ATLANTA - U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., took some hits Sunday evening from six Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to challenge the GOP incumbent’s bid for a second term in the June 9 primary.
But much of the debate aired statewide on public television was taken up by candidates attacking each other’s records and whether their experience makes them qualified to sit in Congress.
Investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff, who lost a bid for the U.S. House to Republican former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in a special election in 2017, came under fire for lacking government experience.
But Ossoff said the kind of work he does uncovering political corruption is well suited for the Senate.
“At a moment when political corruption is destroying our democracy, when drug prices are through the roof because of the power of the drug industry, when the environment is being destroyed because of the power of polluting industries … an anti-corruption fighter is exactly what we need in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
Teresa Tomlinson, a former two-term mayor of Columbus, was questioned about aspects of her record in office, including overseeing a prison work camp that paid inmates just $3 a day.
She said she inherited a state-run prison labor program when she took office and acted to overhaul it.
“We completely reformed our budget … to remove our reliance on the work camp,” Tomlinson said. “It became more of a job training/rehabilitation center.”
Marietta businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, defended her car-hauling company’s decision to file for bankruptcy protection last year as a job-saving measure.
“We were caught in the middle of a pension crisis that the U.S. Senate has failed to address,” she said. “In restructuring, we gave up our family’s equity … to save 3,000 jobs without a single person taking a pay cut or a wage cut.”
The Democrats agreed on a number of issues, including the need for reforming America’s gun laws in a way that still protects the constitutional right to bear arms.
“I’m a firm supporter of the Second Amendment,” said James Knox, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran. “But I don’t believe you need to have a 50-round magazine. If you need 100 rounds, you need to get better at your sport.”
“We’re not, as Democrats, trying to take away guns,” added Marckeith DeJesus, a health-care professional. “We’re trying to keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally unstable.”
The candidates also criticized the coronavirus relief packages huge bipartisan majorities in Congress have passed in recent weeks for steering too much of the aid to large businesses and not enough to workers.
“Democrats allowed it to go through without care or concern for the people at the bottom … working-class people,” said Maya Dillard Smith, a civil and human rights lawyer and former Georgia director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Democratic candidates also were unified in criticizing as premature the reopening of Georgia’s economy while the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging.
“We went back against CDC guidelines,” Tomlinson said. “It would be so much better if we had a plan to first get public safety straight. … That allows us to have economic prosperity.”
Most of the candidates endorsed the Green New Deal, a legislative package that aims to address climate change with job-creating clean energy investments. Amico called the issue a top-five priority of her campaign.
Much of the criticism of Perdue from the Democrats focused on his close ties to President Donald Trump. The incumbent also was accused of being overly dependent on campaign contributions from corporate political action committees.