work visas and immigration should always be rewarded first. We start there. Enforce the laws we have. If law needs to be changed then change it - but always with an eye toward the benefit of our great nation. Although we have many great citizens emigrate here, we must acknowledge that a large majority of our illegal opioids comes across our southern border. Tens of thousands of children are brought across the boarder with the specific intent of child trafficking. Crime and disease also are a burden our jails and hospital systems. We have lost accountability and should always seek to know the intentions of those entering our country.

Unterman: Illegal immigrants have poured into Georgia for decades, taking jobs from hardworking Americans and bringing an influx of gang violence into our communities. I've long fought to keep dangerous criminals out of our community, and I'll stand with President Trump to build the wall. Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway has endorsed my campaign, as he and I have stood side by side to crack down on illegal immigration with the 287(g) program. I'll fight to defund sanctuary cities that harbor criminal illegal immigrants and ensure our brave law enforcement officers, including ICE agents, have all the resources they need to protect our national security. A nation without borders pays the consequences. I will never support amnesty for illegal immigrants, and I will always fight back against those who want open borders.

Yu: Yes. The whole country has an illegal immigration problem. The easiest way to fix it is to simply enforce the existing immigration laws. Many already here illegally came in on a work visa program and then stayed once that visa expired. We cannot allow that to keep happening. Our local law enforcement should be working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers so that when someone is here illegally, they will be deported. We must build the wall on our southern border. If we cannot control our own border, then we are not a sovereign state. Every other country in the world secures its borders, and we must do the same.

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?

Babbage:  Yes. For far too long, our system has disproportionately punished people of color and the poor. We are paying to keep many incarcerated for activity that has been decriminalized. Furthermore, we do not offer rehabilitation to warrant the cost of our state programs, $1.8 billion (ninth-highest). With that budget we could be investing in the relationship between law enforcement and the community. We have the fourth-highest prison population, a large number of whom are illiterate. Since the family is the backbone of our nation socially and small business is the backbone of the economy, we need to stabilize both to reduce recidivism. I have a program that creates partnerships with nonviolent prison populations and businesses to rebuild marginalized rural communities, strengthen business through internships that teach trade skills, refine re-entry programs, commute sentences where appropriate and put taxpayers' money back in their own pockets.

Gonsalves: This would certainly depend on the crime. I do not believe in having a modern-day debtors prison, but I do believe we must have accountability for crimes committed. We must have a justice system that creates deterrence.

Homrich: I support commonsense reform for our prison system. Like many Americans, I want to focus our criminal justice system on violent offenders and drug traffickers. We need to be cautious and deliberate before reducing punishments for crimes like drug trafficking. We are in a crisis. More than 73,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, and we lost more than 1,000 people in Georgia alone. Cartels are trafficking heroin across our southern border, and drug dealers are using it to fuel the opioid crisis here in America. Gwinnett and Forsyth counties are quickly becoming the newest targets for gang activity in Georgia. Our governor and local law enforcement are working tirelessly to combat these threats and protect our communities. My focus is to protect our communities from gang activity, drug trafficking and human trafficking, offenses that must be punished to the full extent of the law.

McCormick: We do have a prison overcrowding problem that needs to be addressed. The first way to do this is through education. We have watched the use of cigarettes by teens dramatically plummet due to education. We must have a greater focus on teaching children about those things that are most harmful to them. Making laws that place people in jail for drug use has not solved our problems with crime, the jail system, or our healthcare system, which all suffer the burdens of poor choices. Criminal justice reform, which I am in favor of, should go hand in hand with education reform.

Unterman: I've prioritized public safety, and I'm encouraged to see Republicans lead on continuous improvements to the criminal justice system. I helped lead the way for Georgia to reconsider how we address nonviolent crimes involving mental illness and addiction – providing treatment, not jail time. On the other side of that coin, I've passed legislation to enact much longer sentences for sex traffickers, human traffickers and those who harm children. Inmates convicted of such crimes pose a threat to public safety, and it's important that they are the ones filling prisons. On the federal level, I applaud Rep. Doug Collins and President Trump for taking the lead on the First Step Act to reduce the prison population and decrease recidivism. In Congress, I will stand tough on crime, gang violence and crimes that hurt others, and I'll bring what we have learned in Georgia about adjudicating nonviolent offenses involving addiction and mental health.

Yu: I support due process and the fair application of the law. We must have a justice system that treats everyone equally. I am open to criminal justice reform; however, we must be smart about how it is applied and whom we release from prison. Decreasing our prison population would be a good thing to the American taxpayer if we can be sure the inmate we are releasing is not a danger to our community.

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

Babbage:  We need to recognize that while our debt is out of control, it is only 11% of our overall budget, 85% less than it was from 2008-2016. In other words, we can turn our economy around with steady, sound decision making, not reactionary, sweeping measures that aren't proven to work in similar situations (such as regional pandemic responses). There can never be a "whatever it takes" response when dealing with a generation-altering decision. Congress must work together to reduce government waste, which will improve the economy immediately. Hypothetically, there should be a proposed timeline by which they commit to reducing the deficit by a goal of 5%. Their salary should be negatively incentivised to stick to a budget that rebuilds the economy. While strategic debt is a fiscal strategy businesses such as our government can utilize, we cannot afford to reach a point of no return with our future.

Gonsalves: You cannot make a blanket decision to spend future generations into even more crushing debt, "no matter the long-term impact." It's taxation without representation. I believe President Trump is handling the rebuilding of the economy correctly. However, we also must reduce our out-of-control spending! Every Republican talks about reducing spending, but none of them ever have the guts to go through with it. I do.

Homrich: The national debt is a serious problem, but today we are at war against an invisible enemy. Now is the time to use the great fiscal power of the United States to help families and small businesses survive. Leaders must use every tool at their disposal to keep the economy afloat and prevent long-term damage. With that said, I share the same concern many Americans have about our national debt. The time will come again when we must address the debt crisis, and I look forward to using my experience as both a Home Depot executive and a small business owner to teach Washington how to balance a budget. Like you, I'm sick and tired of Congress wasting our taxpayer dollars, and I'll take on career politicians in both parties to get results. Finally, you can count on me to oppose socialist plans that would skyrocket our debt even higher.

McCormick: The absolute best thing our government can do to rebuild the economy without increasing debt is to get out of the way. Business owners are smart and creative. They know how to mitigate risk while still providing a service. The curve has been flattened. Treatments have improved. People are much better at social distancing. We continue to see a decrease in the hospital census despite opening Georgia. The government cannot fix this problem.

Unterman: President Trump built the greatest economy of my lifetime, and with his leadership, we will come back even greater than before. While short-term stimulus action was necessary, America cannot borrow its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to add trillions to our national debt. I believe in reopening the economy on a sensible timeline to let Americans get back to work and cutting taxes to allow individuals to keep their hard-earned money in their pockets. At a point, the government will need to completely get out of the way and let businesses return to the practices that made them successful in the first place. Relief funding, however, should never be used to advance a socialist agenda. I have deep concerns about Nancy Pelosi working on relief funding, and in Congress, I'll fight back against all attempts to use relief efforts as an excuse for radical change.

Yu: We are certainly in tough times and uncharted water with the coronavirus. I think the best thing the government can do is get out of the way. They should issue best practice guidelines and recommendations, but that is all it should be. It should be up to the individual to take responsibility for where they go and what they choose to do. The fastest way to start rebuilding our economy is to allow our businesses to open back up. That way the free market will dictate our next steps as we confront this coronavirus.