While not physically at last week’s Pickens Tea Party meeting, the spirit of current 9th District Congressman Tom Graves was invoked repeatedly.
All candidates running for that seat this November wanted to paint themselves as the popular Ranger Republican’s heir – citing everything from regular pray sessions with Graves to being mentored by him at the state house.
For those not following state politics, due to redistricting, Graves has seen his congressional district redrawn to include western Pickens in a reconfigured north west Georgia area. It has also been re-numbered as the 14th district. Graves is currently running unopposed in that race.
For east Pickens and parts of the old 9th stretching across Hall and to Jackson County, there is no incumbent, leaving the field wide-open.
Five Republicans attended the Tea Party meeting at Chattahoochee Tech, April 24th, to tout their conservative values.
The candidates were all given a chance to address the crowd and took a few questions from the floor. The meeting drew more than 100 people but was not a full-packed house that the Tea Party meetings here often draw.
Hunter Bicknell is the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Jackson County. He cited a lengthy career in business and success in attracting jobs to Jackson County as qualifications for the congressional seat.
Bicknell said he began work with a major international corporation where his division saw profits of $40 to $50 million regularly. He left when he had reached the highest point he could at a young age without no further advancement possible without relocating to New York.
From this he opened a Blimpie restaurant, expanded into a chain of Blimpies he owned, then sold that to open a tool rental company. From the tool rental company, he began working with a supplier and gained experience with international business traveling the world working with the construction machinery company.
He retired from this and went into community service in Jackson County where he first served on the water and sewer authority. Bicknell said while on the board of commissioners, Jackson County has been very successful at cutting the budget in a tough economic environment and creating more than 3,400 jobs.
Bicknell said his business experience makes him a natural conservative choice.
Doug Collins, Hall County, serves in the Georgia state legislature. Collins touted an unusual career path. He is a lifelong resident of north Georgia. After graduating from college he began work in the corporate world. He left to become a pastor, earning a MA in theology. He pastored one church for 11 years where he got involved in the lives of the people and saw firsthand, “the hard work and values that make this country great.”
He served as an Air Force base chaplain at Dobbins Air Force Base and served a tour of duty in Iraq during 2008.
Collins left pastoring to return to school to earn a law degree. Collins was also elected to the state legislature at this time.
Collins said his work at the legislature has shown he will stand up for values as he bucked the party structure while there and also gained experience in dealing with government.
Roger Fitzpatrick, a native of North Georgia, has spent his career in education, following a stint with the U.S. Marines reserves.
He had 14 years as a middle school teacher and 14 years in administration, including time as a principal.
Returning to his classroom-past, Fitzpatrick took much of his speech to deliver a lesson on the importance of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
He said America has detoured from the destiny set out by the Founding Fathers. He said we have veered off-course with the progressive ideology which he said was moving towards “tyranny.”
“We need an awakening of the people to stand up and say, ‘No More,’” he said. “We have to get back to the fundamentals.”
Assigning homework, he encouraged the audience to read the Federalist Papers as that would open their eyes.
Clifton McDuffie, of Hall County, delivered several funny one-liners throughout the evening and struck Richard Nixon poses with “v for victory” hand gestures. McDuffie spent most of his speech touting his economic development and chamber of commerce experience.
McDuffie said he had worked for the chamber of commerce in Fitzgerald, Ga. with a tourism committee in Waycross and for the Gainesville chamber. During this time he had recruited industry and expanded the chambers.
“Why am I running? Every poll on television and everyone says the economy is in a ditch,” he said. “The reason I’m offering myself is I can bring jobs.”
Among McDuffie’s notable humor that night is that at his age, term limits aren’t an issue.
And, that he intentionally strikes the Richard Nixon hand gestures, but “Nixon was an angel compared to the person in the White House now.”
Martha Zoller, the radio commentator, touted her Tea Party credentials, saying she has been described as being “Tea Party before they called it the Tea Party.”
She anointed herself as a conservative voice for this area.
Showing her radio experience, Zoller rolled off lines like, “Washington is broken. The American Dream is under siege.”
While the candidates remained mostly cordial, Zoller emphasized her outside position saying congress is full of state level politicians. “We need people who look at things differently,” she said.
She said the country is constantly taking the pendulum and letting it swing too far, going too far the to the right, then too far to the left. Right now we have gone to far in insuring food safety and workplace safety so that there are too many regulations on business.
Among comments and questions:
Most of the candidates at some point made an effort to encourage Tea Party members to vote against President Barack Obama, regardless of who the Republicans nominate.
Responding to one question: all five candidates kept their hands down indicating that not one of them had prepared their own tax returns. None made any comment other than Zoller who said that between her and her husband, their tax return was more than 50 pages long, but they were not part of the one percenters.
All candidates indicated they had some level of support for the Fair Tax.
The only issue that arose where any real difference of opinion was voiced was on term limits. Several of the candidates said they favored them, but Collins sharply refuted those in favor of term limits by noting that the Constitution only places term limits on the president.
Responding to a question, the U.N. was not popular with any of the candidates with Zoller seeming the most incensed, calling the international group “anti-Semites who oppose freedom in the world.”
McDuffie said, “How can you be for the U.N?” My mother taught me as a child that you can’t buy friends.” He favored reviewing all foreign aid every three years.
Candidate Fitzpatrick, the lifelong educator, said he felt the Department of Education should be among the first federal agencies “to go.”
The Republican candidates will appear on the July 31st party ballot.