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Posted: August 26, 2009 12:30 a.m.

GOP welcomes 2010 candidates

Gabriel Khouli/

A solid turnout: Over 300 people attended the GOP meeting on Monday night.

Many local Republicans had their first chance to hear from the Republican gubernatorial candidates, and they came away impressed.

With no incumbent governor in the race for the first time since 1998, the field in both parties is crowded, and there are six GOP candidates vying for Georgia’s highest position.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has been the early favorite according to polls, based on the strength of his 14 years in the insurance regulation field. Oxendine emphasized his support of the Fair Tax, which would remove federal income taxes and implement a national sales tax. He said the state of Georgia should also repeal its income tax, saying if Florida and Tennessee can run a state with out an income tax, so can Georgia.

He also talked about his 14 years of experience as insurance commissioner; saying the experience running a department gives him actual governing experience, as opposed to those who have only served in the legislature. He touted his accomplishments, like forcing insurance companies to pay for fire and disaster claims, doing more work in his department while cutting back the number of employees by 20 percent and keeping his office open until 7 p.m. to work around the citizens’ schedules, and not the other way around.

"I’m tired of government acting like they’re doing the public a favor," Oxendine said after the speech. "When I’m governor we’ll have a lot more employees working until 7 p.m. (to accommodate citizen’s schedules). I want to bring government service back."

Although many residents heard the 2010 candidates speak for the first time, Sen. John Douglas (Social Circle) and District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming have already settled on Secretary of State Karen Handel as their choice for governor.

Fleming said he was supporting Handel because she’s a fighter, with local and state experience, as Fulton County commission chair and Secretary of State. He said she will understand and fight for the needs of local governments.

Handel emphasized that fighting spirit in her speech, saying she was running for governor because she believed Georgia needed tenacious leadership and new vision to tackle all of its challenges.

"I’ve never shied away from challenges. I thrive on them. I’m tenacious and ready to take state challengers head on," Handel said.

She emphasized her executive experiences as Fulton county chairman, and said she was the only candidate with real job creation experience, as head of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.

Handel told The News that her totality of experience in a number of positions is what makes her such a strong candidate.

Fleming and Oxendine said they both felt the state need a fresh Republican candidate, not another term of former Gov. Roy Barnes, who is a strong early favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Two lesser-known gubernatorial candidates on a state-wide scale, State Sen. Eric Johnson (Savannah) and Ray McBerry also introduced themselves.

Johnson, who has served in the Senate since 1994, said he’s helped carry out many of the promises Republicans have made over the years, like balancing the budget, protecting property rights, instituting tough immigration laws, passing pro-life legislation and expanding school choice.

He said he’s not politically correct and some people have described him as the political equivalent of Jack Bauer from the TV show "24."

"I am pro business, pro-family, pro-gun and pro-life. Next question," Johnson said.

Like all candidates, Johnson talked about the important of comprehensive tax code reform.

McBerry is from Henry County and owns his own company, which produces radio and television commercials in the Atlanta market. He’s running his campaign on a strong state’s rights background. He said the federal government is out of control and is overreaching in many areas like water and health care.

McBerry proudly stated that he is the only candidate who is not an elected official, because he believes change is needed. McBerry said he a businessman, a former history teacher and a strong Christian.

Finally, the wife of U.S. Congressman Nathan Deal spoke. Deal, who is also seen as a frontrunner, was hosting a town hall meeting in his district. His wife, Sandra, said Deal has experience as a lawyer, military officer, farmer and congressman. She said he has a real personality and family. Sandra said Deal wants to be Governor, because he is tired of the Democrats blocking his goals nationally.

Besides the gubernatorial candidates, a handful of other race candidates spoke: former Sen. Brian Kemp and Doug McGinnitie for Secretary of State; Sen. Ralph Hudgens and Gerry Purcell for Insurance Commissioner; Gary Black — Candidate for Agriculture Commissioner; and Melvin Everson for Labor Commissioner.

Local GOP Chairman Ester Fleming said around 350 people attended the event. He was very pleased with the event and impressed with all of the candidates, but he hopes Monday night’s excitement continues over the next year.

"I made the quote last night that we’re pumped up and excited tonight, it’s like a revival, but we need to keep that spirit and philosophy of what we want and continue to work to get good Republicans in office. You can come to event like this and feel good, but then don’t do anything. We need to get out there in the trenches and continue to attract good candidate to run," Ester Fleming said. "I think 2010 will be a good year for the Republicans."

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