More than 150 people gathered on Saturday morning at the J.P. Carr Community Center to hear democratic candidates for the Fourth Congressional District, Rockdale County Commission Post 2 seat, State House District 94 and 95, and State Senate District 17 sound off in a forum organized by the Rockdale County Democratic Party.
Panelists for the forum were Michelle Kim, editor of The Rockdale News, Charlene Brown from On Common Ground News, Jay Jones, news editor of The Rockdale Citizen, Garvin Haynes, Chairman of the Board of Elections, and Stan Williams, Chairman of the Rockdale County Democratic Party. The moderator was Tisa Washington, communications chair of the RCDP.
To listen to audio of the questions and responses for the Fourth Congressional candidates and the Post 2 candidates, click on the multimedia files to the left.
Fourth Congressional audio (49:21)
Rep. Hank Johnson
Post 2 audio (37:35)
Check back to www.rockdalenews.com for updates.
Transcript of the Fourth Congressional District candidates forum:
Moderator Tisa Washington: So let's get started. Our first session features candidates for the Fourth Congressional District Race, which covers parts of Rockdale, DeKalb, and Gwinnett counties. The seat is currently held by Congressman Hank Johnson. And we will begin our introduction with Congressman Johnson.
Hank Johnson: Good morning everybody, recent reports have been that Johnson quit, where is Hank Johnson, or is he sick? Well ladies and gentlemen today I am here. And I am ready to take your questions. I'm going to tell you, you can't be in two places at one time. Right? So I have been up at DC working for you. And I think the big question is, "Where do my opponents work?" That is the big question. I am taking car e of my family. I am taking care of you in Washington DC. But the record is clear. The other candidates are going to tell you what they are going to do, but you can look at my records and seen what I have done, and there is a big difference. So I am looking forward to receiving the questions from my panelist and from my audience and we will check out at the end. Thank you.
Vernon Jones: Good morning everybody and I certainly want to thank the distinguished panelist for hosting this very important forum to the Democratic Party here at Rockdale. To each and every tax payer that's here, that's concerned about your government. I am honored to be with Commissioner Stokes, he and I work well together. Glad she is here. And I am really and especially honored that our Congressman would finally attend a forum, with all much due respect sir, Congressman. I appreciate him. But I think it's almost been intellectually dishonest to say that you haven't been here because you have been working in Washington, because if you check the record, the record will reflect. There have been a number of times when the Congress was in session, he was here in the district and missed a forum. For whatever reason he wants to tell you, that is fine. I am here to talk about my record of accomplishments, my record of achievements, how I can best serve Rockdale County and the citizens of the Fourth Congressional District. A record of balanced budgets, a record of putting people to work, a record of infrastructure improvements, a record of building libraries, parks, and sidewalks. And preserving land for green space and doing renewable energy. I am going to talk about my record. And again I am so glad that the Congressman is here so that you can compare the two of us, and talk about our records. Thank you all so much, I am honored to be here.
Connie Stokes: Good morning, good morning to the distinguished panel. Thank you all for being here this morning. My name is Connie Stokes and I am here to ask you to vote for me on July 20. I am going to stay focused on the issues; that's what I have been doing for ten years as a state senator, representing DeKalb County and part of Rockdale. I want you to know that I am going to be there for you. When I first found out that I was going to represent Rockdale in the Senate, the first thing I did was enroll in leadership Rockdale so I could find out what your issues are and what is important to you and to find out more about Rockdale. I am also asking you to send me to Congress to represent you because I want to go and work on reclaiming the American dream. The dream of education, getting jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, and to be able to own a home and to keep you from going into foreclosure and having that impact on your properties. Whether you wanted to foreclosure or not, foreclosure impacts all of us. For the ten years I was in the senate, I worked on some very important issues. I served as the chairwomen of the senate helping with the service committee. I also served as Governor Barnes' one of his floor leaders in the senate. The first woman to be able to serve as a floor leader to a governor in the senate in the history of Georgia. The first woman to be able to chair the senate and help in human services committee in the history of Georgia for all the time they had that committee. On this particular position that I am in now, I have a record of success, and that record including just leading the effort to pass a budget without a tax increase. When all the other jurisdictions, most of them around us, having difficulties and not able to pass a budget without a tax increase. So I am asking you to go to the post and vote for me on July 20th because I have worked hard, I have worked on very, very, very important issues and we need one qualified women in Washington to get things done. Thank you.
