We will get to the quarrel over the Hawaiian shirt soon enough.
The three candidates for U.S. Senate had their one and only debate Sunday night. Given the current political climate, exchanges between Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson and Democrat Michael Thurmond were remarkably civil.
The only harsh notes of discord in the Atlanta Press Club debate were struck by Chuck Donovan, the Libertarian who steadfastly attacked Isakson as something other than conservative.
The Insider was on the panel of questioners, which curtailed note-taking. But there was actual news in the statewide, 60-minute session on Georgia Public Broadcasting:
– Chances are that Republicans will take control of the U.S. House next week – which is certain to set up a confrontation over federal spending with President Barack Obama. But Isakson said that – with troops still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in need of civilian government support – he didn’t expect GOP leaders to pursue a federal shutdown like the one that occurred under U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1994.
– Asked to give Obama a mid-term grade, Isakson said the president was on his way to an “F.” Donovan said he was already there. And Thurman, the Democrat, gave Obama a “C+” – but added that Congress had earned a “D” for its failure to conduct itself in a bipartisan fashion.
– Both Isakson and Thurmond upheld the use of earmarks in the federal budget process for local projects of importance. Both cited the dredging of the Port of Savannah. Donovan said no earmarks, ever.
– Thurmond declared that he was against repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts, even on the wealthy.
Fox5 this morning posted the first video of the debate:
Here’s part of an Associated Press account:
When asked whether his vote for the first phase of the economic stimulus plan was a mistake, Isakson answered that “in terms of the stability of the financial system, that was the right thing to do.” He added adding that he voted against the stimulus under Obama and against the health care reform legislation approved by Congress earlier this year.
Donovan suggested that Isakson only appears to be fiscally conservative, and that his votes in Congress have amounted to trillions in spending.
“I’ve got a long, successful history of conservative votes,” Isakson countered.
The Atlanta Press Club sponsored what will likely be the only debate among all three candidates and it covered a range of topics, including the federal budget, immigration and the recently lifted ban on gays in the military.
Isakson’s health was also questioned. It had become an issue in the campaign early on after he was hospitalized for an infection. Isakson took the questioning in stride.
“I’m in great health, the best health I’ve been in a long time,” the 65-year-old Isakson said, adding that he has lost 18 pounds. “I feel great and I’m having a good time. So all I can tell you is go to the Internet and see what the doctors say.”
Thurmond touted his three terms as labor commissioner and said he would take his experience to Washington. He said his priority would be to get Americans back to work using a program he debuted in Georgia that has gained national exposure.
“On behalf of the unemployed men and women of this state … I want to reaffirm my commitment to you,” Thurmond said. “When you lost your job during this very hard recession, I was there. If you will elect me as your next U.S. senator, you will have a voice in Washington who feels your pain, who understands the challenges that you’re facing.”
He vowed to be a consensus-builder who would work across the aisle for Georgians.
“I will not be a person who will say no just because a good idea originated with a Republican or who will say yes to a Democrat,” Thurmond said.
After the governor’s race, the next priority for the state Democratic party appears to be the race for attorney general, which pits Ken Hodges against Republican Sam Olens, the former Cobb County commission chairman.
A missive from the Democratic party went out over the weekend, challenging Olens’ conservative credentials – including his commitment to gun rights and the Second Amendment.
The proof? Olens doesn’t have a hunting license. (Let it be noted here that buffalo are practically extinct in east Cobb.)
Tension between the two candidates bubbled up during their 30-minute debate on GPB last night. From Walter Jones of the Morris News Service:
A recurring theme was whether the post requires someone who has been a prosecutor. Democrat Ken Hodges, district attorney for 12 years in Albany, described Republican Sam Olens as unprepared for never having been a prosecutor. Hodges dwelt on it so much, that at one point, he misspoke.
“I’m running to be district attorney. Excuse me, I mean, I’m running to be attorney general of the state of Georgia,” he said, as he criticized Olens for seeking the attorney general’s office as a stepping stone for governor.
Later, Olens turned it around.
“I want to be your attorney general, not your district attorney,” he said.
Olens, the former chairman of the Cobb County Commission, said he’s tried 150 jury trials in his legal career, giving him the wide background needed to oversee the state’s Law Department that deals mostly with civil matters anyway.
But he defended charges his salary rose from $58,000 to $129,000 during his tenure as chairman, saying it was set by the legislative delegation, not him. And he brushed off Hodges’ claims that the county’s budget and payroll ballooned during that time by noting that the county has been described by others as one of the state’s most conservatively managed as he cut tax rates.
Olens attacked Hodges for trying three times to indict [a surgeon] at the local hospital [and the surgeon’s accountant,] who were questioning the accounting there.
Hodges corrected him because it was a special prosecutor who sought the indictments after Hodges removed himself from the case to avoid a conflict of interest.
But the true drama of the night at GPB studios may have been the struggle over the “iconic” Hawaiian shirt that Libertarian Shane Bruce insisted on wearing during the 30-minute debate among the three candidates for state insurance commissioner.
Producers were worried how the swirl of colors might play on high-def television.
The Libertarian blog Bludgeon and Skewer posted this photo of Bruce, in his campaign shirt, and two of the party’s other Libertarian candidates — Chuck Donovan (left), running for U.S. Senate, and John Monds, the candidate for governor.
“It was a fight,” Bruce said afterwards. His winning argument may have been the fact that, underneath, he had only a black T-shirt with a prominent hole over his stomach.
Walter Jones of Morris News Service, who did yeoman’s work last night, reports that incumbent John Oxendine was a major topic:
Democrat Mary Squires said he “has been one of the most corrupt that we’ve had in a long time in Georgia.”
…And Republican Ralph Hudgens said just because Oxendine is chairing a fundraiser for him next week doesn’t mean the two see eye-to-eye.
He also said he saw nothing wrong with letting insurance lobbyists pick up the tab for meals or in accepting campaign contributions from individuals in the insurance.
“These are the people who have an interest in the insurance-commissioner race. … I don’t have any problem taking any individual’s money,” he said, noting that the lobbyists encouraged him to run because they viewed him as fair as chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee.
Squires, who is a lobbyist, denied she is trading on her six years as a legislator. She was a lobbyist before her election, she said.
Hudgens asked why she doesn’t mention her lobbying in her campaign materials.
“I’m not hiding it,” she said, noting her name appears on the public registry.
She blasted Hudgens, however, for accepting $20,000 in gifts, meals and event tickets from insurance lobbyists even though he has an $8 million net worth and could pay his own way.
And what did Bruce, the colorful Libertarian, have to say?
“I can out run, out ride, out shoot, out hunt, out fish anybody standing on this stage. I am a true Son of Liberty.”