Originally created 07/21/02

Candidates meet, eat together



Democratic candidates for the 12th Congressional District spent Saturday morning espousing the principles of their party and their own beliefs - when they weren't jabbing at the Republicans and needling one another.

All seven candidates at the Richmond County Democratic Party breakfast vowed to protect Social Security and veterans' medical benefits, raise the minimum wage and bring jobs to the district.

Candidate Charles W. "Champ" Walker Jr., of Augusta, emphasized his experience as a business entrepreneur and motivator and said he was a man who knows how to get things done.

"You have to be fearless, unbossed and unbought," Mr. Walker said.

Tony Center, of Savannah, stressed his political and business experience and his knowledge of the legal system.

"As a trial lawyer, I wrote federal legislation that protected federal insurance benefits for spouses and children of federal employees," he said.

Mr. Center, a lawyer, began his remarks by quipping that candidate Merwyn Scott, of Augusta, had spent all his campaign contributions on T-shirts, a reference to Mr. Scott's supporters wearing red-and-white "Merwyn Scott for Congress" T-shirts.

Candidate Robert Finch, of Athens, retorted that some candidates were not able to mortgage their homes and go into personal bank accounts to fund their campaigns, an apparent reference to Mr. Center's $255,282 contribution to his own campaign. Mr. Scott's supporters laughed and applauded in response.

Mr. Finch also touted his experience in higher education administration, counting it as a plus for the district's colleges and schools.

"We need to send someone to Congress who can represent those interests," he said.

Mr. Finch, a former member of state Sen. Charles Walker's staff, also challenged Charles Walker Jr.'s earlier statement about being "unbought and unbossed.

"Anybody who raises $400,000 is bought," Mr. Finch said. "They've sold out to big industry."

At last reporting, Mr. Walker had raised $354,243.

Candidate Chuck Pardue, of Augusta, focused on the falling stock market and corporate scandals.

"We need to send these crooks to jail," he said. "They're ripping off America. They're ripping off pensioners."

Mr. Pardue, a lawyer, also listed as priorities protecting Social Security, health care, prescription-drug benefits for the poor and elderly, protecting the environment and increasing the minimum wage.

Candidate Ben Allen, of Augusta, said he had worked all of his life to improve Augusta.

"You can't name one major economic public project of the past 20 years that Ben Allen hasn't been part of," he said.

Mr. Allen, a lawyer, said that all he has ever wanted to be was an athlete when he was young, to practice law as an adult and then be a public servant. He has been a state representative from Augusta since 1995.

"Law was a means for me to be a better public servant," he said.

Mr. Scott, the chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, said he will put every cent of his money in T-shirts to let people know he is for the working man. He said the country needs to stand against terrorists but noted that there is terrorism in this country. He said he would work to protect Social Security and to ensure that a woman doing the same job as a man would be paid the same.

Candidate Denise Freeman, of Lincoln County, the Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District in 1998 and 2000, promised to work to improve education, help farmers and protect the environment.

Another Democratic forum for 12th District candidates will be in August at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education in Athens.

The Democratic primary election is Aug. 20.