CUMMING — The two candidates in the July 22 Republican primary runoff for the state Senate District 27 post sparred in a debate Monday night that left organizers pleased with the election prospects.
“I believe tonight was a fantastic night for the Republican Party of Forsyth County,” said Brad Wilkins, moderator and party chairman. “I believe we were able to get through a long list of good Republican questions.
“They were hard questions. I think we challenged the candidates tonight and I thought both candidates came out with their best foot forward.”
Over the course of about an hour, incumbent Jack Murphy and challenger Michael Williams fielded questions crafted by party members on a variety of topics, ranging from budget issues and term limits to education and traffic concerns.
A crowd of more than 100 watched the proceedings in the Forsyth County Administration Building. Murphy and Williams shared common ground on several issues, while differing on others.
Questions about the state budget and Georgia’s recent ranking as the top place in the U.S. to do business seemed to draw the most ire.
Murphy said he believed tax incentives were a big factor in the designation.
“We’ve passed a lot of incentives to draw business into the area, which draws employment, which is very important to us,” he said. “Employment in Georgia that’s one thing that’s helped us grow and grow the economy.”
“I feel like the reason we were No. 1 by Site Selection Magazine is the $250,000 our governor gave [it] in endorsements and advertisements. I think that recommendation was bought and paid for,” he said.
“As far as all the companies that Sen. Murphy has talked about … I do not feel like incentives for these big businesses are needed. I think that’s corporate welfare.”
Williams suggested the state needs to “create an environment that is equal for everybody, every single one of us to go out there to start our own business if we want to.”
“We need entrepreneurs here in this state, not big businesses,” he added.
Asked about top priorities for reducing spending, Murphy suggested learning a lesson “from everything that we just went through the last four or five years.”
“Let’s look at areas where we were spending money where we didn’t need to spend money,” he said of the recession.
“We’ve got to continue to look for ways to increase our services but not increase our budget.”
He noted that all but about “18 to 19 percent” of the budget goes to education, public safety and Medicaid.
Williams said he would love to see what he called a truly balanced budget, one that doesn’t include as much funding from federal sources as the current state budget.
He would also like to see “zero-based budgeting.”
“Every single department should have to account for and support the dollars they’re spending,” he said.
Among the other topics addressed were terms limits for state senators and increased ethics legislation, with each candidate saying he would support both of them.
In their closing statements, Murphy said he brings years of experience to the office which Williams, as a political newcomer, would not.
“Candidates come in saying they’re going to change the world, they’re going to change everything … they’re doing to do everything,” Murphy said. “But guess what, you get down there and where the rubber meets the road is when you’re sitting at your desk and you’ve got a red button and you’ve got a green button.
“Just look at my record.”
Williams countered that he would bring needed change to the office. He related a story about his time as a small business owner and interviewing prospective job applicants.
“I used to have candidates come up and interview and they would give a great, great interview,” he said. “They’d show up to work and it was completely different person showing up to work.
“Two years ago, Sen. Murphy said the same things that he’s saying today. What’s he going to do differently?
“I promise you today, next year, two years from now that I’m going to be the same person as I am now in representing you.”