Tisa Washington: Thank you candidates, I would like you to again refrain from clapping, yelling, and shouting, to show your support for a candidate. We want to make this as smooth as possible. We will give you now the opportunity to turn your phones on silent. Thank you. We will take our first question from Michelle Kim of the Rockdale News.
(Michelle Kim) In the financial overhaul bill that is currently being debated, do you think there are enough protection for consumers?
This question is directed towards any candidate.
HJ: Like many things going to the House and to the Senate they end up getting watered down by the blue dog Democrats and Republicans and so the bill the House of Representatives passed, has some great things in there to protect consumers. However, the senate version that was passed is more watered down and the conference committee that was set up between the House and senate just got done finished its work on Thursday. That legislation is now being put into a final form so that we can see exactly what's in it. I expect it will be a big improvement over the lack of regulation in the financial industry then we have experienced in the past. Under the Bush administration, which one of my opponents rarely admits that he voted for twice the Bush administration and we are the Democratic forum here today. I am going to tell you. I voted Democrat throughout my life and I am a big supporter of President Obama who is leading this nation in a new direction. I also challenge my opponent that indicated that I was not here for a particular forum that is not true, you check the record, don't be mislead, check the record. Check it up in Washington DC when I'm voting. Check me out on the floor of the House. That's where I have been, today our forum is on Saturday morning, I am back to be with you. You know where I have been, you have seen me at the Wal-Mart, you have seen me over here at the Cracker Barrel, and you have seen me..... Okay that's it.
VJ: Thank you so much. First and for most the question, how many of you know what's in the bill? How many of you actually know what is in the bill? Your congressmen should be having debates and discussions with you before the bill is passed to see what you think should be in the bill or what you think best protects you. Not wait until the bill is passed and come back home and say y'all we passed a bill that has been watered down. That is not what a legislature is really supposed to conduct himself in terms of keeping his contiguous in form. And actually those regulations were relaxed under the Bill Clinton administration, not the Republican administration whether I think Stan talked earlier about what the Democratic Republican actually happened under a Democratic administration. I do want to say if you have an advocate for the people, don't wait until people have been robbed of their homes by these financial institutions and all of a sudden you want to come out and do something. A Sherwood legislature is on the job advocating for you every single day because he is in touch with his people and what their needs are. As it relates to the congressman I checked the record, from May 28th to May 8th congress was out of session. June 2nd there was a forum here in Atlanta in the metro area. Your congressman was here that whole week, but he did not come to that forum. There was a forum on June 2nd check the record and check online when the House was in session , and you will see for an entire week and the congressmen was here, because your right I saw him when I was on Camera rode waving at customers or contiguous he came riding by here, he was actually here. But he was not serving y'all he did not answer those tough questions. Thank you so much.
CS: Thank you for the question. The answer to the question is no. The consumers are not being protected the way they should be, and I am going to tell you a reason why. One of the reasons why I say that is because first of all, I have experience in that area. I have worked in the banking industry. I have attended the American Institute of Banking classes. In the senate I have served on the banking and financial institutions committee where for ten years that's what we have debated was financial regulations. First of all we need to include in those areas, not just protections. People want to be able to get jobs everything is going to come back to jobs. So while we are talking about that we want those financial regulators to do. We want them to free up some capital so that these small businesses can get some money get some access to capital, so that they can hire people. That's what we really want. We want to have some identity theft protection in there. There is a long list of things that I just know just from being a legislature. This is a legislative job. It is not to go to Washington and run operations. This job is to legislate. And what does that mean? That means to create a policy that is going to protect you. So when an idea comes up whether it is in Washington or in the district, that's what we want to do is to have policies that will protect you. What I am seeing coming out of Washington they need more experience to be there so we can answer questions like that. I could tell you a list of things that need to be in there and I could still tell you today that there are many reasons why we need at least one qualified women in Washington. Right now we have fifteen men, and I am asking for your vote on July 20th, to send me to Washington to represent you and to represent Georgia.
