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Covington forum exposes differences between conservative Congressional candidates
10th Congressional District
Campaign signs fill the front yard of Canaan Baptist Church on Salem Road Saturday, Feb. 19, before a forum featuring 10 candidates for the 10th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — A forum featuring 10 Republican Congressional candidates was able to expose a few differences for voters despite all displaying ultra-conservative views of government needed to appeal to voters in the eastern Georgia district.

The candidates differed wildly in private sector and governmental experience — which all said would be a benefit in one form or another for the 10th District and Georgia Republicans.

They also differed on such issues as term limits, their top priorities if elected, and their top choices for committee assignments.

The event was hosted by the 10th Congressional District and Newton County Republican Party organizations at Canaan Baptist Church on Salem Road in Covington.

Candidates included Habitat for Humanity employee Andrew Alvey of Athens; State Rep. Timothy Barr of Lawrenceville, whom U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has endorsed; former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Athens, who was the district’s congressman from 2007-2015; and Jackson trucking company owner Mike Collins, who lost a GOP runoff to Hice in 2014 and is a son of the late U.S. Rep. Mac Collins.

Others included former state revenue commissioner David Curry of Henry County; former state lawmaker and DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump; Monroe businessman Marc McMain, who was endorsed by Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman; retired police officer and security specialist Charles Rupert of Monroe; former Air Force colonel Alan Sims of Winder; and former Marine colonel Mitchell Swan of Good Hope. 

Candidates ranged in age from Alvey, who is 25, to Broun and Rupert, who each were 70 or older.

Moderator Ken Harrell questioned candidates about their stands on such issues as the effect of federal deficit spending, presidential use of executive orders, top priorities once they get to Congress, and more. 

There were few fireworks during the mostly cordial, two-hour event after 10th District organizers warned the candidates not to attack each other.

However, there were some indirect potshots.

Collins said in his closing statement he was “born, raised and, yes, I can vote in the 10th District” — a slap at fellow candidate Vernon Jones who recently entered the race with Trump’s endorsement.  

Jones is a resident of DeKalb County and longtime Democrat who switched parties at the end of 2020 in response to Trump’s loss in Georgia. Trump endorsed him after Jones ended a race for governor and endorsed former U.S. senator David Perdue in his bid to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp.

Some top priorities for the candidates included:

• Alvey, Collins, Curry and Swan — a balanced budget and securing borders; 

• Barr  — anti-abortion legislation and reining in the federal budget;

• Broun — a balanced budget and and dissolving the Department of Education.

• Jones — Republican control of Congress and term limits;

• McMain — more assistance for law enforcement;

• Rupert — enforcement of existing immigration laws and completing the Keystone pipeline;

• Sims — national defense and energy independence; 

The one committee on which each wanted to serve:

• Alvey — House Agriculture Committee;

• Barr — House Government Oversight, to gain better control over government spending.

• Broun — House Science Committee, to investigate and give the public the “truth” about the origins of COVID;

• Collins — Transportation Committee, because of his experience in the industry;

• Curry — House Veterans Affairs, to help veterans have better access to health care;

• Jones — House Intelligence Committee, to find out about investigations into Trump and others;

• McMain — House Budget Committee, to attack the federal debt.

• Rupert — House Homeland Security, because of his background in the security industry.

• Sims — Energy and Commerce Committee.

• Swan — House Armed Services Committee, to help improve the “fighting spirit” of the military.

On term limits, Collins and Jones specified they would only spend six years in Congress. 

“The longer you stay, the drunker you get,” Jones said.

However, Swan noted at least 15 years would be needed to learn how to pass meaningful legislation because of the ongoing system in Congress. 

Broun said he would have seniority if he is elected because of the four terms he already served. 

Congressmen and senators typically gain more powerful positions and committee assignments the longer they are in Congress.   

The 10th District was redrawn in response to population shifts found in the 2020 census. It includes most of Newton County and parts or all of 18 other counties in north and east Georgia.

The congressional seat came open in 2021 after Hice announced he would challenge incumbent Brad Raffensperger for secretary of state.

The district is heavily Republican and voted about 70% for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, despite Democrat Joe Biden narrowly winning the statewide vote.

Candidate Matt Richards, a Barrow County businessman, was at the event but chose not to participate. He announced Monday he was dropping out of the race and endorsed Collins. 

Another candidate, Patrick Witt, former deputy chief of staff in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the Trump administration, did not attend.