Oconee Enterprise Editor Blake Giles–with Oconee County Republican Party Chairman Jay Hanley at his side–was very direct in his first question to each of the seven Republican candidates.
“Are you a Conservative Republican,” Giles asked, with considerable emphasis on the modifier of Republican. “Why or why not?” he continued. “And how will your degree of conservatism affect your decision making” in the job being sought?
Giles, who made it clear from the outset that he was acting in his capacity as a Republican and not in any role of a neutral journalist, warned that this was a question “We’re asking all of the candidates” at the Thursday night event sponsored by the Oconee County Republican Party and by the Oconee Regional Republican Women.
Incumbent Post 3 Board of Commissioners Candidate Margaret Hale was the first to field Giles’ question, and she answered that she had worked hard to “streamline” government in the county, cutback on the number of county employees and decrease taxes in her time on the commission.
Challenger Tammy Gilland said “I do have conservative values” and that she feels it is important to limit and control government. She also said she wants to reach out to people in the community and give citizens a chance to have input about government.
Mark Thomas, seeking Post 2 on the Board of Education, said “I have been committed to conservative views” and that those views would be of value on the board. He said the county was conservative, and “I’m glad to be a part of that heritage.”
Incumbent Post 2 commissioner Mack Guest said simply “Yes, I think I am a very conservative businessman as well as board member.”
“Of course I’m a conservative Republican,” said Hank Huckaby, running for the open District 113 Georgia House seat. “I didn’t know there were any other kind.” Huckaby said when he was state budget director under former Governor Zell Miller he demonstrated his fiscal conservatism.
Tommy Malcom, also seeking the House seat, said “I guess I’d have to say I am a life-long conservative Republican.” He cited Ronald Reagan as inspiration, saying the former president showed “me what the United States really meant” and the importance of “looking out for the rest of the world.”
Kirk Shook, the third Republican seeking the House slot, said he has helped conservative candidates get elected in the past. He said he got involved in the Republic Party “because I believe in certain principles” and he feels it is important “to have our values represented” in elected offices.
(In the video clip below I changed the order of the candidates’ responses because I did not have the camera focused on Giles when he asked the question of the BOC candidates, who were the first questioned at the forum.)
More than 90 people attended the nearly two-hour event on Thursday, held at the Watkinsville Community Center on VFW drive.
The GOP forum differed from the July 3 candidate forum sponsored by the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce and the citizen forum organized by Russ Page and me on June 10.
The earlier forums included Republican and Democratic candidates, including Republicans running unopposed. The GOP forum included only the Republican candidates for the contested seats in the July 20 Republican primary.
The first two forums were designed, at least implicitly, to help people make decisions about which ballot to ask for on July 20 and which candidates to support. Since there is no party registration in Georgia, voters can ask for the ballot of either party on primary election day.
My analysis of individual voting records that I purchased from the Secretary of State’s office shows that 14 percent of those who voted in the July 2008 Republican primary had cast a Democratic ballot in the February presidential primary.
The forum on Thursday night was designed for those who have already made up their mind to ask for the Republican ballot.
Another question Giles posed to candidates for the BOE and to those seeking the House seat underscored the narrower focus of the GOP event.
“Who are you supporting to be the next state school superintendent,” Giles asked BOE candidate Thomas.
“Truthfully, I haven’t followed that race very much to this point,” Thomas said. He added that he had been busy with his own campaign.
“I believe the governor appointed this week our new state school superintendent,” Guest said in his response to the question, “and I’m sure he is going to do a very good job.”
Governor Sonny Perdue announced the day before the forum that he would appoint Brad Bryant as State School Superintendent to fill the term of Superintendent Kathy Cox, who resigned to take another position. Bryant has said he will run for election in November as an independent.
The Democratic and Republican parties will select the party nominees in the July 20 primary and, if necessary, the August runoff.
“Who are you supporting for governor and why?” Giles asked the candidates for the House seat.
Shook was asked to respond first, and he said lots of people had been asking him that and he had been telling them whom not to vote for, rather than whom he supported. He said he believed Jeff Chapman “would do a great job.” He suggested people take a look at him. “He has some great conservative principles,” Shook added.
Huckaby was asked to respond next, and he said he had “mixed emotions about answering” since he believed “in the secrecy of the ballot. We all have a right to make our own decisions.” Despite that feelling, he named Nathan Deal and Eric Johnson as the two people he thought could lead the state best, but he said he would support the party nominee regardless of who it is.
Tommy Malcom said he was undecided and wanted to wait to see what the candidates said in the remainder of the campaign. “Whoever the next governor is,” he added, “if I’m given the opportunity to serve as state representative and to represent you, I want to be able to work with them.”
Neither party can control the candidates who file to run in a primary, but they can try to make sure any candidates who might deviate from party orthodoxy are exposed. The GOP forum on Thursday night was designed to do that.
In addition, neither party is able to keep any legally registered voter from asking for a primary ballot. What the parties can do is work to make sure the party faithful turn out to vote in large numbers, thereby offsetting the effect of those who, in another state, might be registered for neither party or even for the other party.
At the end of the Thursday night forum, Chairman Hanley asked for help with a planned voter drive designed to do just that.
As of the end of the day on Friday, according to Pat Hayes, elections director for the county, only 198 people had voted in the first two weeks of early voting.
The complete video of the GOP Candidate Forum is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo Channel. [http://www.vimeo.com/channels/oconeecounty]