Five candidates jockeyed to present themselves as the best man to represent the Fourth Congressional District, capping off the Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters candidate forum Tuesday night.
Democrats Courtney Dillard, incumbent Congressman Hank Johnson, Lincoln Nunally and Republicans Greg Pallen and Chris Vaughn (no relation to the late Judge Clarence Vaughn) all argued that they would represent the voice of the people.
In opening, Conyers businessman and Oxford resident Greg Pallen said, "Serving my country in Congress should be an honor, not a windfall."
Henry County pastor Chris Vaughn said "I am here because I believe our children and children's children have a great inheritance," which is in danger.
Dillard, who previously ran for Post II Commissioner, said "This area has been crying out for new leadership." He took a side shot when referenced Johnson's vote against affirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto and said that was one thing that was not going to be removed from the community.
Johnson, who is running for his fourth term in office, said he believed the American Dream had faded for many. "We have to concentrate on small buisness, entrepreneurship, and the middle class... If we remove the special interests and politics and reform our tax code, we can get our country back on track."
Conyers consultant and Rockdale native Nunnally said in his business background he learned how to create jobs - a skill needed with the current economy.
The candidates were asked about the failure of representatives in Washington to cooperate.
Vaughn said famlies, jobs and economic change had to be the first priorities. "When all is said and done, we have to get down to the purest value of all - are people being served, are people being valued? We are spending too much money, we're not watching out for it, and we're being too territorial."
Dillard said there needed to be collaboration between local leaders, such as commissioners, mayors, sheriffs, and the Congressman. "I think the Congressman has the opportunity to bridge the gap between these relationships."
Johnson said it was the lack of cooperation from the Republican leadership since President Barack Obama was sworn in. "I think we need a change in the Republican party in their senior leadership to bring about more of a cooperative spirit."
Nunnally chided Congressional representatives, saying they needed to remember they were there to serve the people and not one party or another. "Maybe more time spent in your districts with your people will be a way to remember what you're there for. Then you'd be able to negotiate across the aisle."
Pallen said there was too much corporate money coming to politicians. "We have to limit the influence these corporations have. That way maybe we have representatives that work for the people as opposed to the corporate interests."
Regarding the question of resolving "the tangle of immigration laws," Johnson said there needed to be comprehensive federal laws, that the southern and northern borders needed to be secure, and for people here already illegally, "they must be given a sensible way to resolve this issue."
Nunnally said a consumption tax or fair tax would eliminate the problem of undocumented immigrants using public services without paying income taxes.
"I believe there's two sides of this issue," said Pallen. "Farmers in this coutnry - they can't get American workers to do those jobs. We need these workers, and we need to make sure they're paying their taxes and paying their fair share."
Vaughn said the administration and Department of Justice needed to enforce current immigration laws and not curtail Immigration Customs Enforcement.
In closing, Johnson said, "I'm a man of the people, by the people." He pointed out many Congressmen are millionaires who benefit from the complex tax code.
"I'm open to a consumption tax, be it a value added tax or a fair tax. I'm open to studying these," said Johnson.
Dillard highlighted local issues in his closing statement. "I'm voting no against the TSPLOST. I believe people need a Congressman who can lead them through this rough terrain with federal, state and local funding." He described other issues as mortage fraud or Georgia's schools and education system.
Vaughn promised to fight for reduced government regulations and reduced corporate taxes. "My covenant to the Fourth District is to fight for lower taxes, fight for tax reform."
Pallen outlined his five point plan, which included reducing Congressional pay from $174,000 to $100,000, having no benefits available to Congressional representatives other than what is avaialble to residents they represent, including healthcare and Social Security, and prohibiting Representatives from accepting money from special insterests, unions, super PACS.
Dillard, Johnson and Nunnally will be on the Democratic ballot and Pallen and Vaughn will be on the Republican ballot on July 31. The winners of the July primaries will go on to face each other in the Nov. 6 election.