By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – The two Republicans seeking Georgia’s 9th Congressional District seat agreed Sunday on many of the most pressing issues facing the federal government.
But state Rep. Matt Gurtler and gun store owner Andrew Clyde tore into each other’s political and business records during a debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.
Meanwhile, the two Democrats in the race – actor and Army veteran Devin Pandy and business owner Brooke Siskin - agreed with each other often during their 30-minute debate but drew a sharp contrast with the two Republicans.
The winners of the two Aug. 11 runoffs will square off in November for the right to succeed U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who is leaving the House to run for the U.S. Senate.
Gurtler and Clyde supported Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision not to impose a statewide mask-wearing mandate on Georgians to discourage the spread of coronavirus.
“A lot it this has to come down to personal responsibility,” Gurtler said.
Clyde said requiring people to wear masks would violate their constitutional rights.
“There’s no pandemic exception in the Constitution,” he said.
The two also agreed on President Donald Trump’s determination to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to deter illegal immigration.
But Clyde attacked Gurtler’s record in the Georgia House, while Gurtler targeted Clyde’s business dealings with the Internal Revenue Service.
Clyde took Gurtler to task for missing a vote last month on a bill aimed at protecting police officers from bias-motivated crime. Gurtler said he was meeting with constituents during a lengthy recess prior to the vote on the legislation and couldn’t get back in time to vote on it.
“I fully support law enforcement,” he said. “It’s wrong to paint and smear me in the campaign that I don’t.”
When Gurtler’s turn came to go on the attack, he accused Clyde of hypocrisy because his business entered into contracts with the IRS after Clyde successfully sued the taxing agency for wrongly confiscating more than $940,000 from his company.
Clyde said the contract his business has with the federal General Services Administration requires him to serve every federal agency, including the military and Secret Service.
“We can’t discriminate,” he said. “Every branch of government has the right to use that contract.”
The two Republicans did display a shade of difference on illegal immigration.
Clyde said no exception should be made for the so-called Dreamers, children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents.
“You need to come here legally,” he said.
But Gurtler said there should be an exception for the Dreamers.
“I don’t think we should be blaming the children for the sins of the fathers and mothers,” he said.
Siskin and Pandy drew sharp distinctions between themselves and Republicans on several issues, including masks.
“We are not wearing enough masks in this country, which is causing further spread of the virus,” Siskin said.
Pandy criticized Trump for imposing steep tariffs on Chinese imports of U.S. goods, which he said continue to impact farmers in the mostly rural 9thCongressional District.
“We have to realize tariffs do not hurt the country they’re on as much as our own people,” he said.
While neither Democratic candidate has held elective office, Pandy touted his experience of more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, including leading troops on the battlefield.
“My deployments have led me to a place where I have liaisoned with foreign governments,” he said.
Siskin said her “real-world” experience as a business owner would help prepare her to serve in Congress, as would her activism on behalf of victims of domestic violence. She was arrested in Gwinnett County earlier this month for refusing to comply with a court order to turn over guns and ammunition in her possession.
During Sunday’s debate, she said she owns one gun for protection against her ex-husband.
“Every day, women live in fear of their ex-husband or husband coming after them, and they have no protection,” Siskin said. “I have a right to own a gun to protect myself.”
Siskin called for universal health care in America as a right rather than a privilege.
Pandy said he supports former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s call for a “wealth” tax on the top 1% of American income earners to raise the revenue necessary to pay for universal health coverage.
The two debates, which were live streamed on Sunday, will be broadcast Tuesday on GPB-TV. The Republican debate will air at 7 p.m., followed by the Democratic debate at 7:30.
Georgia’s 9th Congressional District covers Northeast Georgia from Gainesville and the northern end of Athens north and east to the South Carolina and North Carolina lines.
Capitol Beat is a nonprofit news service operated by the Georgia Press Educational Foundation that provides coverage of state government through Georgia Press Association members, such as the White County News.