Tisa Washington: We are going to take our next question from Mr. Jay Jones.
(Jay Jones) I wanted to ask about the health care reform bill and something has been in the news recently about a pending decision on the Medicare payments to the doctors and there is still some questions to how that is going to be resolved if Congressmen Johnson could address that also the other two candidates I would appreciate it.
HJ: Thank you. You know ladies and Gentlemen I think you said, Mr. CEO, June 2nd a forum on June 2nd. That was on a Wednesday and I was in DC taking care of the peoples affairs. If I had been here you could have bet that I would have been there. But now let me tell you, we talk about competence as a legislature. One of the things that I a legislature should do is to introduce and pass legislation. I have introduced over twenty-five bills this year alone. I have introduced, passed, and had signed by the president more legislation in three and a half years then both of these career politicians have done throughout the sixteen and fourteen years that they have been in the legislature. As far as the health care bill goes, the Doc Fix is what it is called. On Thursday the House of Representatives passed the Senate version and we have already passed our own Doc Fix but it was attached to a job creation bill and the blue dogs and the Republicans would not let us pass that part. So they held out in the Senate, but they knew that the Republicans, they had to fix the doctor situation with the Medicare payments and the automatic twenty percent reductions in payments. The House went ahead and passed that Thursday. It will become law, I assume, next week and it will have retroactive effect. Thank you.
VJ: Thank you so much. I do want to make sure I clarified. I said congress was out of session, you can check the record, congress was out of session and congressman you had a fundraiser here that Monday and the forum was two days later. So you were in town for your fundraiser, you can check your calendar on that. I just want to go back to the healthcare reform bill. Obviously it is very important that our doctors are being properly reimbursed. When you look at the rate and cost of doing healthcare, the healthcare bill really did not cut healthcare cost it actually does not go into affect 2014 as you know. But doctors the reason why they stray away from Medicare patients, they are not able to recoup the amount of payments. So you are seeing less and less providing healthcare insurance. So in order to cut healthcare, reduce healthcare cost so doctors will provide those services especially in rural areas there is absolutely no almost no doctors who are doing Medicare they see it as energy care in their mind. And as you see more and more HMOs they are beginning to frown on those individuals because they are not making any money. I would say this, we have to make healthcare affordable, assessable, and make sure that doctors are being properly reimbursed. The paperwork that they have to deal with sometimes almost incriminates them if they get almost one issue wrong or one statement wrong on that paperwork they can be subjected to be sued. So they stray away from it. So reimbursed is important to keep them in the loop so they can provide medical services to the patients.
CS: Thank you for that question. During the time that I was in the senate I served on the health and human services committee and as I mention to you I chaired a committee and what we talked about a lot was affordable assessable quality healthcare, and this bill takes a step towards that. It has a lot of issues that need to be addressed. I am certainly in support of making sure the doctors get paid as a matter of fact I was at a meeting a couple of days ago where a doctor came in and talked to me about that and we really felt that they have been left out so I think it is very important to make sure all constitutes have a seat at the table so we can discuss these very, very important issues. Your health would be in jeopardy if doctors cannot get reimbursed for Medicare. So it is a very, very important program. I think we need to really really make sure that it is properly addressed. But other things in the health care bill I want to just say to you that someone talked to me yesterday he called me and said that he was going to have to close one of his offices because he could not afford the health care so I wanted to ask you to vote for me on July 20th to go to Washington and be able to work on this feeling? making those changes because people are falling through the crack. You got this field no matter what it does it does not apply to those persons that have less than 50 employees -he has over 50 and it is just a few over 50 so he said that he was going to have to lay some people off . So that should not be . I have been a legislator for over 16 years. You can check my record. I am not going to be bothered with any nonsense this morning because I want to take advantage of just the 2 minutes that I have to talk to you about the issues. You can check my web site at Connie Stokes for Congress. You can call me and then I will call you and discuss the issues. So I am just glad to be heard this morning to be able to talk to you about the issues. Thank you very much.
