While I prefer debates more, I enjoy attending candidate forums. Weird; I know. Nathan posted about the HD 54 forum hosted by the Atlanta Young Republicans, and I attended it last night. The event was well attended, moderated by the lovely Michelle Carver, and three of the four Republican candidates appeared: Beth Beskin, Loretta Lepore, and John McCloskey. Angelic Moore was unable to attend. Between the buzzwords, the rehearsed answers, and the soft questions, forums are the electorate’s chance to try to discern how the candidates differ. You wanna know what is MY favorite part of these forums? It’s what the candidates don’t say. Those little parts of resumes that are left off, the subliminal agendas that you see a foreshadowing of, and the voting record of which the candidate doesn’t wish to speak… These are the gaffs that make my little black heart beat faster.
Beth Beskin kicked off the opening statements with talk of her legal background and her family. She has said many times that she is a moderate Republican. She underlined that with her stated support of education and said later that when speaking to Democrats they want the same things Republicans do: reduced waste, security, and better education. Amazing isn’t it? Democrats have a brain as well! Who’d a thunk?
However, Beskin perked my interest with her pointed statement about Atlanta Public Schools’ pension plan problem, her evasiveness on city movements of Fulton County and the question of Grady funding. The former point leads me to believe she has an agenda with the pension issue. The municipal question derived a statement indicating she would not mind seeing the issue of South Fulton cities become a ballot issue. This is a popular answer among Republicans- not one that I disagree with, but evasive of the larger problem with which Beskin shall have to deal: Milton County. This question never came up in the forum, and is one the Speaker Pro-Tem has been jonesing for throughout her tenure.
The latter question was posed by Deborah Moscato, of the Buckhead Republican Women’s Club and asked each candidate where they stood on funding for Grady- regional funding or Atlanta specific. Bravo, Deborah! Beskin made a nod to her husband more than once in the forum as her source of information on healthcare issues as he is an orthopedic surgeon-not sure how this applies to anything. She made the general pandering of anti-Obamacare that all Republicans do but basically didn’t really address the question. I would have loved to have heard her response to rural healthcare. As one of the few ITP House members, if elected, she will have to decide on the funding for hospitals around the state that redistribute money from ITP to OTP. This has been a problem since buck was a calf, and I’ve yet to see any candidates this election cycle take it head-on.
McCloskey was refreshing to me. His printed materials (props, The Stoneridge Group) and mailers paint him as the red-meat Republican white-dude. He actually came across in the forum as a less boxed candidate than his mailers present him to be. He talked about coaching basketball at his church and his legal background as well. He supported regional funding for Grady, and supported the Fair Tax, just like Beskin. However, he left out the fact that he’s legal counsel for the title pawn industry and that while he claims to be a “staunch” conservative, he’s never voted in a Republican primary. Money can buy you great consultants and pretty mailers, but it can’t change a past voting record.
The one I will hate to have my client face in the general? Loretta Lepore. (Full disclosure: I am consulting the Independent candidate’s race for the General Election). While the other two candidates were talking about pie-in-the-sky tax reform, Lepore offered a realistic middle ground that speaks to her understanding of business, consensus building, and her years of working in the party. Alternatively, her opponents offer Pollyanna approaches to complex issues: Beskin promises to work to eliminate the state income tax, despite the fact that Republicans already hold the Governor’s office, Lt. Governor’s office, and a majority in both chambers and haven’t yet been able to accomplish it. Good luck with that campaign promise.
Lepore on the other hand answered the Fair Tax question honestly and told the audience that when you have to balance the budget, and you cut one tax, the revenue then has to come from another source, unless you want to cut quality services and/or programs. Any Reagan Republican should remember “user fee” replacement taxes in the 80’s. The General Assembly used that tactic in the 2010 session with the omnibus DDS bill that upped the price of birth certificates, permits, you-name-it-they-taxed-it fee. But the General Assembly told Georgia they cut taxes-and Georgia bought it. I would encourage the voters of HD 54 to look at the reality of the claims these candidates are making with more discernment than Georgia did following 2010.
Lepore presented herself as a straight shooter; probably to her detriment. She also didn’t talk about her work in Perdue’s office, the time she has dedicated to the GOP, and how many Republicans she has personally helped in politics around the state. She’s put in the time and has made the effort. Beskin may have won the straw poll, but HD 54 is a unique district in that it is fiscally conservative but socially liberal. The Republicans in this district are solidly country club Republicans; no TEA partiers here. The voters there are highly educated, affluent, and generally older than the crowd that was present at the AYR event. Perhaps Beskin’s buzzwords can fool the younger crowd and McCloskey’s mailers can make up for voters who don’t research his voting record. I’m not so sure about the educated voter in HD 54.
Lepore is the one that would be difficult to topple in a General. The others are promising the world to get the Primary. Read between the lines. What they aren’t telling you matters.