The candidates for the Nov. 6 special Republican primary Monday are Mike Dugan, a Carrollton general contractor and former military officer; former House Rep. Bill Hembree, a Winston insurance agent; Jim Naughton, a Carrollton business consultant; and Glenn Richardson, a Hiram attorney and former speaker of the Georgia House.
James Camp, a Libertarian candidate from Temple and an information technician, is not running in the Nov. 6 race. He qualified to run in the Jan. 8 special general election and will face the winner of the Nov. 6 Republican primary.
The winner of the race will fill the seat vacated by Bill Hamrick, Carrollton, who resigned last month to accept a position as superior court judge in the Coweta Circuit.
All the candidates called for some type of tax reform, with most favoring a move to all consumption tax or a combination of consumption and income taxes. However, Naughton is the only one opposing using a consumption tax to replace income tax.
Dugan suggested an approach that would combine consumption and income taxes.
“I like the idea of tax reform,” he said. “I think we could do a multi-faceted approach, but income tax has to be lower and capped. When you don’t have a cap, the government will say, ‘here’s your income tax and now we’re going to have a consumption tax’ and we have them both going at the same time. I don’t want to become a European model where you tax everything.
“But we do need to take a serious look at the tax code,” he said. “Yes, we have to do something to make us more presentable to industry coming in, but to sustain all the services that are funded through our tax system.”
Hembree said he drafted a bill to abolish state income tax years ago and to replace it with a “fair tax.”
“This year in the General Assembly, we passed House Bill 386, which abolished the birthday tax you have to pay every year for you auto,” he said. “The ad valorem and sales tax were eliminated and replaced with a one-time title fee.”
The energy tax for industry was also eliminated, as was the tax penalty on married people. The General Assembly also passed legislation giving senior citizens up to $130,000 per year in retirement income before being taxed.
“House Bill 386 also said that the General Assembly can eliminate state agencies and we eliminated the state personnel administration, saving the state $2.6 million,” he said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction. We have cut state government by 30 percent in the past 10 years and I’m trying everything I can to get the tax code in line.”
Naughton cited one study shows that for every quarter point eliminated in income tax, sales tax are increased by six percent. He said that would result in a consumption tax over 20 percent.
“If we were to go to a 20 percent consumption tax, what would happen to your local retailer or your senior citizen who would have to pay 25 cents on every dollar of groceries?” he asked. “Consumption tax is not a fair tax. We do need tax reform, but one that will get more Georgians back to work. Talking about eliminating personal income tax willy-nilly is not the right answer. I think we need a total study of the tax question and have total tax reform and get more Georgians back to work.”
Richardson said he has a track record for trying to end property taxes, which he says are old and outdated. The legislation he introduced to do that was called “The Great Plan.”
“I put it on the table and every county, every city and every school district wanted to know where they were going to get their money,” he said. “I said, ‘where do people get their money on their houses to pay money to you?’ The best tax policy is to have everybody pay a little. The more people you have paying, the less everybody has to pay. Property taxes are paid only by people who own property. We need a consumption-based tax and it’s time that Georgia charts the way for tax reform in that regard.”
Camp said Georgia had a $16 billion tax revenue this years, along with a 4.8 percent tax rate.
“Even with all this money, Georgia is still not flourishing,” Camp said. “We have a tax code based on 1900s economy. We need to amend the tax code for current economic trends. By eliminating income tax and replacing it with consumption tax like a fair tax, it would relieve the heavy tax burden on consumers and businesses alike.”
Camp called for making government more fiscally minded by instituting a zero-based budget for all state agencies to avoid wasteful spending.
Four of the candidates said they oppose bringing casino gambling to Georgia, but Camp said he would be in favor of it.
“I believe people earn money from the fruits of their labor,” Camp said. “They have a right to it and a right to spend it they way they want, even if they want to go gamble.”
Hembree was short and to the point on his opposition. “No, I wouldn’t support it,” he said.
Dugan said he’d never been asked about casino gambling before, but he said he has both a personal and a more open view on it.
“Personally, no, I don’t think we ought to have it,” he said. “I see a whole lot of potential wrong that could come with it, but I understand your point. I also understand there’s a lot of variability, going all the way from none to Las Vegas.”
Naughton cited the “huge social cost” with gaming and the gambling industry. “I think the net benefit would be short term. I would be against it personally.”
Richardson said he is against the concept of bringing casino gambling to Georgia.
“I’m not philosophically opposed to gambling or casinos,” he said. “I think they have their right place. Our lottery is great and we ought to keep pushing it and pushing it and pushing it. It’s controlled and operates under certain limited circumstances and limited roles. It does a great service for the state. Every state in the nation wants to be like Georgia with the Hope scholarships and lottery. I support the Georgia Lottery and Hope scholarships, but I’m not prepared for casino gambling.”
The candidates had a wide range of opinions on term limits.
“Every two years, for the past 18 years, my name has appeared on a ballot,” Hembree said. “I’ve been re-elected nine times. The people of my district had a chance to throw me out or keep me. I believe in the power of the people and the power of the ballot box.”
Naughton cited former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” as a guide to follow.
“I think we should have eight-year limits, as Newt proposed,” he said. “If we can’t get something accomplished in eight years, we should be ashamed of ourselves and go home.”
“Every two years you’re on the ballot and people get to vote on you,” said Richardson, who doesn’t support term limits because other states have tried them and they don’t work. He cited Colorado as an example.
“After eight years, you can’t run for the House anymore,” he said. “Then they go for eight years in the Senate and eight years as a treasurer. People keep voting for them. It takes awhile to learn to do a job. If you get elected to a job, it’s going to take you two to four years to learn how to get along in the system. As you learn the system, you get better.”
Richardson said that in states with term limits, the career bureaucrats get more power and they start making policy instead of the elected officials.
“Our system is working fine in Georgia,” he said. “In the last election cycle, incumbents got beat without term limits. I believe in this modern age, people can decide. If you don’t like what we’re doing, you take care of it.”
Camp said he believes in term limits.
“It should be considered to avoid politicians from becoming entrenched,” he said. “I think we also need to look at the election code to make it easier for more people to become involved and run for office. Georgia doesn’t consider my political party (Libertarian) a political party. It’s considered a political body. If I want to run for general election, I have to get a percentage of voters to sign a petition. It doesn’t give you time to get out and meet voters. Yes, I believe in term limits and looking at the election code so people who want to run as an independent can.”
Dugan said, “Yes, I’m for term limits. I’m a 10-year limit guy. You only get to be president for 10 years, two terms on your own and two years of a previous administration. That’s what I use as my base line. You can probably figure out in a couple of years what you should be doing. If not, other methods of term limits come into play.”
He said the longer a politician is in office, the more contributions he gets from special interest groups. He said term limits would bring new ideas into government and level the playing field.