Tisa Washington: Again if you have a question for our candidates, you can fill out you cards and people are coming around with baskets to pick up those questions.
(Charlene Brown) What challenges facing Rockdale County do you feel can effectively be tackled at the federal level?
HJ: I don't always have to go first so I am going to pass the mic to the woman. But you want me to go ahead? I mean I can go ahead. No problem! Rockdale County a going and bustling county. By the way I want to thank all of the leaders of the Democratic party hear in Rockdale who started almost for scratch and look where we are in Rockdale County today. You are all to be congratulated and the leadership of this great party is to be congratulated also. I think one of the big things facing Rockdale County is its transportation or lack thereof in terms of public transportation. I think it is important as Rockdale urbanizes -goes from rural to suburban and even I expect that there will be more population here & it will urbanize. That means that people will half to have a way to get around. And people in south DeKalb sure do need ways to get around also. So I just recently been appointed by house leadership to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where we deal with transportation issues like extending MARTA all the way out to Rockdale County. I am looking forward to putting people back to work, fixing the infrastructure and laying in new infrastructure. So transportation issues are what are going to bring us out of this economic tailspin that we were put in by two terms of the Bush administration.
VJ: I think there are two primary issues facing Rockdale. First, jobs. People want more jobs. People losing their homes. Kids are being affected by the furloughed teachers and schools closings. Those are important issues. We need to put the Rockdale County people back to work. I have a record of creating an economic development and bring in businesses and putting people to work. Also infrastructure is important. When I served on the House of Representatives and I sat on Appropriations Committee we were appropriating money then for Rockdale County. As you see some expansions on 138 but in addition to that we are going to ARC those regional project. I voted for many projects that right now are coming to fruition in Rockdale County. As your congressman, I will certainly not just work for just recovery dollars but earmark dollars for the infrastructure because it's coming here. The traffic is coming. The people are coming. Now is the time to start to plan for that. But when you do those expansions, infrastructure improvements, whether it is transportation or water & sewer that creates jobs that brings commerce-that retains businesses here. And so Rockdale County needs more of a force and hands. Now that's why I am committed. If you all let me be your next congressman to open an office here in Rockdale County because I want to be more in touch and more involved of what's effecting Rockdale County. I have worked with your County Commissioner Chairmen in the past. With Middlebrooks before, there was Norm Wheeler, your mayor here in Conyers. They all know we have worked together on improving the quality of life in Rockdale County. I would like to build upon that and bring resources to help understand and address the critical needs. Again, jobs in Rockdale County and your infrastructure.
CS: Thank you. I just want to say- we have to all agree that jobs are number one. Also, we want to make sure that people can stay in their homes - foreclosures. Water issues. Infrastructure issues. Water & sewer issues. Where are we going to get money to be able to expand? What about water for the future? Water is one - it is an issue that we don't spend a lot of time talking about. But it is one of the most important issues for the state of Georgia. And so having conservation- what can we do? How do we address from an infrastructure perspective? From the leadership? Where do we get the money from? And then on the other side-what are you doing in terms of conservation? When I ran for office for the first time the one thing I said is that we will make a difference. And that I want you to know that I am still committed to today is the fact that we will make a difference to look and identify what the issues are. It has to be infrastructure because in order to have jobs we have to be able to do that. I am a business owner - I am a real-estate broker. I served on the board for the DeKalb Chamber. So I clearly understand business issues- big & small business issues. And understand that people do not relocate to areas that do not have strong infrastructure. They do not relocate to areas that do not have very strong education. They want to be able to hire people that's going to have the skills to be able to do the jobs that they have. So I clearly understand Rockdale issues are just like or very similar to Gwinnett & DeKalb County. Jobs is number one and then education is an issue in terms of what we want to work on. But none of that will be what we want it to be unless we make sure we have a very strong infrastructure. And I really empathize with you on the traffic. So, you know, try and get in to Atlanta for jobs is just a real, real issue. And so that is another reason why we really want to focus on the infrastructure. Thank you.
