SPRINGFIELD, Ga. (AP) — Four Republicans seeking to oust Rep. John Barrow from Congress mostly agreed in a debate Thursday on broad conservative themes of slashing the size of government, simplifying the tax code and increasing domestic production of oil and other energy sources.
Businessman Rick Allen of Augusta, state Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown and attorneys Wright McLeod of Evans and Maria Sheffield of Dublin are all running for the GOP nomination in east Georgia's 12th District. They attended a debate hosted by the Effingham County tea party with the July 31 primary still just under three months away.
Republicans have their best chance in years at ousting Barrow, a Democrat who was forced to move to Augusta after state lawmakers last year chopped his home base of Savannah out the district. Sheffield came out swinging at the four-term congressman in her opening remarks Thursday.
"He talks out of both sides of his mouth," Sheffield said of Barrow. "He comes to our district talking about how conservative he is and then he goes back to Washington, D.C., and votes for Nancy Pelosi" as the Democrats' House leader.
The GOP candidates rarely went after each other, though McLeod pounced when Allen, who owns a construction company, said the federal government should give businesses incentives "to explore and come up with more ways to produce energy."
"I don't believe Washington should be out there incentivizing business," McLeod said, saying that often translates into giving unfair tax breaks and loopholes to corporations.
"What that means to me is my money ends up going to somebody that I don't like it going to," McLeod said.
Allen replied that he meant regulations should be streamlined and taxes reduced across the board to encourage businesses to take more risks.
"The only way to create jobs is to take risks," he said.
All four candidates said they favored increasing domestic oil production and promised to trim federal spending. All of them said the federal Department of Education should be eliminated.
Anderson, the only current officeholder among the GOP contenders, said he would trim every federal agency by 5 percent every year until the budget is balanced — sparing only the Defense Department.
Asked if they favored replacing the federal income tax with either a national sales tax or a flat-rate tax paid by all Americans, neither Allen nor McLeod committed to any one idea and said they favored a blend of various tax overhaul proposals. Sheffield said she likes the sales tax idea but added: "It's important that we don't take one plan and decide it's got to be that plan or nothing."
Anderson said he would support a national sales tax — the so-called "fair tax."
"Fair is fair," Anderson said. "Even the illegals that are here will have to pay."