Republican candidates for Georgia governor spar in Augusta forum

Five Republicans who want to be Georgia’s next governor found a lot to agree on Sunday night during a forum in Augusta.

 

They’re all staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, of lowering or eliminating the state income tax and getting the courts and Common Core out of Georgia’s schools.

Their disagreements were largely over approach, with three casting themselves as outsiders who can right the wrongs of “career politicians.”

That’s a position aimed directly at the two most well-known candidates: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

But two of the “outsiders” are state senators – Michael Williams and Hunter Hill.

“I’m tired of Republicans campaigning like Ronald Reagan, then governing like Obama,” said Hill, who represents District 6 in Cobb and Fulton counties.

Hill, who played football at West Point and served three combat tours as an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, promised a “bold, conservative agenda to push Georgia to its full potential.”

Williams, who represents Forsyth County in District 27, was a businessman who owned 18 Sports Clips haircut franchises, but said he sold them when he saw “Obamacare” coming, running for office to oppose such Democratic initiatives.

“I’m not a career politician or part of the establishment,” he said. He also touted his early support of Donald Trump for president, something his fellow candidates were “too scared to do.” Now, however, they “have no problem supporting him.”

The one candidate at Sunday’s forum who has never held political office was Mark Urbach, a Marietta man who ran for president as a write-in candidate in 2016 and got five certified votes.

Urbach works for Jewish War Veterans USA, an organization that aids and honors veterans, and is a former history teacher. He was most vocal in opposition to Common Core and announced, to applause, that though he is Jewish, he had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior two weeks ago.

“I’m a Messianic Jew and I love you,” he said.

Fighting back against the “career politician” label, Cagle touted his promises to add 500,000 jobs and cut taxes, including exempting the first $17,000 of everyone’s income. He spoke about his impoverished background and pledged to “stand in the gap” for Georgia’s poor children.

Kemp noted that he, not being a member of the Legislature, had never voted for a tax increase, and stressed his independence and support for gun rights.

“I hunt, shoot and carry,” he said.

Though they pledged to do whatever they could as governor to support the growth of Augusta’s cyber industry, all the candidates stumbled on two other questions of interest to Augusta.

When the candidates were asked what they would do to ensure Savannah River Site continues to get federal missions, Urbach clearly thought it generated electricity, and Hill and Cagle spoke in vague terms of its potential. Williams reminded the audience of his connections to Trump, and Kemp said the best thing he did for SRS was to support U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, who defeated Democrat John Barrow.

All praised the Savannah harbor-deepening project and its promised economic impact, but none seemed aware of the issue of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, which the Army Corps of Engineers wants to replace as part of mitigation for the larger project’s effect on sturgeon. The mayors of Augusta and North Augusta have opposed the plan because they fear it would lower the water level at Riverwalk and Riverside Village.

Urbach frankly admitted that he did not know how deep the Savannah Harbor was, but noted that he was an expert in “five or six other things.”

Cagle, however, got in good with the home crowd in his answer to a question about how to support Augusta University, referred to by the moderator as “MCG, then Georgia Regents, then Augusta University.”

“Well, the best thing was changing the name back,” he said.

Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com.

 

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