Garvin Haynes: (Rockdale Democratic Party Chariman) Stan and I have agreed that for the purpose of saving time that we will only address the question directly to individual candidate so that it saves time. And then we will leave the opportunity for the news to ask all that they will hope to ask. So my question is going to be directed to Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones, due to the current economic environment and troubles and the fact that you have admitted to voting for Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush's history and views on don't ask don't tell, stem cell, and pro-choice issues Would you be a watchdog of the boardroom or the bedroom?
VJ: Thank you sir for your question. Let me say first and foremost, I voted for President Clinton. I voted for President Bush. I voted for President Obama. I am not like most people. Stan talked earlier about you can say we are a democrat we are republican but we are Americans first. Under the bush administration I worked in a bipartisan fashion with both republicans and democrats who serve on a procreation committee and other committees to help bring resources back to DeKalb County. A lot of those federal dollars are they because of that. I am not waiting for the democrats. A matter of fact some can say many sources have gone to more republican counties then democratic counties. We have a democratic president. My job as mayor of DeKalb County was to get things done and improve our infrastructure and that's what I did. Now there have been some democrats that we don't agree with. It was not about his policies, I opposed his policies. As a matter of fact I opposed many of his polices but a lot of the democrats voted for George Bush because they were trying to bet Bush liked. They voted for all his policies. Democrats voted to send us to war, and where the democrats now to bring us back out of the war are. So we can talk about that, but the fact of it is, I did what was best for the people of DeKalb County giving resources to them. That was what was important, that's what my record reflex and I will pertain to do that because we get so drawn into democrat verses republicans, where are we going to be in the end? It's about American families. It's about putting people to work. It's about saving mortgages. It's about educating our children. I appreciate your question but I am like José Williams in a sense because a lot of democrats have voted to herd us. The congressman talked earlier about those blue dog democrats, how they herded us, but we run down the line and vote for them. The democrats right in the state, John Barrel a congressman, he got his entire vote for democrats but he have been voting against the president for every single issue. But notice he does not get singled out. Now why doesn't he get singled out? I think you know the answer to that. The fact of what it is sir. I am proud of what I have done for DeKalb County. I am proud of working of bipartisan effort and I will continue to do so. I am going to be a rubber stamp for President Obama and nobody else.
This question is for Connie Stokes. Now Connie in your dialogue, as you begin to run for this particular seed with the leadership of Rockdale County, what are you finding to be the key specific issues that affect Rockdale county people. What will you do to increase your presence of the office of congressman if you were elected?
CS: Thank you very much for that question. I talked to a lot of people in Rockdale County and I think the main issues are they talked to me a lot about the traffic. So that would be a issue on transportation. They talked to me about foreclosures. They talked to me about property values. You know what? I think we talk about Gwinnett, Rockdale, and DeKalb. I think what people basically want is the American Dream. When we all grew up that's what we wanted. We wanted to be able to get a good education. We wanted to be able to get a job. Then once we get a job we wanted to be able to support our families. We wanted to be a productive citizen. We all want that. So I understand that we are in Rockdale this morning but I assure you, if we were in Gwinnett or if we were in DeKalb County right now today we would be talking about the same thing. If you watch the news you see all the national polls and they ask, what is the number one issue that people have in this country. Wherever they are; Rockdale, DeKalb, Gwinnett, LA County they say it is jobs. They say that it is the economy. So that's what I think is the number one issue. It is not just one issue. We want an opportunity to reclaim the American Dream. That is why I am running that is why I am asking for you vote is to reclaim the American Dream. What would I do differently? I think that we have to do, one of the things we have to do and one thing I have always done is to act like an advocate for Rockdale and to have that presence to speak out, speak up. Like I have done in the senate, like I do on the DeKalb County commission. I want to let people know that I am going to stand up for you, I am going to speak out for you and I am going to stay focused on the issues. I am going to work very very hard for you and that is why I am asking for your vote. You can always count on me to stay focused on the issues just like this morning or anytime to speak out. If you come and you say I want to hear what your voices are, what your opinions are on the issues. I am going to talk about the issues or if you want me to talk about other things you can call me or visit my website at connistokesforcongress.com and I still believe, and all the research support this, that we need diverse opinions and perspectives at the table. Send a woman, one woman from Georgia. Thank you.
Tisa Washington: We will have time for two more questions and we are taking questions from the audience. The first one is a question about life insurance.
My deceased son was declined due to preexisting conditions. Although health care reform has passed, how parents of children with special needs provide coverage for their children?
HJ: That is an interesting question. The health care bill that passed changes the way that we deliver health care to Americans. By first of all restraining the practices of the ravenous insurance companies, which instead of paying for medical bills they were putting money in the corporation CEO's pocket and putting money into the share holders pockets. Each and every year the profits got bigger, shattering all records. So we changed that with the health care legislation to put people over profits. With respect to life insurance, that was not covered under the heath care bill it remains an issue that needs to be looked at. I have not, I have to be honest with you, I have not paid attention to that particular issue. But now that you have raised it, I certainly want address it so I can assure you that I will look at that. Contrary to what some folks say the health care legislation went into effect as soon as it was signed. It is going to take about two and a half years in order to get everything moving for a new system. But mean while certain things like no denial of insurance coverage to children based on preexisting conditions that is no longer permissible under the law it's in affect right now. No more life time caps on health insurance policies. That is in affect right now. Children can stay on their parents insurance until the hit twenty seven and once they hit twenty seven they have to get their own insurance. But by that time we will have health care available for 34 million Americans, meaning 4 million new jobs.
Tisa Washington: Okay this is another question from our audience; I believe that this question was posed by Nandi, I apologize if I pronounce your name incorrectly.
What are your goals for insuring that the youth of Rockdale County receive funding to increase the quality of education, and to not lose quality teachers and school clothing?
VJ: I talked about that earlier, the foundation of everything for most problems we are having right now is because of the economy. We are not generating revenue because people are not working. People are not spending retail dollars because they are not working. In effect schools are funded by property taxes and they are funded by retail sales taxes. When those revenues are down, they have to make those tough decisions. I want to put people back to work and I talked earlier about transportation infrastructure improvements. I was the first candidate to start talking about running the Marta system down to the Stone Crest area that would create an opportunity to address traffic in Rockdale, Southern Gwinnett, and DeKalb County. But when you start looking at getting that funded, the number of jobs created by that. Right now we aren't talking about water supply primary because we are not in a drought. But right now is when we should be planning to do a reservoir. That creates long term jobs. So those are the things we can do to put back works to generate revenues so we can properly fund our school systems. Our school system is hurting and our federal government in our last administration Leave No Child Behind, the left the stakes behind, the money behind and the child behind. It didn't work. I hope now this new administration comes out with a policy where it's not one size to fit all, but allow local school systems the flexibility to address their local needs and let them tell the government what they need not the government tell them what they need. The number one issue is the economy; it affects everything.
Tisa Washington: We are going to take one more question. We are going to pose this question to Commissioner Stokes.
What is your current position for providing assistance for veterans wanting to expand businesses?
CS: Thank you very much. I think that is a very important question and I support veterans expanding businesses. Actually I support everyone expanding businesses. But I think what the question is, is that man and woman that serve in the military I think they should get special consideration and I know for a long time we have had programs